January 30, 2018 / 1:30 AM / a month ago

U.S. businesses optimistic on China growth, bemoan unfair treatment

BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - U.S. companies are more confident China will further open up to foreign investment in coming years, a top business lobby said on Tuesday, but it cautioned that an “astounding” three-quarters of its members do not feel welcomed by the Chinese government.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China, in a report on its annual membership survey, also said “even-handed enforcement of laws and regulations regardless of shareholder nationality” and an open investment environment were needed to reduce trade frictions between China and the United States.

“After several years of contraction, more companies are expanding investment, yet the growth in investment will remain much slower than historical levels,” the chamber said.

The outlook on sustainable economic growth in China was “generally positive”, with 46 percent of respondents expressing confidence that the government will further open China’s market to foreign investment within the next three years, up from 34 in the previous survey, the chamber said.

But the chamber noted that its survey, filled out during October and November by 411 of the 849 members to whom it was sent, did not include “countless” companies because they are excluded from China’s market by government regulations.

It cautioned that U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to China in November might account for a jump in perceptions that U.S.-China relations would improve in the year ahead – 36 percent compared to 17 percent in the previous year’s survey

TRUMP‘S HARDER LINE

Since that visit, which yielded no major outcomes on trade disputes, Trump has taken a hard line on China, saying that he is considering major action against Beijing for alleged theft of intellectual property.

His administration has said the United States mistakenly supported China’s membership of the World Trade Organization in 2001 on terms that have failed to force Beijing to open its economy.

“Major imbalances in the commercial relationship between the U.S. and China remain, and it is hard to see how they can be redressed without generating further friction between the two sides,” the chamber’s chairman William Zarit said in the report.

Fifty-nine percent of companies in technology and research and development-intensive sectors, in which Beijing has unveiled an ambitious Made In China 2025 plan to supplant foreign products, said they were treated unfairly compared to domestic companies, according to the survey.

“We see numerous policies that hamper foreign-invested companies, and also major market distortions being permitted in order to force technology transfer,” the chamber cited an unnamed senior executive in the agribusiness sector as saying. (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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