CHICAGO – China promised Thursday to speed up imports of pharmaceuticals and medical devices from the United States and enforce its anti-monopoly laws equally among Chinese and foreign companies.
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Those commitments were announced at an annual trade meeting between the two countries that took place in Chicago.
An assistant minister of commerce, Zhang Xiangchen, told reporters China would work to streamline the review and approval process for U.S. products in the pharmaceutical and medical industries and address a backlog within two to three years.
"We will also reduce as much as possible needless clinical trials," he said through an interpreter.
Topics at this year's U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade also included protection of intellectual property and trade secrets as well as ensuring there's a level playing field for U.S. companies in China.
The yearly gatherings are meant to resolve disputes before they disrupt trade.
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The American side was led by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
Pritzker said China's promises in the medical and pharmaceutical areas "should lead to (an) increase in U.S. exports and U.S. jobs in these two important sectors."
She also called Chinese movement on antitrust laws "significant." She and a panel of Chinese officials, who spoke separately, provided few details.
Business groups have expressed concern about a wave of Chinese anti-monopoly investigations, suggesting Beijing is improperly using those probes to pressure foreign companies to cut prices or change business practices.
Mentioning one specific step, Zhang said China would try, when possible, to allow U.S. legal counsel for American companies to attend meetings in antitrust proceedings.
Despite such pledges at the yearly gatherings, American companies have complained of slow progress and are pushing for faster strides toward an investment treaty between the two countries. A treaty would help make operating conditions in China's state-dominated economy clearer and more predictable, they say.
Pritzker acknowledged while summing up Thursday's talks that "none of this is to say that we got all the outcomes we wanted or that all the outcomes are perfect."
Trade between the two countries totaled $617 billion last year, and U.S. firms have rushed to invest in China.
But Beijing faces complaints that it's backtracking on market-opening pledges by tightening restrictions on foreign investment in technology, agriculture and other industries. Business groups argue that China improperly uses industrial standards and other regulation to shield its own companies from competition.
The Communist Party leadership under President Xi Jinping has promised to give market forces a bigger role but has yet to make major steps toward opening more industries such as banking, telecoms and logistics that are dominated by state companies.
For their part, the Chinese delegation pressed the U.S. side to allow China to import American oil and gas equipment.
Pritzker called that "a work in progress" and said the U.S. could agree to an export license for one product, perhaps two.
Associated Press writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report from Beijing.