Obama and Hu Jintao Play Nice, Avoid Hard Trade Policy Talk

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Not to sound too haughty, but we told you so.

(Admittedly, most observers agreed with us, so it’s not like we were alone. Read our previous post on this issue here.)

What we mean is that we totally saw how the “dog-and-pony show that was the State Dinner for Hu Jintao would play out before the Chinese president even touched down in DC. The meeting, eating, and surrounding talks weren’t much more than artifice, with both presidents Obama and Hu being polite to each other, and like a courting couple or, perhaps more aptly, like a couple that had already jumped in bed together and is now trying to gingerly figure things out the morning after only lightly touched on the real meat-and-potatoes issues rather than digging into them.

Even though I littered that last paragraph with all sorts of clichés, it’s hard not to see meetings like this for what they are a politically necessary yet overall unsatisfying maneuver.

For example, at the same time that Beijing was announcing growth figures that exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations China’s GDP rose 10.3 percent in December, almost certainly overtaking Japan as the world’s No. 2 economy President Obama was avoiding making waves.

“President Obama’s aides said that he pressed Mr. Hu more gently than Congressional critics did on letting China’s currency rise, noting it has gradually risen 3.5%, and more if inflation is accounted for, the Wall Street Journal noted. “But he said that China needs to do more, needs to move faster,” said a senior aide.

Well, gentle prodding and generalities from our political leaders will only get us so far. So what about our leaders of industry?

In what could be seen by many of the country’s manufacturers as a weak approach to a growing crisis, US corporate leaders (including the CEOs of Boeing, GE and Microsoft) who met at the White House with China’s president are reported to “have barely mentioned the yuan-dollar exchange rate, the WSJ article mentions. Having been the main sticking point for many US manufacturers in the steel industry and other metals markets, it seems the currency issue is not being tackled boldly enough.

While politicians and industry bigwigs are playing nice and re-announcing trade deals (like the “new multi-billion-dollar deal Boeing made with China for 200 planes originally struck in 2007), our economy continues to be in the toilet: for example, US housing starts were the lowest last month than they’ve been in over a year.

Source: Reuters

So is it a case of not wanting to rock the boat, as China continues to be our largest debt-buyer? How can we confront these issues in an effective manner?

It seems we should leave it to those who continue bridging the gap between government and business. John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, said the most important policy decision coming out of these talks was that of “delinking, which essentially means China assuring foreign companies “that they can bid on government procurements even if the technology is not developed in China. This appears to be a move against the “Buy China rules that have previously derailed foreign investment in high-tech business there.

John Bussey, WSJ’s executive business editor, interviewed Henry Kissinger, who summed up the last week rather acutely (and who knows firsthand about such things): “It’s a mistake to gear everything toward one meeting, he said in the interview. “And to think that a meeting will make a seminal difference in the relationship. Striking the timbre that we’ve hinted at in previous posts, Kissinger suggests any domestic economic turnaround begins with rectifying the US’ own shortcomings.

*Read about how MetalMiner sponsor Nucor proposes to make trade fair(er) on The Huffington Post.

–Taras Berezowsky

MetalMiner and its sister site, Spend Matters, along with Nucor, will host a live simulcast, International Trade Breaking Point on March 1, 2011. If your company sources products from overseas, you will not want to miss this half-day event:

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