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China and the U.S. Agree to Push Forward Trade, Investment Ties

·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) --

Commerce ministers from China and the U.S. agreed to push forward trade and investment links in their first call since the start of the Biden administration, with Washington seeking a more level playing field.

Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and his counterpart Gina Raimondo “agreed to promote the healthy development of pragmatic cooperation in trade and investment,” in a phone call Thursday morning China time. The two “exchanged views frankly and pragmatically on relevant issues and mutual concerns,” according to a Chinese government statement.

Raimondo “discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s focus on economic policies benefiting American workers and expressed U.S. concerns, including China’s unfair and market-distorting industrial policies, the need to level the playing field for U.S. companies in China, and the importance of protecting U.S. technology from unauthorized users,” the Commerce Department said in a statement.

The two nations are slowly resuming official contact after the January change of administration in the U.S. Some parts of U.S. policy toward China are becoming clearer, but it’s still not publicly clear what the U.S. plans to do with the ‘Phase One’ trade deal signed last year or tariffs on Chinese goods.

The call was the third between senior officials in recent weeks, after Vice Premier Liu He spoke with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

China last week stated that normal communications between the two countries have started, according to Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng. The two sides have agreed to pragmatically solve some issues for producers and consumers, and promote healthy, stable economic and trade ties, he said.

However, U.S. statements on the relationship with China aren’t so positive. The trade relationship with China has “significant imbalance” and the Biden administration is committed to leveling it, Tai said on the weekend before a meeting of Asia-Pacific trade ministers.

There are parts of the U.S.-China relationship “that are unhealthy and have over time been damaging in some very important ways to the U.S. economy,” she said.

In contrast, China has consistently emphasized a much more positive view of the relationship.

While there are issues, “the essence of trade and economic relations is mutually beneficial and win-win,” Feng told reporters in Beijing Thursday, repeating a common description. “Problems can be resolved through discussions conducted on the basis of mutual respect and equality.”

“I won’t get overly excited” about the call, said Alvin Tan, head of Asia currency strategy at RBC Capital Markets LLC. “It’s positive in the sense that both countries are stepping up” economic and trade communication, but no game-changing decisions or announcements have come out, he said.

Tai spoke to her Taiwanese counterpart John Deng Thursday, with the U.S. trade chief emphasizing the importance of Washington’s trade and investment relationship with Taipei, the USTR said in a statement.

The two sides signed a so-called Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, in 1994. Although the last meeting was in October 2016, both sides agreed to resume the 11th TIFA meeting in coming weeks, according to Taiwan’s statement.

China opposes any official contact between the U.S. and Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory, and any negotiations or discussions will inevitably be linked with U.S.-China relations, and could increase the tensions between the two.

(Updates with U.S. Commerce Department statement in third paragraph.)

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