WASHINGTON -- The United States and China have reached a preliminary trade agreement that includes the cancellation and rollback of some tariffs on Chinese products and a commitment by Beijing to step up purchases of American farm goods.
An agreement on the so-called phase one deal, confirmed by President Donald Trump and senior Chinese officials moments apart Friday, could defuse tensions in a nearly two-year-long trade war that has strained relations and hampered the global economy.
"This is the first bilateral trade deal in 20 years -- it was hard fought, hard won and long overdue," said Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former treasury secretary who is chairman of the Paulson Institute, a think tank focused on U.S.-China relations. "While the issues between the U.S. and China extend far beyond trade, this is a first step toward completing a comprehensive trade agreement."
Neither side, however, provided specifics of the deal, and Chinese officials noted that the agreement still has to go through "legal review, translation and proofreading."
Over the last year, previous tentative deals to resolve the standoff have fallen apart before completion, sending both sides back to the negotiating table. And even if the latest agreement is finalized, it is a far cry from the comprehensive deal Trump once promised to force China to dramatically reshape its practices.
Trump, in a tweet Friday, described the deal as "very large," with "many structural changes and massive purchases" of U.S. agricultural, energy and manufactured products.
In exchange, Trump confirmed he was withdrawing the 15% tariffs on about $160 billion of Chinese imports that were set to take effect on Sunday. In addition, he said he was halving similar taxes on $110 billion of goods from China, but would keep 25% tariffs on another $250 billion of imports that Trump had imposed earlier.
When Trump first announced the phase one deal in early October, he said the Chinese had agreed to buy $40 billion to $50 billion of U.S. farm goods -- about double the average annual amount in recent years prior to the trade war. And on Friday, he told reporters again: "The farmers are going to have to go out and buy much larger tractors."
Chinese officials, however, were more circumspect in their characterization of the deal. Pressed at an 11 p.m. news conference in Beijing, they declined to provide specifics on the amount, type or timing of purchases of U.S. agricultural products by China, saying only that the increase would be by a "notable margin."
Many analysts say China will be hard-pressed to make a specific commitment on purchases because of its trading relations with other countries and the potential for changing needs and preferences from Chinese buyers.