Why the JCCT Meeting in Beijing is a Non-story

December 20, 2012

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the current U.S.-China bilateral meeting, which is part of the U.S-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) framework. Not much to say, really. The following quote in Reuters is indicative of the type of progress that is expected this time around:

The United States expects only “incremental” progress on longstanding farm trade issues in high-level talks with China on Wednesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some progress, but it’s incremental. It’s slow but sure,” Vilsack told reporters after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Yeah, don’t expect too much this week in terms of “deliverables.” Maybe China will announce the purchase of a few planes or something, and perhaps some sort of technical cooperation on some obscure field of endeavor can be touted, but nothing big is going to happen.

I hope you aren’t disappointed. Some commentators speculated that the U.S.-China relationship would find its groove once again after the nonsense of the U.S. election was behind us and China took care of its own succession issues. Both events went down more or less smoothly, and I would still hope that the bilateral relationship can now begin to settle down.

But let’s be realistic. These monumental political events just took place. For new President Xi, he is still in a consolidation phase, and one has to assume that his attention is focused on internal political maneuvering. For President Obama, he has the dreaded “fiscal cliff” to navigate and has not even announced his second-term cabinet reshuffling. So much to do in the early days for both of these guys, and the holidays make all of this even more difficult.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t important bilateral issues to deal with. Of course there are. But let’s face it, a lot of the top agenda items are not exactly time sensitive. Take a look at the list Reuters came up with and tell me if anything there is not at least several years old:

The United States is pressing Beijing to take stronger action to fight piracy and counterfeiting of U.S. goods and end policies that discriminate against foreign firms or require them to transfer technology to do business in China.

China has its own list of concerns, which include U.S. restrictions on exports of high technology and its active use of anti-dumping and countervailing duties against imports of Chinese goods that Washington believes are unfairly priced.

IP, technology, market access, anti-dumping, and export restrictions — we’re talking about bilateral frictions that are at least a decade old. If Reuters is saying that these are the topics that will dominate the discussion at the JCCT meeting, that’s just another way of saying that nothing much is going on and each side will revert to the Powerpoint presentations that were put together when China joined the WTO.

I’m going back to sleep. Call me when something happens.