US-China trade deal totally done: Lighthizer

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In a photo taken on Feb 15, 2019, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left) speaks with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The "phase one" United States-China trade deal will nearly double US exports to China over the next two years and is "totally done" despite the need for translation and revisions to its text, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday (Dec 15).

Mr Lighthizer, speaking on CBS' Face The Nation programme, said there would be some routine "scrubs" to the text but "this is totally done, absolutely".

He said a date and location for senior US and Chinese officials to formally sign the agreement is still being determined.

The deal, announced last Friday after more than 2½ years of on-and-off negotiations between Washington and Beijing, will reduce some US tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for increased Chinese purchases of US agricultural, manufactured and energy products by some US$200 billion (S$270 billion) over the next two years.

China has also pledged in the agreement to better protect US intellectual property, to curb the coerced transfer of American technology to Chinese firms, to open its financial services market to US firms and to avoid manipulation of its currency.

Chinese purchases of agricultural goods are expected to increase to US$40 billion to US$50 billion annually over the next two years, Mr Lighthizer said.

The US exported about US$24 billion in farm products to China in 2017, the last full year before the world's two largest economies launched a tariff war on each other's goods in July 2018.

But Mr Lighthizer said the success of the deal, announced last Friday, will be up to decisions by officials Beijing.

"Ultimately, whether this whole agreement works is going to be determined by who's making the decisions in China, not in the United States," he said.

"If the hardliners are making the decisions, we're going to get one outcome, if the reformers are making the decisions, which is what we hope, then we're going to get another outcome."

He said it would not solve all of the problems between the US and China, because integrating China's state-dominated economic system with America's private-sector led system will take years.

Mr Lighthizer called last Friday the "most momentous day in trade history" because of the China deal and because the White House sent a revised US-Mexico-Canada Agreement to Congress for approval votes. The two trade deals together cover some US$2 trillion in overall trade, he said.

But the USMCA, which would replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, has run into some last minute snags as Mexico's chief negotiator, Mr Jesus Seade, has objected to congressional language on implementation of the trade deal that calls for the designation of up to five US experts to monitor Mexico's compliance with labor reforms.

Mr Seade is due to travel to Washington on Sunday to raise his objections with Mr Lighthizer.

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