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U.S.-China Reach First Phase Of A Trade Deal


The U.S. and China look to be on their way to the first phase of a trade deal - phase one - that would avoid another round of tariffs that was set to take effect this weekend. President Trump tweeted about the agreement, calling it, quote, "an amazing deal for all." Chinese officials confirmed an agreement in a news conference. They said both sides have committed to work quickly to put details on paper for a formal signing ceremony. NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is with me in studio.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So, over the last 24 hours, there have been conflicting reports about what is actually in this agreement. Do we know anything definitive now?

HORSLEY: Both sides have been pretty stingy with the details. And, of course, in the past, we've had a lot of hyperbole about an agreement that didn't actually pan out. So we do want to be careful. But we did get a fairly cryptic news conference from the Chinese side this morning. That was followed by some celebratory tweets from the president - Trump - and then finally, a one-page read-out from the U.S. trade representative that put a little bit of meat on the bones.

Here's what we think is happening on the basis of that. The next round of tariffs, which were to take effect on Sunday on $160 billion worth of Chinese imports - those tariffs have been suspended. The most recent round of tariffs, which took effect in September on about $112 billion worth of Chinese imports - those are going to be cut in half. It had been a 15% tariff. That's going down to 7.5%. And then the remaining U.S. tariffs on about - excuse me, about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, which were 25% - those tariffs are going to stay in place for now.

Now, in exchange for the tariff relief, the president says China has agreed to, quote, "massive purchases of farm goods, energy and manufactured products." But we haven't seen any explanation of what massive means there. And then China is also expected to provide some more protection for intellectual property, which is something they were already sort of in the process of doing.

KING: OK. And the tariffs you mentioned - the ones that the U.S. was getting ready to impose this weekend - those were a big deal because they were going to hit a lot of consumer goods - right? - during the holiday shopping season.

HORSLEY: Right. And unlike some of the previous tariffs, these were going to fall on things that ordinary people like, like laptops, cellphones, children's toys. Now, they wouldn't have affected items that are currently on store shelves. The tariffs are assessed when cargo containers arrive at the port.

But there was a worry among retailers and other businesses that just the news of another round of tariffs might have put a damper on holiday sales during a very important selling season. We got news just this morning that November sales were a little below expectations. So there's a - you know, some concern out there. The consumer spending is a huge pillar propping up the U.S. economy. So there's going to be a lot of relief now in the business community that those December 15 tariffs that were going to take effect on Sunday have now been postponed indefinitely.

KING: All right. So we have been talking about this trade war for 18 months now. Does this agreement mean that we are finally done?

HORSLEY: No. The trade war, I think, is not over. But we do have, I guess, a temporary truce. It remains to be seen how much additional stuff China actually buys from the U.S. Thus far, we haven't seen that quantified. The president has floated some astronomical figures that probably aren't realistic, but nobody's putting hard numbers on that right now. There are also other items, the kind of big-ticket items, that are still out there to be resolved. The reason that the president launched this trade war initially was all about intellectual property...

KING: Yeah.

HORSLEY: ...And the forced transfer of technology. The U.S. trade representative statement does make some reference to those items today and some structural changes that China's supposed to make. But details are pretty thin right now.

KING: OK. That battle may not be won.

Scott Horsley, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.