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By John Butcher
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged greater market access and a better business environment while meeting a U.S. delegation of business leaders and former officials, according to a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency June 20.
Li encouraged American companies to “share investment opportunities in China” and “contribute to bilateral economic and trade cooperation,” according to Xinhua. He mentioned opportunities in the “fast-growing service industry and transformation and upgrading of the manufacturing industry.”
The promise is likely to have been met with both hope and suspicion by the U.S. group, which included ConocoPhillips Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, and a group of senior business executives. The delegation is in Beijing this week for meetings with their Chinese counterparts.
They’ve heard Li say this before, and both the U.S. and European Union are hoping the 19th Party Congress this autumn will pave the way for economic reform, allowing greater market opening.
Delegation members have previously urged the two sides to reignite talks on a bilateral investment treaty that would improve market access for U.S. companies in China. In March, Gutierrez told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the two sides should complete talks on a bilateral investment treaty as soon as possible.
Barshefsky also has urged the two sides to cooperate on opening trade further, although she has been critical of Beijing’s lack of action, telling an audience in March at the China Development Forum that the U.S.-China trade relationship is “highly unbalanced and skewed in China’s favor.”
The U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) talks that were actively pursued by the Obama administration have been put on hold by the administration of President Donald Trump. Just two weeks ago, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two countries will continue to negotiate specific trade issues before focusing on talks for a BIT, which would give American companies increased access to Chinese markets.
In the lead-up to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Trump, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zheng Zeguang said the country is “committed to reform and opening up” and stressed that China is “open to foreign investment” as evidenced by the government’s commitment in January to broaden market access as part of the 13th Five Year Plan.
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