BEIJING — The United States and China agreed Tuesday on a plan to eliminate tariffs on dozens of high-tech products — including GPS devices, medical equipment and game consoles — in a breakthrough that U.S. officials said could boost trade and create jobs.
Talks between the world’s two largest economies had broken down last year. But the accord now paves the way for the World Trade Organization to approve the largest tariff-cutting deal in 17 years when its members meet in Geneva next month.
The final agreement would eliminate tariffs on roughly $1 trillion in annual global sales of information and communications technology, officials said.
“This is encouraging news for the U.S.-China relationship,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters in Beijing, where President Obama is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, known as APEC.
“It shows how the U.S. and China can work together to advance their bilateral economic agenda and support a multilateral trading system,” Froman added.
Although talks have been going on for two years, the momentum for a deal came together in the weeks ahead of the APEC summit, aides said. In announcing the agreement , Obama called for the WTO to come to a “rapid conclusion” in approving a final deal.
Economic issues have been at the forefront of the summit, which opened Monday.
But it also has provided a venue for high-level encounters over an array of diplomatic and territorial disputes.
In one closely watched meeting, Obama held his first face-to-face conservations with Russian President Vladimir Putin since June, seeking to make headway on their standoff over the conflict in Ukraine.
The two leaders, whose relations have turned icy over Moscow’s backing of separatist violence, spoke three times for a total of between 15 and 20 minutes on the sidelines of APEC meetings.
Their discussions also included nuclear negotiations with Iran and the security situation in Syria, said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. She did not elaborate on the outcome of the talks.
Obama and Putin have spoken by phone several times since the spring, when the United States and Europe began enacting economic sanctions on Russia in response to the country’s annexation of Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region. Further sanctions were imposed as punishment for Russian intervention on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The two leaders last spoke in person during a brief encounter at the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion in Benouville, France, in June.
White House officials had not attempted to schedule a formal bilateral meeting with Putin during Obama’s week-long trip to Asia, which also will include a visit to Brisbane, Australia, on Saturday for the Group of 20 summit, which Putin is also scheduled to attend.
But aides said Obama would likely have informal conversations with Putin when they crossed paths. The two briefly encountered one another Monday evening during the APEC welcome ceremonies but did not talk.
On Tuesday, before their conversations, Obama and Putin arrived for APEC meetings at a cavernous teak-paneled convention center at Yanqi lake, prompting Putin to remark: “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Obama agreed that it was, according to a pool reporter who was at the event.
When they stopped at the head table, Putin reached out and clapped Obama on the shoulder before sitting down to the left of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Obama sat to Xi’s right.
The United States and European allies have ramped up economic sanctions on Moscow, and a senior White House official suggested that the costs could grow over reports of the delivery of additional heavy weapons to the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters in Beijing that Russia’s economy is “grim and getting grimmer.”
Moscow’s actions are “a recipe for isolation from a broad swath of the international community.,” he added. “Clearly, what we’ve seen is a troubling focus from President Putin on the situation in Ukraine that is going to demand a response from the international community going forward.”
Putin has not backed down, and his presence in Beijing has accentuated his recent mutual courtship with Xi amid closer ties between Russia and China over energy deals. China has inked several major oil and gas agreements with Russia, which in the face of Western sanctions is increasingly eager to find new customers.