WASHINGTON — As the United States and China edge closer […]

WASHINGTON — As the United States and China edge closer to a trade agreement, the ability to reach a final deal is coming down to a central question: Will Beijing live up to its promises?


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a CNBC interview on Wednesday, said that the countries had “pretty much agreed” on an enforcement mechanism for a trade deal, adding that both sides would establish “enforcement offices” to deal with continuing trade matters.

财政部长史蒂文·马努钦(Steven Mnuchin)周三接受CNBC采访时表示,两国在贸易协议的执行机制上“基本达成一致”,并补充说,双方将设立“执行办公室”来处理持续性贸易事务。

But it remains unclear which provisions of the trade deal will be subject to enforcement and how much power the United States will have to punish Beijing if it reneges on the agreement. The ability to secure a firm commitment from China to hold up its end of the pact or face repercussions will be a key determinant in whether President Trump’s trade deal is seen as a true win or a capitulation.


The emerging pact tries to resolve longstanding concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, including forcing American companies to turn over valuable technology as a condition of doing business in China and restricting American firms from participating in certain industries. But business leaders are closely watching to see exactly how American negotiators will ensure that China holds to its commitments.


The United States is pushing for a broad commitment that would allow American tariffs on Chinese goods to snap back if China violates key promises — without permitting China to retaliate in response. So far, Chinese leaders have been reluctant to agree to an enforcement mechanism that would leave their economic future at the mercy of American politicians.


In a hearing in March, Robert Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s top negotiator leading the China talks, said the United States had to maintain the right to be able to raise tariffs “in situations where there’s violations of the agreement.”

在3月份一次听证会上,领导中国会谈的特朗普首席谈判代表罗伯特·莱特希泽(Robert Lighthizer)表示,美国必须保留在“违反协议的情况下”提高关税的权利。

“That’s the core,” he added. “If we don’t do that, then none of it makes any difference.”


Mr. Lighthizer and other White House officials have criticized past administrations for extracting promises from the Chinese, only to see those pledges go unfulfilled as the two sides engaged in extended dialogues. But some China experts and business leaders say that the Trump administration’s approach, as described publicly, does not appear to differ much.


When asked about the enforcement mechanism at a hearing in February, Mr. Lighthizer said that the two countries would hold a series of regular meetings at various levels of the government to resolve complaints brought by companies. If the issues could not be resolved through negotiation, the United States would impose tariffs.


China experts say enforcement is necessary given that the United States wants Beijing to make significant structural changes that will take time.


“The proof of structural change will only emerge over the next year or more,” said Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Then we will see, for example, whether new market access actually yields new opportunities for foreign companies or whether death by a thousand cuts prevents foreign firms from actually realizing any benefits.”

“结构变革的证据只会在未来一年或更长时间内出现,”对对外关系委员会(Council on Foreign Relations)亚洲研究主任易明(Elizabeth C. Economy)说。“届时我们将看到,比如新的市场准入是否真的为外国公司带来了新的机会,还是说通过千刀万剐的形式使外国公司无法真正得到任何实惠。”

But pressing China for firm commitments has not been easy. The Chinese are not expected to accept a tough enforcement mechanism — or agree to a final deal — without confirmation from the United States to remove some portion of Mr. Trump’s tariffs on the $250 billion worth of Chinese goods he imposed last year. The more hawkish members of Mr. Trump’s administration, including Mr. Lighthizer, have cautioned that no provisions are final until the entire deal is done.


Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, suggested that Mr. Mnuchin might have been getting ahead of himself on the enforcement agreement if such a deal includes China agreeing not to retaliate against future tariffs.

美中贸易全国委员会(U.S.-China Business Council)主席克雷格·艾伦(Craig Allen)表示,如果这样一份协议包括中国同意不对未来的关税进行报复,那么马努钦说的双方在执行机制上的共识可能有些言之过早。

“I remain very cautious on this,” Mr. Allen said. “Will the Chinese really renounce the ability to retaliate at what they feel is an unfair trade action? I think it defies Chinese tradition.”


Mr. Trump, who met with a Chinese delegation in the Oval Office last week, said negotiators might require four more weeks to finish ironing out the deal.


Mr. Mnuchin on Thursday declined to specify whether the countries were on track for that timeline, saying Mr. Trump is “more focused on the right deal.”


Mr. Mnuchin added that some chapters of the agreement were close to finished, while others still had “technical issues.” He declined to comment on whether the United States and China had agreed to remove all or part of the tariffs the two countries had leveled on each other, and when.


Myron Brilliant, the executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the two sides were closer but cautioned that the Chinese would not agree to a final deal without something in return.

美国商会执行副会长、国际事务负责人薄迈伦(Myron Brilliant)表示,双方距离达成协议更近了,但警告称如果从中得不到点什么,中国人是不会同意最终协议的。

“I remain confident in the prospects of a deal, but I think we need to be cleareyed and understand that China could walk away from expected commitments in purchases, market access, intellectual property and other areas if they don’t get something out of this deal, and that’s tariff relief,” he said.


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