Opening Plenary Remarks by Ambassador Froman at the 27th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade
November 23, 2016
Good morning and welcome.
Vice Premier Wang Yang, since you arrived in the United States last weekend, you have had an opportunity to enjoy a bit of the Virginia countryside, hear the views of prominent scholars from both of our countries, to meet with Chinese and American businesspeople, and to enjoy the company of American and Chinese officials.
But now it is time to roll up our sleeves and begin the work of the plenary session, where we will review the progress that has been made over the last year in our investment issues and economic relationship.
Before we start, I want to paraphrase a famous Chinese phrase, ‘you are visiting in interesting times.’ The U.S. has had an election that will bring a new Administration to Washington and that moment is fast approaching. There is a degree of uncertainty about what the future will hold, a certain amount of which is inevitable as you go through our transition.
Let me offer the following observation. Vice Premier Wang and I periodically exchanged books about our countries. A few years ago, I gave him a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In that book, the French diplomat wrote, during a U.S. election, “intrigues become more active, agitation more lively and more widespread. The entire nation falls into a feverish state.” But after the election, though, “everything becomes calm, and the river, one moment overflowed, returns to its bed.”
Now of course, that was written in 1831, so take it for what it is worth.
That being said, this is a good time to take stock of the U.S.- China relationship—what’s been accomplished during the last eight years, what we hope to accomplish today, and what we should do together to ensure that our relationship continues to flourish in the coming years.
President Obama has often said that ours is the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century. When he took office in January 2009, we were in the midst of the most serious economic crisis in eight years, and the first economic crisis China participated in as a central player in the global economy.
Through the G-20, the United States and China partnered to ensure the Great Recession would not become another Great Depression. In Pittsburgh, President Obama and then-President Hu Jintao pledged to, “work together, as well as with other countries, to help the world return to strong growth and to strengthen the international financial system so a crisis of this magnitude never happens again.”
Those weren’t just words. Our countries worked together to manage crisis, strengthen a financial regulatory framework, and growth in our respective countries helped drive global recovery over the last eight years.
In 2013, I had the privilege of joining President Xi and President Obama as they met at Sunnylands in California to continue mapping out a constructive and lasting working relationship between our two countries.
We have made steady progress on a range of economic issues in our bilateral relationship, from intellectual property to indigenous innovation, from cyber theft to beef, although we still have some work to do to have American beef served in Beijing.
At the multilateral level, we have worked together to reach an agreement on agricultural export subsidies in Nairobi, the elimination of tariffs on more than one trillion dollars on information technology products, to allow the WTO information technology agreement to stand.
Of course, outside the economic relationship, U.S. and China cooperation has been critical to global efforts in a number of different areas, from nuclear nonproliferation to climate change.
We still have much work to do, and that’s why processes like the JCCT are so important. Today we will focus on key areas of importance within our bilateral relationship, including: excess capacity, agricultural biotechnology, innovation, and other issues.
I am pleased to have the opportunity on the margins of these meetings to discuss other areas where we can jointly work together for the remainder of our term.
We have an opportunity to expand trade, strengthen the multilateral trading system, and address major environmental concerns in the negotiation of the Environmental Goods Agreement. I urge our Chinese colleagues to focus on their contribution during those negotiations to a successful close.
And we have had an opportunity to advance discussions towards a high standard Bilateral Investment Treaty that locks in important disciplines and opens China’s markets, and promotes market reforms.
Because this is my last JCCT meeting, I want to emphasize the need to keep the U.S.-China relationship on an even keel, even as we sail into the strong headwinds of populism and protectionism that are blowing all around the world.
Our two governments have less than two months to reinforce and fortify this relationship, so that it can endure through the uncharted waters that lay ahead.
We will always have differences. Any two major trade partners always do. But the test of the relationship is not whether we have differences, but how we deal with them.
The meetings this week give us a concrete opportunity to make progress, not just in words, but in how we address those differences.
I want to thank my co-chairs, Secretary Pritzker and Vice Premier Wang, who have been great partners in this effort, for their dedication and leadership.
I would like to thank our Deputies and their teams for all their hard work into the wee hours of the morning that they have put in.
Of course I want to thank our partners, Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Baucus, who have been important sources of guidance on these and so many other issues.
As Secretary Pritzker said, a reimagined JCCT has helped make this forum an important part of the U.S.-China relationship, and I am pleased we have significant achievements to show for our work.