Beijing and Washington have been dealing in recent months with a growing list of contentious bilateral trade issues, from tariffs to the renminbi, but the 15th session of the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in May saw a shift in the atmospherics for the better.
The meeting, held in the US capital, produced eight agreements covering a variety of topics, but the biggest surprise was China's decision to delay implementation of its controversial wireless authentication and privacy infrastructure (WAPI) encryption standard for wireless chip sets.
In the days leading up to Vice Premier Wu Yi's visit to Washington, the US media made much of Wu's reputation for toughness, citing her nickname – "Iron Lady." Few were expecting the meeting between the often quarrelsome trading partners to bear significant results.
The agreements reached were short on binding commitments, but did provide hope for more progress on trade issues in the near-term. The postponement of WAPI implementation doesn't necessarily mean that the standard will be dropped altogether, but it does reduce the tension in the standoff between Beijing and major US technology companies including Intel, the world's largest chipmaker. It had said it would be unable to meet China's proposed June 1 deadline for WAPI compliance and had made no secret of its dissatisfaction with the standard.
At the meeting, China also vowed to crack down on copyright violations of American products including CDs, DVDs and computer software. Wu's entourage also pledged to open the mainland's labyrinthine goods distribution networks to foreign companies, which will benefit firms from the US in addition to other countries.
Agreements were also reached on the inspection and quarantine of agricultural products and 3G telecommunications, and on the establishment of six working groups to address issues including mediation of trade disputes and China's desire for market economy status under the WTO.
Progress was not made on all of the contentious trade issues, particularly in the agricultural sector. China refused US requests to lift its ban on poultry products enacted when avian flu was discovered in the US in February, but agreed to a partial loosening of the ban on US beef products introduced in December, when a case of BSE or "mad cow disease" was discovered in Washington state. China agreed to resume the import of US beef tallow and bull semen.
Not all observers were pleased with the results of the JCCT. The AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the US, chastised the American negotiators for not pressing China to ensure "workers' fundamental rights." The labor organization, which later accepted an invitation extended by Wu to inspect Chinese working conditions, also continued its call for a US investigation into Chinese labor practices.