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China promises to promote U.S. beef imports

BEIJING - China promised Friday to ease restrictions on imports of U.S. beef and to speed up work on opening its market for government purchases of software and other goods.

The pledges came as American and Chinese envoys ended a meeting of the annual U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade amid disputes over market access for goods from solar panels to genetically modified corn.

A Chinese deputy commerce minister, Wang Chao, said at a news conference the two sides agreed to "promote U.S. beef exports to China" but gave no details. A deputy agriculture ministry, Niu Dun, said the two sides will work on technical issues but gave no timetable for when full-scale imports might be allowed.

Beijing banned U.S. beef in 2003 due to fears of mad cow disease. It has promised in recent years to ease those restrictions but effectively maintained its ban.

Wang said Beijing also committed to submitting a new proposal next year to join the Government Procurement Agreement, which extends the World Trade Organization's free-trade principles to purchases by governments.

Government agencies, hospitals and other official entities in China are major purchasers of software and other goods. Business groups say extending the GPA to China could create multibillion-dollar new opportunities for foreign suppliers.

Beijing promised to join the GPA when it became a WTO member in 2001. But the United States and other governments complained its proposed terms were unrealistic. They would have kept large areas of government purchasing off-limits on security grounds and allowed Beijing to wait up to 18 years before implementing all of its promises.

Wang, the commerce official, said Beijing promised next year's offer would be in line with proposals by other countries.

The two governments also pledged to strengthen cooperation in criminal enforcement of trade secrets and in combatting violations of patents, copyrights and other intellectual property.

The JCCT, established in 1983, is meant to resolve conflicts over trade issues before they disrupt trade.

The U.S. delegation to this week's meeting was led by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In addition to Wang and Niu, the Chinese delegation was led by a deputy finance minister, Zhu Guangyao.

The United States and China have one of the world's most active trade relationships, with total commerce of some $500 billion a year, but ties are fraught with tension over Beijing's multibillion-dollar trade surpluses and complaints about market barriers.

On Friday, China's product quality agency announced it has rejected 12 batches of U.S. corn totaling 545,000 tons that were found to contain an unapproved genetically modified strain.

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