By Alexander Chipman Koty
Uncertainties in the China-US trade relationship remain in advance of July 16, the deadline of the 100-day action plan to resolve trade disputes agreed to by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in April.
The 100-day action plan got off to a productive start with the signing of the China-US trade deal on May 11, which re-introduced US beef to the Chinese market and brought Chinese cooked poultry to the US, among other measures. However, efforts to resolve more fundamental economic disputes have since slowed, with longstanding political disagreements instead taking center stage.
Although the implementation of the China-US trade deal is well underway, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies appears to be deteriorating rather than strengthening as the 100-day window draws to a close. While bilateral trade and investment discussions are ongoing, political friction between the two countries may stall the arrival of additional market access for US businesses in China.
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US beef in Chinese stores, draft rules set for Chinese cooked poultry
Many of the provisions of the 10-point China-US trade deal had a July 16 deadline to come into effect or for more detailed guidelines to be issued.
Among these was reintroducing US beef to China, the most high-profile part of the deal. The first batch of US beef arrived in China in late June since being blocked from the market for 14 years following a mad cow disease scare.
US beef has already appeared at Sam’s Club in Beijing, owned by the US hypermarket chain giant Wal-Mart, as well as online through e-commerce platforms like Alibaba’s Tmall. As exports ramp up, US beef will be available more widely throughout China.
Meanwhile, in June the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) released rules allowing the export of Chinese cooked poultry into the US. Although some critics in the US continue to express food safety concerns, a version of the rules is expected to be finalized in due course. The rules are open for public comment until August 15.
Progress for US energy, biotechnology, financial services
US exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) have increased since the trade deal was signed, and several Chinese entities are reportedly in negotiations with US LNG suppliers such as Cheniere for signing long-term contracts.
Although the trade deal did not change any rules concerning US LNG exports to China, it appeared to give the green light to Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like Unipec to sign long-term contracts with US suppliers. China is projected to be an almost US$30 billion LNG market by 2030 as the country shifts to cleaner energy sources. In 2016, China’s LNG imports grew by 35 percent.
China has also approved four out of the eight outstanding biotechnology applications it agreed to resolve. Imports of four new varieties of genetically modified crops – three corn varieties and one soybean variety – were approved. The other four applications are still awaiting decisions. China only issued one approval for genetically modified crops in 2016.
As part of the trade deal, China also affirmed that it would open credit investigation and rating services to foreign firms. This was formalized with the recent release of the new Catalogue for the Guidance of Foreign Investment Industries, which removes foreign investment restrictions on the industry, effective July 28.
On June 30, the People’s Bank of China released guidelines on foreign bank card clearing institutions. Under the deal, China committed to give foreign electronic payment service (EPS) providers full market access, and to issue implementation guidelines by mid-July.
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Trade talks ongoing
Despite progress on the implementation of the trade deal, political disagreements over how to handle the North Korea nuclear threat have halted momentum in bilateral trade and investment deals since the initial signing of the 100-day action plan.
Trump, who has linked North Korea security issues with China trade, has threatened to place tariffs and restrictions on Chinese steel, and the US recently placed sanctions on a Chinese bank and two individuals connected to North Korea. Further, on July 12 Trump nominated China trade hardliner Dennis Shea as deputy US Trade Representative.
Xi has acknowledged the cooling of bilateral relations, remarking recently that “Ties are also affected by some negative elements, and the Chinese side has already expressed our stance to the US”.
With the 100-day action plan coming to an end, significant breakthroughs in its final days seem unlikely. Rather, discussions will resume at the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue to be held in Washington on July 19. Patrick Colligan, Global Business Development Manager at Dezan Shira & Associates, notes, “While Senior US and Chinese officials will set the stage next week in Washington for renewed high-level economic talks, expect recent cooling of relations and increased frustrations from both powers to sour substantive progress made in these discussions.”
Disagreements over asymmetric market access and the trade imbalance are unlikely to be resolved at the upcoming Comprehensive Economic Dialogue. Nevertheless, ongoing discussions that keep the two countries engaged will help maintain the status quo relationship in the short-term, thereby allowing US businesses in China to function regularly until political disputes are resolved.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 13, 2017, and has since been updated to include the latest information.
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