China: A Trade Deal as Part of Xi’s Plan

Published on April 29, 2019

China’s President Xi Jinping laid out five reform measures at the opening ceremony of the second BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) Summit last Friday, April 26, that were intended to highlight a consistency between Beijing’s domestic priorities and progress on specific issues in trade negotiations with Washington.

Those included:

** Expanded access for foreign investment in more sectors;

** Enhanced protection for the lawful rights and interests of foreign intellectual property owners;

** A halt to forced technology transfers;

** A large-scale increase in China’s imports of goods and services;

** The overhaul and abolishment of “unjustified” regulations, subsidies, and practices that impeded fair competition and distort markets, with the goal of treating “all enterprises” and business entities on an equal footing.

Lest these measures suspiciously sound a lot like the US trade negotiators’ demands, senior sources insist they are entirely choices China and Xi have made unilaterally to “advance reform and development,” and represent “a commitment to the world and to all foreign investors.” So be it.

Along those lines, Beijing is looking to parlay discussions on trade with the US to Asia and the European Union, with the expectation for a China-EU investment agreement by 2020, as well as a Regional Comprehensive Trade Agreement, or RCEP, between ten members of the Southeast ASEAN alliance plus six non-ASEAN Asia-Pacific countries in 2019 or 2020.

Regarding negotiations with the US, the two sides have yet to discuss a formal signing ceremony visit by Xi to the White House, despite indications from Washington sources, and by President Trump himself, that this may be coming soon.

Chinese sources indicate Beijing is keen to wait until the final text of the agreement is agreed to and confirmed by both sides before entering into logistical discussions about a summit between the two leaders.

Those negotiations should, if all goes as planned, continue this week with talks between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and their counterpart, Vice Premier Liu He, in Beijing, to be followed by another round in Washington.

Trump is scheduled to visit Japan in late May (separate from the G20 summit meeting in Osaka on June 28-29), but as rumored by some, Xi will not be meeting Trump on that visit. At this rate, however, we suspect a signing ceremony can and will nevertheless come even sooner than our initial indications of the G-20 as an outside target date, and will be held most probably in Washington.

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