Here’s why postponing the U.S.-China trade deal review may not be a bad thing

Postponing the U.S.-China trade deal review may not be a bad thing, an analyst said on Monday.

The two sides were set to meet virtually on Saturday, but the talks have been delayed due to scheduling conflicts and the need to allow time for the Chinese to buy American exports, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. No new date has been set.

“I think it’s in the interest of the two parties to have a little more time,” said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“China does seem to be stepping up their soybean purchases and their energy purchases, so if you review right now, objectively it’s not very good. Give it a little bit more time, it’ll probably look somewhat better,” Dollar told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

After all, President Donald Trump does not want to “rip off the deal” at this time. “It’s not in his interest to have a review that things are not going well as he wants this to look like a foreign policy victory,” said Dollar.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He were scheduled to meet.

China has so far fallen short on its promised purchases in the initial deal. In that agreement, China pledged to buy an additional $200 billion in U.S. goods over the next two years, on top of the 2017 U.S. export numbers.

However, in the first half of 2020, China bought less than 25% of the targeted full-year amount of U.S. products based on both sets of statistics, data compiled by the think tank showed. The data excludes China’s purchase of U.S. services, PIIE said.

Another two issues may be complicating the trade deal review.

“Usually, the Communist Party leadership meets at the beach at this time,” Dollar said, referring to the secretive meeting at the seaside town of Beidaihe on China’s northeast coast every summer.

Chinese lead trade negotiator Liu probably had to attend high-level meetings at this time, said Dollar.                           

Another issue that probably complicated the scheduled trade review is that the Chinese wanted to discuss recent measures the Trump administration has taken in the U.S. against Chinese tech firms — but those are not under the USTR’s purview, creating some disjunction, said Dollar.

Last week, Trump issued executive orders that banned U.S. transactions with Chinese tech firms Tencent and ByteDance.

“I think the trade representative Robert Lighthizer is just trying to do a very professional job, keeping the discussion that he is involved in exactly in his wheelhouse — which is general imports and exports, not national security-related,” said Dollar.

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