China Puts its Own Spin on Agreement to Reduce Trade Deficit

China’s state media are playing up what it says is a trade war truce and de-escalation in tensions after negotiators from Washington and Beijing agreed to hold off on tariffs and “substantially reduce” the U.S. trade deficit. However, economists and business leaders argue that there is more to managing the relationship than balancing imports and exports.

State media in China are focusing heavily on the argument that Beijing did not give any ground and adopting their own take on the deficit question — focusing instead the country’s pledge to boost imports from the United States.

An editorial in the China Daily entitled “Sino-US agreement benefits both countries and the world” said that: “For China, ‘significantly increasing’ imports of U.S. goods and services, such as agricultural and energy products, will help meet its development needs and the desires of Chinese consumers.”

The editorial added that, “despite all the pressure, China didn’t “fold” as U.S. President Donald Trump observed. Instead, it stood firm and expressed its willingness to talk.”

An editorial in the party-backed Global Times said that while many may have noted what the joint statement said about reducing the U.S. deficit, that does not mean that the U.S. has won the trade talks. Instead, the piece said it was more a matter of learning to right an imbalance in the two countries’ trade systems.

The editorial called the now averted trade war a “historic period of difficult adjustment,” adding that “as one of the largest trade surplus countries in the world, China has learned from this dispute with the US.”

On news commentary boards, online response to agreement was mixed. Some argued the agreement was a sign that China had won. One commentator said: “America is just a paper tiger, there’s no need to be afraid.” Another: “Washington is weak in the knees.”

Many were pleased to see the two countries cooperating, agreeing that the decision was a “win-win.”

Others were not as certain. “Be careful, Trump will go back on his word,” wrote one person.

Despite state media’s rosy outlook about the agreement and confidence China had won online, huge differences between the two economies remain.

Lu Suiqi, an associate professor in economics at Peking University noted the agreement is just an incremental one and follow through will be key.

He said the focus on talks instead of brinkmanship was a positive development but not a guarantee of smooth sailing ahead.


“If any party fails to make good on its implementation, there may be renewed differences. And if these differences are hard to resolve, there’s still the possibility of putting the trade war back on,” Liu said.

Explainer: What is a Trade War?


Philip Levy, senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs told VOA the deal is not the worst outcome we could have had, it’s sort of the mediocre outcome many feared.

“This looks like they’re opting for some sort of managed trade solution that I don’t thing is good for either country, but it is better than a tariff war,” Levy said.

Much of what the statement said about longstanding trade differences was vague at best, some analysts note.

The joint statement said both sides agreed to encourage two-way investment and committed to creating a business environment for fair competition.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it has been promising and pledging to open up and many are growing tired of the talk. Over the past few years, a shift backwards toward a more central state-led economy has become more prominent.

And even as Chinese President Xi Jinping pledges to open up China’s economy further, he is asserting the party and state’s control and dominance over everything — including business.

Foreign companies’ frustration with rules in China that force the handover of sensitive technology and concerns about intellectual property persist. There is also concern about government subsidies in cutting edge industries and support for state-owned enterprises.

“There are fundamental questions about how a state dominated economy of that size fits into the global trading system. And I don’t think we’ve answered those questions,” said Levy.

Speaking at a gathering of former officials and business leaders in Beijing last week, Jeremie Waterman, the president of the China Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that for businesses, market access is a bigger concern than trade imbalances.

“The focus of U.S Chamber of Commerce and our members really is on resolving the systemic issues, not on near term efforts to address the trade deficit,” Waterman said.

He added that focusing on opening markets and not closing them is best because it would address longstanding concerns about access in China. It could also help with the deficit.

Joyce Huang and Ira Mellman contributed to this report.



South Korea’s LG Group Chairman Dies at 73

South Korea’s fourth-largest conglomerate, LG Group, said its Chairman Koo Bon-moo did Sunday.

Koo, 73, had been struggling with an illness for a year, LG Group said in a statement.

“Becoming the third chairman of LG at the age of 50 in 1995, Koo established key three businesses — electronics, chemicals and telecommunications — led a global company LG, and contributed to driving (South Korea’s) industrial competitiveness and national economic development,” LG said.

A group official said Koo had been unwell for a year and had undergone surgery. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Before its chairman’s death, LG Group had established a holding company in order to streamline ownership structure and begin the process of succession.

Heir apparent Koo Kwang-mo is from the fourth generation of LG Group’s controlling family. He owns 6 percent of LG Corp and works as a senior official at LG Electronics Inc.

The senior Koo’s funeral will be private at the request of the family, the company said.



US, China Agree to Increased Trade Cooperation

The United States and China agreed to take measures to reduce the U.S. trade deficit in goods by having China purchase more American goods, particularly agriculture and energy products, according to a joint statement the two nations released Saturday.

“There was a consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China,” the joint statement said.

“To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States.”

The statement concluded joint talks Thursday and Friday between the two countries, which included several U.S. Cabinet secretaries and China’s State Council Vice Premier Liu He.

President Donald Trump made reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China a key campaign promise.

The statement said that China would “advance relevant amendments to its laws and regulations” to allow for more American imports, including changes to patent laws.



India, EU Give WTO Lists of US Goods for Potential Tariff Retaliation

India and the European Union have given the World Trade Organization lists of the U.S. products that could incur high tariffs in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump’s global tariffs on steel and aluminum, WTO filings showed Friday.

The EU said Trump’s steel tariffs could cost $1.5 billion and aluminum tariffs a further $100 million, and listed rice, cranberries, bourbon, corn, peanut butter, and steel products among the U.S. goods that it might target for retaliation.

India said it was facing additional U.S. tariffs of $31 million on aluminum and $134 million on steel, and listed U.S. exports of soya oil, palmolein and cashew nuts among its potential targets for retaliatory tariffs.

One trade official described the lists of retaliatory tariffs as “loading a gun,” making it plain to U.S. exporters that pain might be on the way.

India said its tariffs would come into effect by June 21, unless and until the United States removed its tariffs.

The EU said some retaliation could be applied from June 20.

Trump’s tariffs, 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, came into force in March to strong opposition as many see the measures as unjustified and populist.

There were also objections that the tariffs would have little impact on China, widely seen to be the cause of oversupply in the market.

Trump justified the tariffs by claiming they were for U.S. national security, in a bid to protect them from any legal challenge at the WTO, causing further controversy.

Rather than challenging the U.S. tariffs directly, the EU and India, like China, South Korea and Russia, told the United States that they regarded Trump’s tariffs as “safeguards” under the WTO rules, which means U.S. trading partners are entitled to compensation for loss of trade.

The United States disagrees.



China Ends US Sorghum Anti-Dumping Probe, OKs Toshiba Deal

China has dropped an anti-dumping investigation and given long awaited approval for the sale of Toshiba’s memory chip business, in gestures that could suggest a thaw between Beijing and the U.S. as trade talks resumed in Washington.

The Commerce Ministry said Friday ended the probe into imported U.S. sorghum because it’s not in the public interest. A day earlier, Beijing cleared the way for a group led by U.S. private equity firm Bain Capital to buy Toshiba Corp.’s computer memory chip business.

The moves signaled Beijing’s willingness to make a deal with Washington amid talks between senior U.S. and Chinese officials aimed at averting a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, analysts say.

“I think China is willing to make concessions,” said Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS. “The Chinese stance has been very clear, that China wants to mute any trade dispute. But of course it doesn’t mean China would heed to all the demands the U.S. would place.”

A White House official said China had offered to work to cut the trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion, while stressing that the details remained unclear. But China’s Foreign Ministry denied it.

“It’s untrue,” said spokesman Lu Kang. “The relevant discussion is still underway, and it is constructive.”

The Commerce Ministry said it was ending the anti-dumping probe and a parallel anti-subsidy investigation because they would have raised costs for consumers.

The U.S. is China’s biggest supplier of sorghum, accounting for more than 90 percent of total imports. China’s investigation, launched in February, had come as a warning shot to American farmers, many of whom support the Trump administration yet depend heavily on trade. They feared they would lose their largest export market for the crop, which is used primarily for animal feed and liquor.

The Commerce Ministry said that, “Anti-dumping and countervailing measures against imported sorghum originating in the United States would affect the cost of living of a majority of consumers and would not be in the public interest,” according to a notice posted on its website.

It said it had received many reports that the investigation would result in higher costs for the livestock industry, adding that many domestic pig farmers were facing hardship because of declining pork prices.

China’s U.S. sorghum imports surged from 317,000 metric tons in 2013 to 4.76 million tons last year while prices fell by about a third in the same period.

The ministry said any deposits for the preliminary anti-dumping tariffs of 178.6 percent, which took effect on April 18, would be returned in full.

The announcement came after President Donald Trump met at the White House with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the leader of China’s delegation for talks with a U.S. team headed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Trump had told reporters earlier that he had doubts about the potential for an agreement. He also raised fresh uncertainty about resolving a case involving Chinese tech company ZTE, which was hit with a crippling seven-year ban on buying from U.S. suppliers, forcing it to halt major operations. Trump said the company “did very bad things” to the U.S. economy and would be a “small component of the overall deal.”

Song Lifang, an economics professor and trade expert at Renmin University, said haggling is currently underway.

“It’s time for both to present their demands, but it’s also a time to exhibit their bargaining chips,” said Song, adding that approval for the Toshiba deal, worth $18 billion, was “an apparent sign of thaw” amid a U.S. investigation into Chinese trade practices requiring U.S. companies to turn over their technology in exchange for access to China’s market.

The Trump administration has proposed tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese products to punish Beijing while China has responded by targeting $50 billion in U.S. imports. Neither country has yet imposed tariffs.



EU Mulls Direct Iran Central Bank Transfers to Beat US Sanctions

The European Commission is proposing that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties, an EU official said, in what would be the most forthright challenge to Washington’s newly reimposed sanctions.

The step, which would seek to bypass the U.S. financial system, would allow European companies to repay Iran for oil exports and repatriate Iranian funds in Europe, a senior EU official said, although the details were still to be worked out.

The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, is determined to save the nuclear accord, that U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned on May 8, by keeping money flowing to Tehran as long as the Islamic Republic complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon.

“Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed this to member states. We now need to work out how we can facilitate oil payments and repatriate Iranian funds in the European Union to Iran’s central bank,” said the EU official, who is directly involved in the discussions.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Tuesday more sanctions on officials of the Iranian central bank, including Governor Valiollah Seif,. But the EU official said the bloc believes that does not sanction the central bank itself.

European Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete will discuss the idea with Iranian officials in Tehran during his trip this weekend, the EU official said. Then it will be up to EU governments to take a final decision.

EU leaders in Sofia this week committed to uphold Europe’s side of the 2015 nuclear deal, which offers sanctions relief in return for Tehran shutting down its capacity, under strict surveillance by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to stockpile enriched uranium for a possible atomic bomb.

Sanctions-blocking law

Other measures included renewing a sanctions-blocking measure to protect European businesses in Iran.

The Commission said in a statement it had “launched the formal process to activate the Blocking Statute by updating the list of U.S. sanctions on Iran falling within its scope,” referring to an EU regulation from 1996.

The EU’s blocking statute bans any EU company from complying with U.S. sanctions and does not recognize any court rulings that enforce American penalties. It was developed when the United States tried to penalize foreign companies trading with Cuba in the 1990s, but has never been formally implemented.

EU officials say they are revamping the blocking statute to protect EU companies against U.S. Iran-related sanctions, after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods that allow companies to quit the country and avoid fines.

A second EU official said the EU sanctions-blocking regulation would come into force on August 5, a day before U.S.

sanctions take effect, unless the European Parliament and EU governments formally rejected it.

“This has a strong signaling value, it can be very useful to companies but it is ultimately a business decision for each company to make [on whether to continue to invest in Iran],” the official said.

Once Iran’s top trading partner, the EU has sought to pour billions of euros into the Islamic Republic since the bloc, along with the United Nations and United States, lifted blanket economic sanctions in 2016 that had hurt the Iranian economy.

Iran’s exports of mainly fuel and other energy products to the EU in 2016 jumped 344 percent to 5.5 billion euros ($6.58 billion) compared with the previous year.

EU investment in Iran, mainly from Germany, France and Italy, has jumped to more than 20 billion euros since 2016, in projects ranging from aerospace to energy.

Other measures proposed by the Commission, the EU executive, include urging EU governments to start the legal process of allowing the European Investment Bank to lend to EU projects in Iran.

Under that plan, the bank could guarantee such projects through the EU’s common budget, picking up part of the bill should they fail or collapse. The measure aims to encourage companies to invest.