US-China Talks at G-20 Unlikely to End Trade Disputes

President Donald Trump and
his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are set to meet on the sidelines of the
Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, this weekend.

The two will try to unpack
what’s going on in the U.S.-China trade dispute, why negotiations have become
difficult, and how the two sides can come to a deal.

A deal will get done,
eventually. Trump regularly says he wants a deal. Just don’t expect that deal
this weekend.

More likely, we’ll see Trump
and Xi agree to pretty much the same thing they agreed to at last
year’s G-20
summit. Last December, the presidents agreed to postpone any
new tariffs on traded goods between the U.S. and China during negotiations.

A similar agreement this
weekend would mean the 25 percent tax the Trump administration currently has on
$250 billion worth of goods Americans buy from China will remain until a deal
is done, a cost Americans will have to continue to pay.

Alternatively, Trump is
planning another 25 percent tax on $300 billion worth of other Chinese goods if
negotiations aren’t successful.

So, when will a deal get done?
And how much longer will Americans have to pay these taxes? It’s hard to say.

Yet, it’s important to
remember that a deal now won’t mean an end to the number of other complaints
the U.S. has of the Chinese government, whether it’s concerns over commercial
practices in China or otherwise.

A deal would still be
relatively limited, as it will try to address those commercial practices, U.S.
investment opportunities in China, and the intellectual-property rights of
American innovators.

But there’s hardly a public-policy
issue today—especially in foreign policy—that doesn’t involve China in some
direct or indirect way.

So, it’s easy for many
observers to prescribe what should be a part of a deal with China. Everyone
wants to lump their complaints about China in with the president’s deal, making
it harder
for Washington
and Beijing to come to an agreement.

That being said, we should
understand that a deal now won’t protect the millions of Muslims in western
China that are being persecuted. It won’t make the Chinese Communist Party
spend less on its military development. It won’t alter Chinese designs on
Taiwan, or on the South China Sea or East China Sea.

It also shouldn’t stop us
from continuing to enforce our laws to protect U.S. national interests.

To his credit, Trump is
unlikely to trade away any of these noncommercial interests as a part of a trade
deal with China.

For example, his
administration will continue to investigate the practices of Chinese
telecommunications company Huawei and allegations that it evaded U.S. sanctions
against Iran, that it has stolen trade secrets, and that it actively conspired against
the interests of the U.S.

Even when a deal is done, the
U.S. should continue to seek to punish those who steal intellectual property—and
not by punishing Americans simply because they want to buy goods from China.

The U.S. must enforce the
rule of law and protect our intellectual-property rights before, during, and
after any deal with China is made. Otherwise, issues like theft stop being
legal matters and become bargaining chips.

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