While US-China ‘phase one’ trade deal stops escalation, analysts not optimistic for more by year end

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (C) gestures as he chats with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (R) as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) looks on after posing for a “family photo” at the Xijiao Conference Centre in Shanghai on July 31, 2019.

Ng Han Guan | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. and China need a more comprehensive trade agreement before market sentiment can be boosted sustainably, analysts said on Monday.

“In order to have, I think, a meaningful impact as far as shifting the needle on global growth sentiment and away from the U.S. still being the primary driver of global growth, you would have to see an agreement that includes — if not an actual winding back of tariffs — but at least a clear pathway to the winding back,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank.

On Friday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the two economic giants have made progress in trade discussions.

Following a conversation that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the office said in a statement the two “made headway on specific issues and the two sides are close to finalizing some sections of the agreement.”

“Discussions will go on continuously at the deputy level, and the principals will have another call in the near future,” USTR added.

The news helped to send major U.S. stock indexes to their Friday highs.

The world’s two largest economies have pushed for a trade agreement as they try to end a potentially devastating series of tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods. U.S. President Donald Trump aims to resolve longstanding concerns about Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced technology transfers, and secure more Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods.

The trade dispute has already hit global growth. The International Monetary Fund said recently in its World Economic Outlook that it projects GDP growth of 3.0% in 2019, down from 3.2% in a July forecast.

But the phase one U.S.-China agreement is effectively one that says “we are not further on tariffs but not going backwards one step,” said NAB’s Attrill.

“To what extent is there going to be willingness to winding back those tariffs — and while that doesn’t seem to be part of  the agenda as far as the phase one deal is concerned, then I don’t think it doesn’t mean anything other than avoid a further deterioration in the uncertainty in the global growth picture,” Attrill told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

What’s more important to the markets is when the tariffs could be lifted and when issues of technology and intellectual property are going to be resolved, said Ken Wong, Asia equity portfolio specialist at Eastspring Investments.

“It’s a good start but I think a lot of this is priced into the market,” Wong told CNBC.

The analysts were not hopeful that the two sides can reach consensus on more issues by the end of the year.

“If we can get much more agreements between the two sides by the end of this year, I think this is going to surprise the markets,” said Wong.

— CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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