Updated at 2:07 p.m. ET
A year and a half after launching his trade war against China, President Trump signed a partial truce on Wednesday.
“We mark more than just an agreement. We mark a sea change in international trade,” Trump said during a White House signing ceremony. “At long last, Americans have a government that puts them first.”
The president agreed to relax some of the tariffs he imposed on Chinese imports. In exchange, Beijing has agreed to buy more American products and make other changes.
“This is a big win for the president,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News, while conceding the “Phase 1” agreement does not achieve all of the reforms the administration initially sought.
“It’s not everything,” he acknowledged. “There will be a ‘Phase 2.’ But this is the first time we’ve had a comprehensive agreement with China.”
As part of that deal, China has promised to provide more protection for American companies’ intellectual property and to stop requiring U.S. companies to share their technology as a cost of doing business in China.
Beijing has a history of backsliding on such pledges. But the administration expressed confidence that the terms of this deal are enforceable.
The administration agreed not to impose tariffs last month on some $160 billion in Chinese imports — including popular consumer items such as cellphones and laptops — as part of the Phase 1 agreement. It also reduced the tariff rate on another $112 billion worth of goods from 15% to 7.5%.
But steep 25% tariffs remain in place on much of what the U.S. buys from China, including components that American factories use to assemble finished products. While Trump insists that China is paying those tariffs, numerous studies have found the costs are largely borne by American importers.
“This continues to be a drag on the manufacturing sector, which really has not been doing well in the last couple of quarters,” said Syracuse University economist Mary Lovely.
Farmers also took a hit during the trade war, as China cut back sharply on its purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
“It’s been a long haul, and the lack of certainty is probably the most challenging portion of this,” said Kristin Duncanson, who raises soybeans, corn and hogs in south central Minnesota. “We can weather the weather. We know how to do that. It’s weathering the politics that’s the tough part.”
Duncanson estimates her soybean crop lost 30% to 40% of its value during the trade war, thanks to low prices and the lack of Chinese demand. That loss was only partially offset by federal aid for affected farmers. Duncanson is hoping for a rebound once the trade agreement is signed.