US firms in China want Biden-Xi summit to lift trade barriers

More than three-quarters of companies surveyed said measures levied during the trade war were impacting their operations.
More than three-quarters of companies surveyed said measures levied during the trade war were impacting their operations.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - American firms in China are hoping for a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping this year, according to a new survey, as they look for relief from trade barriers raised during the Trump era.

More than 60 per cent of American Chamber of Commerce in China members surveyed cited the need to restore regular visa services for business executives and their families, according to a survey released by the group Friday (Sept 10).

Another 47 per cent wanted the removal of tariffs, with more than three-quarters of companies complaining that measures levied during the trade war were impacting their operations.

Still, the results suggested companies realised that it was necessary to first improve ties that have remained tense despite Mr Biden's defeat of former president Donald Trump in November.

Some 54 per cent of respondents surveyed called for "regularised government-to-government communication" to rebuild relations, while 38 per cent wanted a Biden-Xi summit this year.

While the chamber did not disclose the names of the 125 companies that participated in the survey last month, its membership includes the Chinese branches of some of America's best-known brands, such as Boeing, Coca Cola and Walt Disney.

Over the last few years, "there’s grown a gap between the two countries and the relevant officials and how much they communicate, which right now is not a lot at all," AmCham China Chairman Greg Gilligan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday (Sept 10).

"If the two countries’ leaders get together and get that process going again, that would be a good thing."

Mr Gilligan also said Chinese ministries have been asking the chamber if it had questions over recent recently regulatory moves that have shaken up markets.

In response to a question about how companies are reacting, Mr Gilligan said: "I would say there’s kind of a go-slow approach right now to see how things shake out." 

The prospects for a face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the world's two largest economies look uncertain though they spoke on the telephone on Thursday night.

Mr Xi has not travelled outside of China in some 600 days as Beijing maintains strict controls against the coronavirus pandemic, damping hopes for a meeting with Mr Biden on the sideline of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York or the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Italy.

Mr Xi has not yet confirmed his presence at the G-20 meeting, according to a government official and senior European diplomat. The official cited Covid-19 protocols as the reason Mr Xi may not attend in person.

High-level talks between top United States envoys, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and climate envoy John Kerry, have so far highlighted disagreements and yielded few results.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has expressed skepticism on the effectiveness of Trump-era tariffs, is said to be weighing a trip to China.

The survey suggested that companies were feeling more pain from tariffs. Only 22 per cent respondents reported no impact from the measures, compared with 43 per cent in the chamber's Business Climate Survey last year.

Last month, more than 30 US trade groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Semiconductor Industry Association, called on the Biden administration to remove tariffs, which they said were harming the American economy.