UPDATE 3-U.S., China tout progress on trade irritants

Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:13pm EST

* China agreed to address U.S. concerns about piracy and counterfeiting

* U.S. pledged Chinese firms fair treatment in security reviews of investment plans

By Doug Palmer and Paul Eckert

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - After a year of clashes on trade and investment issues, senior U.S. and Chinese officials on Wednesday touted progress on a number of commercial irritants as a sign of the commitment both countries have to building a stronger relationship.

China agreed to take further steps to address U.S. concerns about widespread piracy and counterfeiting of American-made goods by strengthening enforcement of intellectual property rights and promoting the use of legal software by state-owned banks and state-owned enterprises, Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming told reporters after the meeting.

Such pledges are a staple of the annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, but U.S. officials said it was important to keep up steady pressure on the issue because of the big potential payoff for U.S. firms.

"Some of these issues may seem a bit esoteric, but they can make the difference between millions, billions of dollars of new exports and jobs being retained here at home," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters.

The past year has been a particularly bumpy one for the U.S.-China trade relationship, with the United States initiating a number of trade complaints against China at the World Trade Organization and slapping duties on high-value Chinese exports such as solar cells and wind turbine towers.

During the recent U.S. presidential campaign, both President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney also argued about who would do a better job of standing up to Beijing and fighting for U.S. jobs.

Chen said the United States made commitments in Wednesday's meeting to promote exports of high-technology goods to China and promised Chinese companies fair treatment when their plans to invest in the United States are reviewed for national security purposes.

China has long pressed the United States to ease is restrictions on exports of high-technology goods, and the Obama administration is in the process of a comprehensive reform effort that is expected to make it easier for many countries, including China, to buy those items from American firms.

However, acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said that would not apply to items on the U.S. munitions list because the United States does not allow arms exports to China.

JOBS AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

Some recent Chinese investments in the United States have been rejected on national security grounds, although U.S. officials say most projects are welcomed with open arms as a source of new jobs and economic growth.

The JCCT is an annual forum launched in 1983 for the two countries to address trade and investment concerns.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Jamie Waterman said agriculture was a key concern for this year's talks, on a U.S. laundry list that includes barriers to market access, enforcement of intellectual property rights and government procurement preferences.

In agriculture, "the absence of product approvals for roughly a year is a serious concern and has the potential to create real challenges for China," he said.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, said this week's JCCT convened in Washington amid a complicated global economy with multiple factors pointing to continue slower growth.

"Preserving growth, employment and stability will be the chief duty of every country," said Wang. He urged the two powers to use the talks to address mutual concerns and "avoid the politicization of trade issues."

With ongoing leadership transitions in Beijing and Washington it was important that working-level officials hold up "the JCCT as one of the pillars of stability in this relationship," said Kirk.

"The true success of this plenary will be judged by those who rely on the JCCT to deliver measurable results that help stabilize and enhance our trade and investment relationships," he said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who also attended the talks, noted that they came at a moment of "transition" for both governments.

Obama is expected to bring in a new economic team for his second term, which begins in January.

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping took over the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in November and will become head of state at March at the annual parliament meeting.

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