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Alex Brandon / AP

The U.S. and China issued a joint 10-point communiqué Thursday evening announcing "initial commitments" on trade affecting investment, financial services, energy, and agriculture. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross briefed reporters on the agreement, which includes an end to China's ban on U.S. beef imports.

The agreement is "underwhelming" and "mostly aspirational," an international trade expert tells Axios — note the language: the U.S. "welcomes China," China "may proceed," the U.S. "recognizes," the U.S. "remains committed," and so on. This leaves a lot of questions as to what weight this agreement will ultimately hold.

  • For example: China will review eight pending U.S. biotech product applications that they have been on hold, but no guarantee to approve them...China will issue guidelines to allow U.S.-owned suppliers of electronic payment services to begin licensing processes. Again, this sounds like a win but the U.S. has already won a WTO trade dispute against China on these payment systems.
  • The takeaway: "It's a lot like Trump's executive orders that talk a lot but didn't do much," according to the former U.S. official.

Ending China's ban on U.S. beef imports:

  • Take this with a grain of salt: China announced in September it would end its ban on U.S. beef, but it didn't amount to anything. The Chinese have been avoiding this move for years.
  • China could point to health standards if it wanted to continue banning U.S. beef imports, and continue to use beef as a leverage point due to the size of the Chinese market.
  • The Chinese used that leverage to get another agreement this time around: the U.S. will now start importing Chinese pre-cooked poultry, which senior U.S. officials have been resistant to for years due to a perceived lack of readiness to go to market, according to a former U.S. government official familiar with the matter.

The rest of the agreement includes some optics, including the U.S. recognizing "the importance of China's One Belt and One Road initiative." That's symbolically a big deal, since Xi Jinping will want to tally some wins as he nears his five-year mark.

On finance: China will issue "underwriting and settlement licenses" to two U.S. financial institutions — which probably means a nice payday for two big banks in the U.S.

On natural gas: read our earlier post here on the significance of that move.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

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