The Obama administration, trying to build ties with an economic rival, said Wednesday that China would buy $25 billion in U.S. goods and had given final approval to a long-negotiated $19 billion deal for 200 Boeing planes.
The announcement came as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived at the White House for a state visit with President Barack Obama.
The agreements could ease some concerns from Washington and Americans businesses, which contend China has hurt U.S. exports by keeping its currency artificially low. That makes Chinese products cheaper in the U.S. and U.S. products more expensive in China.
At a White House meeting with business leaders, Hu told U.S. executives he welcomed their business and said his country was speeding up economic restructuring and trying to boost domestic consumption — a chief concern for the U.S. as it looks to reduce the trade gap with China.
Obama said at a joint news conference later with Hu that while there are vast opportunities to expand U.S. trade and investment with China, both countries must create conditions to ensure their economic relationship is balanced.
"I did also stress to President Hu that there has to be a level playing field for American companies competing in China, that trade has to be fair," Obama said.
The U.S. exports about $100 billion annually to China in goods and services, supporting about half a million American jobs, according to the White House. Officials said Wednesday the new deals with China would support up to 235,000 jobs in the U.S.
Among the U.S. companies involved are General Electric, Honeywell and Navistar. Boeing had been in negotiations with China over the aircraft deal for several years, but awaited final approval from the Chinese government before it could go ahead with the sale.
"We want to sell you all kinds of stuff," Obama said. "We want to sell you planes. We want to sell you cars. We want to sell you software."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said more work is ahead to remove barriers for American companies working in China.
"These kinds of business deals, while very positive, cannot be a substitute for some of the structural changes China needs to make," said Jeremie Waterman, the Chamber's senior director of China policy.
The White House said Chinese officials have said Beijing would start addressing some of the barriers that have angered U.S. businesses. During Hu's visit, Chinese officials agreed to better enforce intellectual property rights and ease a policy that limits Beijing's purchase of foreign products to those designed in China. U.S. businesses see the policy as a ploy to force them to turn over their technology to China or be locked out of business with the government.
The White House said Chinese officials agreed not to make government buying decisions based on where the intellectual property rights for goods or services are developed or maintained, and wouldn't discriminate against innovative products made by foreign suppliers operating in China.
U.S. software companies have said they're cheated out of billions in sales because Chinese companies, and even government agencies, illegally copy their programs instead of buying them. In the business meeting at the White House, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told Obama his company estimates that just one of every 10 customers using Microsoft products in China actually paid for them.
China agreed in December to allocate money in its budget for legal software purchases, and on Wednesday, the White House said China agreed to audit the use of legal software and publish the results. U.S. officials hailed the move as a significant step forward in transparency for the often secretive Chinese government.
Yet Waterman questioned how serious the Chinese were about reducing piracy and increasing legal software purchases given that the new export deals included no agreements with software companies.
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