After months of negotiating between Washington D.C. and Beijing, the United States and China finally agreed on a phase one trade deal in December, which was signed by President Donald Trump in mid-January.
The agreement involves a Chinese pledge to buy an additional $200 billion (compared to 2017 levels) worth of American products over a two-year period in return for the U.S. cancelling plans to impose fresh tariffs on $156 billion worth of Chinese imports as well as the easing of existing tariffs on $120 billion of Chinese goods. The bulk of the tariffs currently imposed by the U.S. will remain in place, however, until both parties eventually agree on a phase two deal.
According to a factsheet published by the U.S. Trade Department in December, the current accord also involves Chinese concessions with respect to intellectual property issues (e.g. trade secrets, pirated and counterfeit goods) and an agreement on Beijing’s side to end the forced transfer of technology by U.S. companies in return for access to the Chinese market.
The easing for the remaining tariffs reportedly hinges on China’s compliance with the terms of the phase one deal, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stressed that the phase one deal does not include a pathway for China to earn additional tariff relief.
As controversial as Trump’s approach to trade policy is, it did manage to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China significantly. The U.S. trade deficit in goods with China amounted to $345.6 billion in 2019, down from $419.2 billion the year before. The following chart shows how U.S. trade with China has developed since 1985.