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Boy, it’s been some Asia trip for President Obama so far! On the heels of a major defeat for Democrats in the midterm elections, he jets off to Beijing for meetings with Asian leaders and comes away with sweeping deals on fighting climate change and cutting tariffs on trade in high tech goods!

Trouble is, both of these agreements illustrate both that negotiating successfully with China in particular – the 800-lb gorilla on both of these issues – requires recognizing and overcoming a distinctive set of obstacles, and that, like its predecessors, the Obama administration has displayed absolutely no learning curve. The biggest losers, tragically, are bound to be the productive sectors of the American economy and their employees.

Let’s take the U.S.-China climate change agreement first, since it’s predictably dominated the news coverage. There’s no doubt that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping needs to do something to reduce the pollution choking China’s cities, and especially the massive health problems it’s causing. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he needs to appear to be doing something. I know it sounds cynical to dismiss his assent to the deal as an exercise in public relations for Chinese leaders. But optimists face a heavy burden of proof.

After all, this is a Chinese leadership that simply decided simply to shut down most polluting activity – like driving and manufacturing – in order to clear the air around Beijing temporarily for the APEC summit. (For good measure, reportedly, it’s blocking Chinese websites and apps that monitor pollution levels from using U.S. government data on the subject – which are regarded as much more reliable than Chinese government data.)

But it’s also a Chinese leadership presiding over a slowing economy, well aware that its hold on power depends heavily on continuing to deliver the material goods for a critical mass of the Chinese people, and surely recognizing that the price of failure could well be bad for its collective health. If you think Kentucky and West Virginia coal miners are upset about Washington policies they believe are attacking their industry and livelihoods, imagine the reactions to job losses by Chinese workers whose living standards are far more precarious, and who lack orderly, democratic outlets for their anger.

So it’s all too easy to conclude that Xi decided to react like any politician with strong interests of fostering the appearance, not the reality, of action. He inked an agreement that is long on impressively ambitious goals and woefully devoid of any teeth None of the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are legally binding, and as a result, there are no concrete consequences China will suffer for failing to achieve them.

Moreover, even these voluntary targets don’t have to be met for at least a decade. Who knows who China’s dictator will be then? Or how seriously he (or she) will take these commitments – largely because no one can know how the Chinese economy will be performing then. It’s difficult enough to bind American politicians to long-term promises. Why would anyone assume that Chinese politicians will be any different in this respect?

As a result, as critics have begun to point out, there’s much more reason to believe that the United States will meet these targets, or at least will come closer, than China. Which means that the regulatory and therefore cost gaps between manufacturing in the United States and manufacturing in China could grow even wider. It’s true that domestic U.S. businesses can maintain or regain competitiveness by becoming more innovative and otherwise more productive (or by cutting wages even further). But manufacturers in China can keep growing more efficient as well, leaving American industry further behind the 8-ball than ever.

If anything, the new Information Technology Agreement looks even more misguided. China’s agreement to expand the number of technology products for which it will reduce tariffs to zero (though the timeframes are still completely up in the air) seems great at first glance – until you realize what everyone who knows anything about doing business in Asia has known for decades: The most important Chinese and other Asian barriers impeding trade in technology products are not tariffs, which are easy to spot and therefore cut or eliminate. They’re non-tariff barriers.

And especially because these measures and practices – which include subsidies, domestic preferences in government purchases, officially sanctioned monopolies and cartels, and discriminatory pseudo health and safety regulations – are often put into effect informally, by secretive bureaucracies in Asia particular, they tend to be excruciatingly difficult even to identify, much less combat.

Consequently, even if the world’s mercantile countries (which are found in Europe, too, complete with opaque bureaucracies) do eliminate tariffs on these technology products, all these non-tariff barriers and other predatory policies will remain in effect. And because they’re so seldom used by Washington, U.S.-based producers of these goods will find themselves more disadvantaged than ever.

President Obama seems to believe that many of these Asian and other non-tariff trade barriers will be taken care of in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement he’s pursuing. But he’s been more interested in repeating vague slogans about mandating high economic and business standards in these talks than in explaining how the agreement will overcome the intrinsic difficulties of monitoring and enforcing these standards.

If the United States could afford to treat trade and other international economic issues as throwaways, mainly useful for scoring propaganda points or winning and keeping allies, Mr. Obama’s approach to these two deals might be defensible. But even during the Cold War, the frequent subordination of economic considerations to diplomatic goals arguably won short term victories at the expense of longer-term interests. Nowadays, there can be no question that approaches like these have become completely unaffordable, if not downright dangerous. Six years into his presidency, Barack Obama acts like he’s further from understanding this reality than ever.