China committed to Phase 1 trade deal despite pandemic: U.S. official

China remains “very, very committed” to meeting its commitments under a Phase 1 trade deal with the United States, despite the unprecedented economic and health impacts of the new coronavirus outbreak, a senior U.S. trade official said.

The official told reporters that U.S. officials were talking regularly, and often daily, about implementation of the trade deal and to make sure that China fulfilled its extensive agreements to buy American goods and services.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office kept China on its priority watch list for concerns about intellectual property (IP) protections, and was watching closely to see whether it implemented changes agreed to as part of the trade agreement and continue to open its market to foreign investment, the official said.

“China’s placement on that list reflects the urgent need to remedy a range of IP-related concerns, including China’s system of pressuring, and coercing, technology transfer, the need for fundamental structural changes to strengthen IP protection, and enforcement in the widespread infringing activity within its borders,” the official said.

He said the Phase 1 agreement did include “very robust” provisions on IP protections and they were being implemented through a number of actions by China.

“We will continually assess its implementation of the Phase 1 agreement,” said the official. “We’ve had very good interactions with Chinese (officials) on that, and they are continuing to implement their obligations.”

The official said there were challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak, but the overall experience showed Beijing was sticking to its commitments under the trade deal.

As part of the trade deal signed on Jan. 15, Beijing agreed to nearly double its U.S. farm product purchases and lower several agricultural trade barriers that Washington said limited access to the lucrative Chinese market.

However, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the outbreak could have an impact on the size of the purchases this year.

The U.S. official said India and Saudi Arabia also remained on the USTR’s priority watch list for IP concerns, but Greece had been removed due to what he called “signficant progress” in protecting IP rights.

He said the pandemic underscored the importance of solid IP protection to encourage innovation in development of new pharmaceuticals and other health technologies.