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2017-05-12 00:20:02
U.S. Strikes China Trade Deals but Leaves Major Issues Untouched

BEIJING — The United States has reached a set of narrow trade deals with China covering areas like electronic payment services, beef and poultry, Trump administration officials said, leaving untouched bigger issues that could still complicate relations between the two major trading partners.

The disclosure of the deals on Thursday evening — which included an announcement that the United States would be represented at a forum in Beijing devoted to President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt, One Road international investment initiative — suggests that the Trump administration is trying to smooth relations with Beijing despite President Trump’s harsh anti-China language on the campaign trail.

Under the newly announced deals, China set a deadline for fulfilling its promises to allow American beef, and said it would speed up considerations of pending American applications to offer bioengineered seeds in China. It will also allow foreign-owned firms to provide credit-rating services in China, issue guidelines to let American firms offer electronic payment services there, and issue licenses to two American financial institutions to underwrite bonds.

The United States, in turn, will allow Chinese to export cooked poultry products. American officials also said that Matthew Pottinger, a National Security Council official who plays a central role in White House policy making on Asia, would travel to Beijing with one or more Commerce Department officials for this weekend’s event.

Sending a delegation recognizes the importance of President Xi’s signature foreign policy to build China’s economic, financial and political ties across Asia, the Mideast, Eastern Europe and eastern Africa.

The trade agreements did not address areas such as steel, aluminum or auto parts — areas where Chinese exports have a deep, industrywide impact. Mr. Trump criticized China’s trade practices both before and after the election, saying China was benefiting at the expense of American workers.

The Trump administration has since moderated its language, with Mr. Trump suggesting that China could strike better trade terms if it helped the United States contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Chinese officials here had no immediate comment.

Many of these deals were expected. Trade officials in both countries had said they expected a deal on American beef exports, which China has limited for more than a decade over worries about mad cow disease.

Still, while narrow, a number of the agreements announced on Thursday represent a further reversal of American foreign policy from the Obama administration.

The Obama administration long refused to allow Chinese poultry imports, as the Agriculture Department had broad safety concerns about it, including the chemicals the animals are fed and the hygiene at farms and slaughterhouses. Salmonella and bird flu are also widespread problems in China, although the germs that cause them should be killed if poultry is properly cooked.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praised the deals for providing specific dates for China to act on trade pledges that it has made repeatedly but not fulfilled.

He predicted that Trump administration policies would start to narrow the United States trade deficit with China, which is equal to more than half of the nation’s overall trade deficit.

“By the latter part of the year,” he said, “you should see something.”

Mr. Ross and his negotiators were not able to obtain a deadline for when China would issue approvals for eight kinds of American seeds that have been bioengineered to produce hardier and more productive crops.

On electronic payment services, which have become a popular alternative to cash in China, both sides appeared to make compromises. The Chinese side finally set a date, July 16, for allowing foreign providers of these services b

ut \ would issue further guidelines \ for how they could be offered in China. The Obama administration had said China should allow foreign electronic payment services without issuing further guidelines. The United States had already fought and won a World Trade Organization case against China over payment processing.

In another American concession, the Trump administration agreed that it would not restrict United States exports of liquefied natural gas to China, though they would still be subject to an overall daily cap. Some American manufacturers, particularly in the energy-hungry chemicals industry, fear China might buy so much American natural gas that the purchases would push up American natural gas prices. The first shipment of American liquefied natural gas to China arrived in southern China’s Guangdong province last August.

On credit-rating services, Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said on Tuesday in Shanghai that foreign companies were increasingly concerned about such services that are being developed within China. These services appear likely to measure the extent to which companies as well as individuals meet the social and political goals of the Chinese state, he said, and not just whether companies and individuals pay their bills on time.

Jeremie Waterman, the executive director for greater China at the United States Chamber of Commerce, cautiously welcomed the trade deals, while noting that he did not yet have the details. “The administration deserves credit for hopefully ensuring full and timely implementation of commitments China has already made in the areas of beef, biotech, and electronic payments,” he said.