US-China deals signed amid rising trade deficit

BEIJING – US and Chinese companies on Wednesday signed business deals the two sides valued at $9 billion during a visit by President Donald Trump in a tradition aimed at blunting criticism of Beijing’s trade practices.

China’s biggest online retailer said it pledged to buy $1.2 billion of American beef and pork but no other details were immediately released about the 19 agreements signed at a ceremony attended by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Such contract signings are a fixture of visits by foreign leaders to China and often involve agreements negotiated weeks or months earlier that Beijing saved to showcase its importance as a market.

Trump has made narrowing the multibillion-dollar U.S. trade deficit with China a priority of his administration. He’s due to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the two countries’ trade relationship promises to figure prominently.

China’s trade surplus with the US in October widened by 12.2 percent from a year earlier to $26.6 billion, according to Chinese customs data released Wednesday. The total surplus with the US for the first 10 months of the year rose to $223 billion.

Beijing, however, can point to at least one data point that should cheer Mr. Trump: Its trade surplus of $26.6 billion with the US for the month showed a decline of $1.5 billion from September.

“Addressing the imbalance in China trade has been a central focus of collaborative discussions between President Trump and President Xi. And achieving fair and reciprocal treatment for the companies is a shared objective,” said Ross. “Today’s signings are a good example of how we can productively build up our bilateral trade.”

Online retailer JD.com said it would buy beef from the Montana Stock Growers Association and pork from Smithfield Foods over the next three years. Smithfield is owned by China’s WH Group, the world’s biggest pork packer.

JD.com said it would buy $2 billion of US goods over three years.

The chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, William Zarit, expressed hope ahead of Trump’s arrival that the signing of business deals wouldn’t draw attention away from “structural issues” including Chinese limits on foreign activity in finance, health care and other industries.

China is the No. 3 export market for the US after Canada and Mexico. US exports to China rose 77 percent from 2007 to 2016, but Washington reported a $347 billion trade deficit with China last year.

Among the other details in the report Beijing released Wednesday are that China’s global exports rose 6.9 percent to $188.9 billion, a decline from September’s 8.1 percent growth, according to customs data. Imports rose 17.2 percent to $150.9 billion, down from the previous month’s 18.7 percent increase.

Exports to the US rose 11.2 percent, while imports of US goods rose 17.4 percent, the customs agency reported.

China’s trade surplus with the 28-nation European Union, its biggest trading partner, narrowed by 6.6 percent to $11.3 billion.

Chinese export growth was unexpectedly strong in the first half of the year, a positive sign for China’s leaders, who want to avoid job losses in trade-related industries as they try to nurture consumer-led economic growth.

The outlook for Chinese exports has been clouded by mounting pressure from Washington to narrow the country’s trade surplus. The Trump administration has boosted duties Chinese goods such as stainless steel and plywood to offset what it says are improper subsidies.

“Export growth eased somewhat in October to a pace that is still solid, indicating that global demand momentum remains resilient,” Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics said in a report. “However, as trade with the US takes the limelight amid US President Trump’s China visit, we estimate that the US’s trade deficit with China will rise to close to $370 billion this year, adding to trade tensions.”

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