The “first phase” of the U.S.-China trade agreement came into effect Friday with significant tariff cuts on both sides, although the coronavirus outbreak is adding up to doubts about Beijing’s ability to meet its commitments to increase purchases of U.S. products.
The pact reached in January, described by U.S. President Donald Trump as “revolutionary”, marked the beginning of the truce between the two countries after more than 18 months of trade war.
This first phase, which came into effect last morning, involved the reduction of US tariffs from 15% to 7.5% on Chinese imports worth $120 billion, although it keeps intact those of 25% on another group of imports worth $250 billion.
Trump indicated that the tariffs remain in place as a “negotiating” element for the second phase of the trade pact.
For its part, China will cut by half the tariffs on U.S. imports worth $ 75 billion.
However, the recent outbreak of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has caused more than a thousand deaths, has put at risk one of the commitments made by Beijing to increase purchases of products from the United States up to 200 billion dollars in the next two years.
To try to contain the outbreak, China, the world’s second largest economy after the US and a global hub for supply chains, has applied severe domestic travel restrictions and many factories have stopped or slowed down their operations.
“It is true that the trade agreement, the first phase of the deal, will take longer to boost exports because of the virus. That’s true,” acknowledged Larry Kudlow, White House economic adviser, in an interview with Fox Business Network this week.
The escalation in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies has had profound consequences beyond their borders.
So while welcoming the “first phase” of the agreement as a positive step towards easing tensions, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, urged in a statement to Washington and Beijing to “move towards a comprehensive pact that supports a more open, stable and transparent global trading system”.