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For all President Trump’s boasts at Davos on Tuesday, his trade negotiations so far have revolved around the wrong thing: The quantity of stuff the U.S. sells to China and other partners.
What actually matters is their quality.
Thirty years ago, China’s exports to the U.S. were dominated by clothing and footwear. U.S. exports to China were more mixed, containing both commodities and products requiring a lot of know-how, such as aircraft. Now, the U.S. is even more focused on commodities, whereas China’s top exports are complex goods like computers.
Beyond vague ambitions to protect trade secrets better, the “phase one” trade agreement signed in Washington last week doesn’t do much to address this issue.
President Trump has instead concentrated on reducing the $350 billion trade deficit in goods that the U.S. runs with China, which has pledged to buy $200 billion worth of American products over the next two years. While specific categories haven’t been disclosed, a big chunk of the total will come from agricultural products, and oil and gas.