Yen Nee Lee
Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images
The American think tank projected that exports of U.S. goods to China could come in at only $60 billion for all of 2020 — much lower than the $186.6 billion needed to meet requirements in the agreement that both countries signed in January.
“The targets were never realistic; they were just gaudy numbers meant to impress. The pandemic made the unrealistic the impossible,” he said.
The coronavirus was first detected in China late last year, and Beijing responded by taking measures that many considered draconian — such as locking down cities, suspending public transport and shutting businesses — to contain the outbreak. Those measures led to a plunge in demand for goods and services in China, one of the world’s largest consumer markets.
Consequently, U.S. goods exports to China fell by 10% year over year in the first quarter of 2020, noted Kennedy, citing data from the U.S. Commerce Department. Official U.S. data for services is not yet published, but “it is likely to show a huge falloff due to the collapse of Chinese travel and tourism and the early closing of U.S. universities,” he added.
Several factors were behind the decline in U.S. goods exports to China in the first quarter:
- Energy exports were “perhaps the biggest disappointment” after falling by 33.3%;
- Sales of commercial aircraft were “essentially at zero” and that of automobiles were down by 46.9%;
- Soybean exports were lower by 39.4%;
- U.S. failing to take advantage of China’s “sky-high” demand for pork following a swine fever outbreak that caused a shortage of the staple meat. But the coronavirus caused many American meat-processing plants to halt production.
Options for Trump
Renewed tensions between the two economic powerhouses raised questions about the status of the phase one trade agreement, which investors and analysts considered a sort of truce in a U.S.-China trade war that started two years ago.
Top officials from both countries spoke over the phone last week and agreed to stay on course with regards to the trade deal, but U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was “very torn” about whether to end the agreement.
CSIS’ Kennedy outlined in the report three options that the Trump administration can take to address China’s “poor performance” in fulfilling the trade deal:
- Go through a multistage resolution process as outlined in the deal, which involves renegotiating targets and, failing which, applying “remedial” measures such as additional tariffs;
- Slap penalties on China and possibly even withdrawing from the deal entirely;
- Recognize that the pandemic has hampered China’s ability to buy more U.S. goods and that Chinese imports will rise as its economy restarts.
“There is a fourth option, but it is not one the administration will choose: Admit that the purchases component of the deal was a mistake to begin with and reconsider their entire approach to China,” he said.