AP FACT CHECK: Overblown claim on new China trade deal

By JOSH BOAK Markets Associated Press

Heralding a new U.S.-China trade agreement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross puffed a bit too hard in describing its greatness.

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"It was pretty much a Herculean accomplishment to get this done," Ross said in describing a trade plan involving U.S. beef and liquefied natural gas exports to China. "This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade."

That would be a tall order, given a history that encompasses President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China, which ended a two-decade freeze between the two countries and laid the groundwork for the United States' largest trading relationship. U.S.-China exchanges of goods last year totaled nearly $579 billion, nearly one-sixth of all U.S. trade.

In addition to its provisions on beef and liquefied natural gas, the trade deal lowers long-standing barriers on the operation of U.S. financial firms in China, allows the import of cooked poultry from China, and will send U.S. delegates to a Chinese forum on building infrastructure in Asia and Europe.

Ross declined to say exactly what he meant by his characterization at a Thursday briefing. But trade experts questioned its magnitude, and the limited agreement on 10 items joins a list of tectonic shifts between the world's two largest economies.

Another is China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, an event that caused a surge in Chinese exports to the United States and created an economic shock that caused the loss of more than 1 million factory jobs, according to research by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson. President Donald Trump has made closing the U.S. gap with China — it totaled $347 billion last year — one of his major policy goals.

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Trade experts were quick to point out that the agreement, which largely focuses on agricultural goods, energy and financial products, does nothing for U.S. manufacturers, long a source of tension in the relationship with China.

"These are modest moves which by themselves will not have much effect on the U.S. economy," said David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Treasury Department official.