U.S. Flights To China Will Double By 2012

Daily passenger flights between the United States and China will more than double by 2012 and air cargo companies will have virtually unlimited access to China as part of an aviation agreement announced Wednesday.

"Piece by piece, we are making it easier, cheaper and more convenient to fly people and ship goods between our two countries," Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said.

The accord was announced during high-level talks between the United States and China, known as the strategic economic dialogue, led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and China's Vice Premier Wu Yi.

Under the pact, U.S. carriers will be able to operate 23 daily roundtrip flights by 2012, up from 10 currently. The agreement will also allow the United States to designate three additional airlines to fly to China. UAL Corp.'s United Airlines won a new route that was awarded earlier this year.

American Airlines, which bid unsuccessfully last year for a Dallas-Beijing route, has said it plans to bid in the future for new flights to China. Officials at Delta Air Lines Inc. say the Atlanta-based carrier is also eager to get a foothold in China.

Meanwhile, the two countries concluded two days of high-level economic talks without making progress in their dispute over China's undervalued currency.

"While we have much more work to do, we have tangible results for our efforts thus far," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the head of the U.S. delegation, said at a briefing. "These results are like signposts on the long-term strategic road, building confidence and encouraging us to continue moving forward together."

Paulson said the two countries agreed on steps to be taken in such areas as financial services, energy and the environment and civil aviation.

But he indicated no breakthrough on the contentious issue of currency, only repeating that it is in China's interest to allow its currency to be revalued.

American manufacturers contend that China is manipulating its currency to keep it undervalued against the dollar by as much as 40 percent, making Chinese goods cheaper in the U.S. market and American products more expensive in China.

The issue has added to growing resentment among U.S. lawmakers, who are considering a spate of bills that would impose sanctions on China for what critics call predatory economic practices. Many blame America's soaring trade deficits and the loss of one in six manufacturing jobs since 2000 in part on claims of Chinese currency manipulation and copyright piracy.

Wu, the head of the Chinese delegation, and other ministers were scheduled to meet Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Wu is to meet on Thursday with President Bush.

Paulson said the Chinese delegation would likely hear "some strong views" from U.S. lawmakers.

Wu, in her concluding remarks, called the talks "a complete success."

"Through the dialogue, we have reached much consensus and realized positive results," she told reporters. But Wu said through an interpreter that the talks should serve a constructive purpose and keep the countries from reverting to the "easy resort to threat and sanctions."

Paulson said the two sides would also cooperate in the development of clean energy technology, something critical in China, a country that depends heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Senior U.S. officials had tamped down expectations of major breakthroughs at the talks, which they described as strategic discussions, not negotiating sessions.

The U.S. side made a point of noting simmering frustration. U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez described the "need to make progress in all areas as soon as possible."

Gutierrez said the United States would like to see better market access across a range of industries. "Competition will sharpen Chinese industries," he said.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the U.S. raised the issue of food safety, which has been highlighted by such incidents as the deaths of pets who had eaten pet food made with tainted wheat gluten imported from China. Johanns said there would be more meetings on the issue this week between the delegations.

Paulson created the talks last year as a way to get the countries' top policy makers together twice a year to work toward reduced trade tensions. The first meeting was in Beijing last December.