Now that the long awaited Phase 1 deal has been signed between the US and China (significantly taking place in the White House) and details finally released (in a 94 page document) it’s worth asking whether much has actually changed. After all, China still faces (high) tariffs on around two-thirds of its exports to the US while the deal does little to end Chinese state subsidies. In return the US offers little aside from removing tariff increases. Intellectual property transfer commitments agreed in the deal are mostly not new as China had already addressed most of these.
Ironically the magnitude of Chinese purchases, ($77.7bn in manufactured goods, $32bn in agricultural goods, $52.4bn in energy and $37.9bn in services to Dec 2021) means that the Chinese State will have to be even more active in influencing its economy. The reality is that to achieve this is going to be extremely difficult if not highly unlikely though this may ultimately not matter if China is seen to significantly increase its US purchases.
Looking ahead don’t expect China to be as agreeable on a Phase 2 deal; any such deal would touch on far more sensitive issues. The likelihood of this being agreed and signed ahead of US elections or maybe at all, is low. However, in the near term, the deal keeps the risk taps open and avoids any near-term escalation while President Trump walks away with another notch on his belt. What it doesn’t do is stop any of the US non-tariff barriers, export controls etc, that will still hurt Chinese companies and push China to develop its own technology. Chinese growth will not get much of an uplift from the deal while markets have already largely priced it in.
The commitment from China on the Chinese yuan (CNY) looks vague (achieve market determined FX rate, strengthen underlying fundamentals, refrain from competitive devaluations, avoid large scale, persistent, one-sided intervention), but China will at least avoid any sharp devaluations (of the type experienced in mid-2015, Jan 16), not that they would want to do that again given the negative consequences on its markets/economy. And as it is China has not been intervening significantly in FX markets for a long while so this should not be difficult either.