WASHINGTON, July 12 (UPI) -- China agreed to begin talks soon with the United States on an investment treaty officials said could provide greater access for U.S. firms to Chinese markets.
The agreement was announced by Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng at the just concluded two-day U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, an annual affair begun in 2008.
Gao said a "substantive stage" of bilateral investment treaty negotiations would begin as soon as possible but didn't give a date, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The minister said investment is a mutual concern of both sides, which need to "create convenient conditions for the mutually beneficial cooperation between businesses of the two countries," Gao told reporters.
The Los Angeles Times said Chinese investment restrictions do not allow foreign companies to take majority ownership in some manufacturing and other areas, including automobiles, insurance and banking.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said a high-standard bilateral investment treaty with the United States "will include all stages of investment and all sectors, a significant breakthrough." He said it is the first time China has agreed to do so with another country, the Treasury Department said on its website.
Lew, who was the joint leader of the U.S. team at the S&ED meeting along with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said the agreement would help level the playing field for U.S. workers and businesses by opening markets for fair competition.
John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents major American companies operating in China, told the Los Angeles Times if the Chinese are serious in negotiating a treaty it "could be a significant move forward." He said a broad investment treaty would also allow the Chinese to gain greater access to U.S. goods and markets.