China on track to fulfill ‘phase one’ trade deal purchases: Lighthizer

China is on track to fulfill its commitments to buy huge amounts of U.S. agricultural and other goods, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

“They say they’re going to meet them, and the indicators now that we have are that they are going to meet them,” Lighthizer said at a hearing on the trade agenda for 2020.

As part of the “phase one” trade deal signed earlier this year, China agreed to increase its U.S. imports by $200 billion over two years, with a particular focus on agriculture.

Skeptics of the deal said at the time that the U.S. would have trouble providing that level of goods, and might just redirect exports headed to other destinations toward China instead.

But the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic meltdown that accompanied it cast a longer shadow on the deal, which also scaled back a portion of the tariffs President Trump imposed on China in the trade war.

Trump, who is making toughness on China a central campaign issue, at one point went so far as to say he was “torn” as to whether he wanted to stay in the “phase one” deal at all.

But Lighthizer painted a rosier picture Wednesday.

“Every contact I’ve had with the Chinese, they have reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the purchase agreement,” he said.

When asked about the example of cotton purchases, he said that China had already bought $1 billion worth of American cotton this year, “way above where they were” last year, which itself saw record imports, he said.

“I don’t know if I should be making these public statements, but whatever,” he said of the figures, which have not yet been published.

Some purchases, such as soybeans, would see a boost in the latter half of the year, he predicted.

In the hearing, Lighthizer also criticized the World Trade Organization (WTO), which he called “a mess,” and pushed for reforms.

“The WTO has failed America and failed the international trading system,” he said.

The next director general for the group, he said, should be someone who understands that the system in place is insufficient for addressing big, state-run economies such as China’s.

Lighthizer also said it was “unlikely” that the U.S. would be able to stitch up negotiations with the United Kingdom over a new deal as the U.K. navigates its exit from the European Union. Even if an agreement came together, he said, it would be nearly impossible to consider moving it through Congress before November’s election.

Tags China Donald Trump Phase One trade deal Robert Lighthizer Trade

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