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Trade war

China faces tough task in pledge to boost US imports

Aging population squeezes demand for additional American products

Soybeans are harvested in the U.S. state of Indiana: China would boost agricultural imports by over 50% under its partial trade deal with Washington.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- Despite Chinese and American negotiators reaching a partial deal toward ending their tit-for-tat trade war, questions remain as to whether Beijing realistically can meet the aggressive terms, which include essentially doubling its imports from the U.S. in two years.

The deal described Friday would lift Chinese purchases of American agricultural products to $40 billion, up from $24 billion in 2017, and expand total imports by $200 billion over the two-year period, according to top U.S. officials.

"The farmers are going to have to go out and buy much larger tractors," U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that day.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Sunday on the television program "Face the Nation" that the deal will nearly double U.S. exports to China over the next two years and is "totally done."

But China faces high hurdles to keeping its end of the bargain. Agricultural products specifically would have to rise by more than 50% from the record $26 billion logged in 2012.

American farmers "have already cultivated new buyers outside China, and they would have trouble increasing shipments to China by 50%," a lobbyist in Washington said.

China is unlikely to produce a dramatic boost in demand as well. The country's imports of goods and services fell 5% on the year in the January-September period, with a drop projected for the full year as well, as China grapples with an increasingly aged population.

Though the U.S. and Chinese governments could take a direct role in trade to ensure the terms of the deal are met, such a tactic risks squeezing out other trade partners like Japan and the European Union. For example, aircraft are the biggest U.S. export to China, and an even higher market share for Boeing would put French rival Airbus at a disadvantage.

Alienating other countries would be a blow to Beijing, which uses trade as a key diplomatic tool. China will welcome more high-quality European products to its market, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Slovenia on Saturday, as he sought to dispel potential concerns.

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