By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 12:45 AM
China has agreed to lift its extensive limits on the import of U.S. beef, lower restrictions on imports of wind turbines and telecommunications equipment, and take an array of other steps that U.S. officials say could lead to a substantial boost in U.S. exports to the world's second-largest economy.
After two days of high-level talks, U.S. and Chinese officials unveiled a set of agreements Wednesday that address some of the core trade grievances raised by U.S. firms that do business - or want to - in the fast-growing Chinese economy.
Although the U.S. side was hesitant to describe the talks as a major breakthrough - the list of trade issues between the two countries remains long, and enforcement of prior trade promises has sometimes been lax - officials were clearly buoyed by the result as the Obama administration fights to boost U.S. exports.
The agreements will produce "concrete and measurable" improvements in areas such as China's protection of intellectual property rights, said U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk, who co-chaired the meetings with a Chinese delegation led by Wang Qishan, vice premier.
Ranchers, effectively barred from the Chinese market since 2003 after a scare over mad cow disease, will get renewed access to China and potentially billions of dollars in new sales. Alternative-energy companies will no longer have to build demonstration projects in China before bidding on wind projects there; telecommunications firms will avoid rules that favor locally developed technology; government industrial catalogs will be rewritten so they are not biased against imported equipment and capital goods; and software companies should benefit as Chinese government agencies are pressed to use only legally licensed software.
That final commitment, U.S. officials said, will be overseen by Wang himself - elevating to a high level of government an issue that has been of long-standing concern to U.S. firms that lose revenue to widespread piracy of software and other intellectual property.
Wang, who appeared jointly with Kirk, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, called the session "highly productive and successful" and noted that the United States had pledged from its side to "seriously consider the views of China" when bringing cases before the World Trade Organization or taking other actions to impose duties on Chinese imports.
In recent years, the United States has used WTO rules to tax Chinese imports that were considered unfairly priced or subsidized by the government. It recently won a high-profile action related to Chinese tire imports and is considering a broad complaint against what some U.S. firms consider unfair Chinese government support for alternative energy companies.
Kirk said those issues would be "bifurcated" - meaning nothing in the agreements reached this week would affect how the United States proceeds on trade enforcement cases.
But U.S. officials also said there was an effort by both sides to "reset" trade relations after what has been a rocky year. The United States has been sharply critical of China's currency management, and even China-friendly U.S. businesses are concerned that China was using its increasing wealth and market success to slant the playing field in favor of its domestic companies instead of opening its economy.
U.S. officials said they hope the agreement will serve as a prelude to a visit early next year by Chinese President Hu Jintao, during which further measures may be announced to bolster trade between the two countries.
The United States runs a massive trade deficit with China, something the two sides agree should be brought into better balance. China, as part of international commitments it has made, has agreed in principle to try to rely less on exports and boost local demand for imported goods.
"This is becoming one of the most dynamic trading relationships in the world," Kirk said, but can only succeed "if neither side has a thumb on the scale."