This week, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will convene the 21st annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), which is our most important bilateral dialogue for resolving trade and investment issues between the two nations.
To help set the stage for this meeting, Secretary Locke recently convened a full-day policy conference at Georgetown University exploring the U.S.-China Commercial relationship -- with most discussion panels focusing on finding ways to resolve the trade disputes that animate so much of the coverage of U.S.-China commercial interaction.
It is an important discussion. China is the United States’ second-largest trading partner, with our bilateral trade in goods alone amounting to $365 billion last year. And U.S. exports to China are up more than 24 percent since 2008. Moreover, China and the U.S. are currently partnering to find solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, including climate change and energy security.
For that reason, Secretary Locke made clear that the U.S. government welcomed continued strong growth in China as a way for China to improve the well-being of its citizens. As more and more Chinese move into the middle class, they will want world-class, American-made goods and that will mean more jobs here in the U.S. as our companies work to meet that demand. But the Secretary also told the Georgetown audience that the full promise of the U.S.-China relationship won’t be realized until China “address[es] the market access barriers [in China] that prevent our. . . products and services from servicing that surging demand in the world’s second-largest economy.”
Knocking down market access barriers in China will be one of the key agenda items at the upcoming JCCT. Of course, that requires an understanding of what drives economic policymaking decisions in Beijing -- an issue central to the all-day conference at Georgetown. Among the more interesting revelations were:
- Kam Wing Chan  explained that one of the key factors enabling the production of low-cost goods in China is the migration of Chinese rural residents who come to the cities without credentials and can be convinced to work for very little.
- Shang-Jin Wei  surmised that China's low rate of domestic consumption is driven in part by its longstanding, one-child policy that has created an excess of young men of marrying age – whose families engage in savings competitions to help make their sons more attractive to the comparatively smaller number of young women in China.
- Denis Simon  explained that the Chinese government views cooperation on science and technology as the single most important element of its commercial relationship with the United States.
- Jennifer Turner  highlighted a study showing that, in many cases, combining the strengths of innovative U.S. technologies and Chinese manufacturing capacity can spur the significant increase in green jobs that both countries are seeking.
- James Feinerman  also highlighted the difficulties that China's central government has compelling local and provincial authorities to follow national laws, especially in regards to intellectual property protection.
A variety of U.S. Commerce Department officials discussed efforts underway to deal with challenges and opportunities in China, including the promotion of American exports within China, bilateral efforts to create more uniform standards for smart electric grids, and continuing efforts to combat intellectual property theft and transnational bribery in China and elsewhere.
As Locke and the Commerce Department gear up to host the JCCT, the American people can feel confident that the Obama administration will continue its efforts to level the playing field for U.S. companies in China and push for Beijing to promote market reforms that will not only benefit American firms and their workers but the Chinese people as well.