WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday underscored the importance of functional U.S.-China ties and urged Beijing to step up its purchases of U.S. goods and services as agreed under a Phase 1 trade deal despite delays caused by the coronavirus.

The Chamber said the pandemic had clearly slowed progress for both governments, but there were reasons to be hopeful. It also welcomed regular talks between the world’s two largest economies on implementation of purchases, intellectual property reforms and other issues covered by the trade deal.

“Implementation is critical. COVID-19 has unquestionably slowed progress for both governments, and it will be critical for the pace of implementation of purchases to accelerate markedly,” it said in a statement after a virtual meeting of top U.S. and Chinese business leaders on Wednesday.

The meeting, one of two convened each year by the Chamber and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing-based think tank, focused on the Phase 1 trade deal that took effect in February, and supply chain challenges.

Tensions between the two countries have spiked in recent months, sparking questions about the future of the trade deal, under which China agreed to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services over two years.

China threatened retaliation after U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation on Wednesday calling for sanctions over the repression of China’s Uighurs, a Muslim minority.

The Chamber said China’s 1.4 billion consumers represented the fastest growing market for U.S. companies, but U.S. firms also faced myriad challenges doing business with China.

Despite the challenges and the recent tensions, it said a functional relationship between the two countries was “in the fundamental interests of Americans, and of peace and stability in the world.”

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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