Defeating the Hydra in US-China Economic Ties

Cooperation of Herculean proportions is necessary to balance the trade and investment relationship

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When US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the 100-day deal in early May, he heralded the agreement as a “Herculean accomplishment.” If progress on the rest of the trade relationship follows the arc of the Greek myth, however, then the more difficult tasks are still to follow. And if the 100-day deal is analogous to the first of Hercules’ labors, then it could become for the US-China relationship what the impenetrable hide of the Nemean lion was for the eponymous hero – a crucial aid for success in subsequent tasks.

The 100-day deal was conceived at an early-April meeting in Mar-a-Lago between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump. Also established at that meeting was a newly-created framework for high-level meetings on issues affecting the bilateral relationship. The new format, coined the “United States-China Comprehensive Dialogue” in a statement from the White House following the meeting, is composed of four Dialogues: The Diplomatic and Security Dialogue; the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue; the Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue; and the Social and Cultural Issues Dialogue.

Resolving the issues that are continuously generated by developments in the trade and investment relationship will require Herculean cooperation between the US and China.

This redesign of the previous framework for bilateral discussions, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, is intended to allow both sides to narrow the focus down to priority issues and delve into more detail than was possible with the previous format. “All of these issues had previously been part of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, but they were all done kind of at the same time without a lot of in-depth focus on priority issues,” said Susan Thornton, then the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in June.

The first meeting of the newly-created US-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue is set to open in Washington, DC on July 19. Analysts speculate that the dialogue will cover many contentious issues that were not part of the 100-day deal, such as steel exports from China and restrictions on investment from China into the US.

Additionally, some experts see the results of the 100-day deal as a precursor to success at the meetings. “One month after the dialogue was established, both sides announced a series of ‘initial actions’ covering such sectors as agriculture, financial services and energy,” writes Wendy Cutler, the vice president and managing director for the Washington, DC office of the Asia Society Policy Institute. “Ensuring that commitments are followed through in practice is key to making this dialogue credible.”

Regardless of the specific agenda items discussed at the meeting, the present task for both sides is no smaller than the “Herculean accomplishment” of the 100-day plan. In Greek mythology, the second labor of Hercules was to slay the Lernaean Hydra, a beast that regrows multiple heads to replace each one lost. Understanding that he cannot defeat the Hydra by focusing his attention on one head at a time, Hercules solicits the aid of his nephew, Iolaus, who uses fire to prevent the heads from regenerating.

Just as the regeneration of the Hydra’s heads necessitated teamwork for Hercules and Iolaus, resolving the issues that are continuously generated by developments in the trade and investment relationship will require Herculean cooperation between the US and China.

AmCham China has been advocating on behalf of its members on many of the issues contained within the 100-day deal. This chart includes AmCham China’s recommendations for appropriate next steps that would help make the trade relationship more balanced.


  1. "Despite high-level agreement at the April 2006 JCCT to reestablish US beef export eligibility to China, a de facto ban on US beef imports continues. Failing to reach bilateral agreement, China unilaterally published a list of 22 conditions for the conditional resumption of US beef imports, on July 31, 2006. The US government and industry maintain that China’s conditions are commercially unworkable, and more importantly, do not conform with international BSE guidelines on safely traded bovine products and effective risk mitigation measures."
  2. "...[GMO] approval process continues to be a significant barrier for US companies in that they are excessively burdensome, are not in conformity with international practice, and put applicant’s intellectual property at risk of being copied... China’s requirement for repeated approval increases not only the cost of bringing a new product to market, but also adds at least eighteen months to the process."
  3. "In view of the interconnectivity of the global financial system, AmCham China recommends that the Chinese government adopt measures to encourage competition in its domestic credit rating industry by both local and foreign credit rating agencies, which will serve to promote the quality and transparency of credit ratings issued within China."
  4. "On July 16, 2012, the WTO issued the Panel decision on the EPS case between the United States and China. The Panel ruled that China must allow foreign EPS suppliers to establish entities in China that will be permitted to provide RMB-denominated EPS. Following issuance of the Panel report, the US and China agreed upon a deadline for China’s compliance with the ruling of July 2013. Prior to that time, China is expected to publish for public comment draft regulations that would govern the establishment and operation of foreign-funded payment card companies in China."
  5. "Great strides and significant progress have already been made, though advancement continues to be hindered by discriminatory rules and policies that disadvantage foreign banks, especially with respect to bond underwriting and derivatives trading. Treating foreign banks and service providers unequally inhibits the growth of China’s bond markets and works against China’s own commitments to equal national treatment."
  6. "Chinese regulators suggest that progress on reestablishing trade in US beef could be expedited if the US were to approve cooked poultry imports from China."