Democrats Call Trump's 'Phase One' China Trade Deal an 'Extreme Disappointment' and a Political 'Photo Op'

Democratic lawmakers criticized President Donald Trump's "phase one" trade agreement with China, which was signed on Wednesday.

The signing of the initial deal suggested that significantly heightened trade tensions between China and the U.S. are easing, after the president started placing tariffs on billions of Chinese imports nearly two years ago. Under the new deal, Beijing said it will begin purchasing an extra $200 billion in American products and services by 2021 while also reducing some of the retaliatory levies it has placed on imports from the U.S.

With China agreeing to buy more U.S. goods, the Trump administration said it would cancel planned tariffs that would have targeted laptops, mobile phones and toys imported from China. The White House also agreed to cut the tariff rate in half—to just 7.5 percent—on roughly $120 billion of imported Chinese goods.

While Trump hailed the agreement as "the biggest deal anybody has ever seen," many prominent Democrats disagreed.

"President Trump's 'phase-one' trade deal with China is an extreme disappointment," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, wrote in a Twitter post, sharing a clip of himself criticizing the agreement from the Senate floor before it was signed. "He's conceding our leverage for vague, unenforceable 'promises' China never intends to fulfill."

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also argued that the new agreement offered little substance.

"Based on what we know of this so-called 'Phase One' deal, China hasn't agreed to substantively do anything new, and now it seems that the Trump tariffs will remain in place even after the deal is signed," Murphy said in a statement emailed to Newsweek. "So my question remains: what exactly is the reason for this high-profile White House ceremony other than a photo-op to be used for political purposes?"

The criticism from Schumer and Murphy echoed the official statement issued by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in December, shortly after Trump announced the pending deal.

"Trump got rolled by the Chinese. Trump agreed to major concessions to China without addressing the major structural issues he promised to fix or even undoing all the damage that's been done since he promised to take on China," the DNC said at the time. "This is an embarrassing defeat for the president and a stunning betrayal of the American workers, farmers, and manufacturers he's strung along for more than two years."

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said the same of Trump's latest agreement with China. The independent senator from Vermont has proudly opposed numerous trade deals during his time in Washington, generally arguing that they are bad for American workers.

"Trump's deal with China won't fix a failed trade policy that has destroyed 3.7 million U.S. jobs. I am proud to have voted against the disastrous 2000 China trade agreement," Sanders tweeted on Wednesday. "We need a trade policy that stops giant corporations from shipping jobs overseas and polluting our planet."

Trump China Trade deal
President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He hold up signed documents of a "phase one" trade agreement on January 15 at the White House. Mark Wilson/Getty

Fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also took aim at the president's trade policies. "Real people have been hurt by Donald Trump's trade war. I'll always stand with farmers," the lawmaker tweeted, sharing a clip of herself addressing the problem during Tuesday night's Democratic debate.

Some economists appeared to agree with the Democrats' criticism.

Eswar Prasad, a Cornell economist and former head of the International Monetary Fund's China division, told The Guardian that the deal "hardly addresses in any substantive way the fundamental sources of trade and economic tensions between the two sides, which will continue to fester."

Robert Reich, an economist and former secretary of labor, took aim at Trump's entire policy toward China.

"Let's review Trump's trade war with China: — 300,000+ fewer jobs — $106 billion+ a year in costs to consumers — $9 billion drop in agricultural exports — Slower economic growth," Reich tweeted. "Here's the bottom line: this brand of economic nationalism is making Americans poorer."

Meanwhile, Republicans largely praised the agreement. "China has taken advantage of the US for years. President Trump stood up for Americans and fought for the fairness our workers deserve," GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted.