BEIJING (Reuters) – A U.S. trade bill targeting Chinese imports goes against international rules and Beijing will not adjust the value of its currency to try to bridge a trade deficit that is Washington’s problem to fix, China’s commerce minister said on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama is set to sign the bill into law to allow duties to be imposed on subsidized goods from China and Vietnam, which the White House says will protect American jobs.
“We follow the rules of the WTO, but we have no obligation to follow domestic laws or regulations in any specific country that go beyond international rules,” Commerce Minister Chen Deming told a news conference on the sidelines of an annual meeting of parliament.
He said China had done a better job of bringing balance to global trade than the United States, bringing its trade surplus down to 2.1 percent of economic output in 2011 while the trade deficit of the United States was 4.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Chen said it was clear that the United States had a responsibility to close its own deficit.
“Why did the U.S. have a $700 billion overall trade deficit? Why did China have an overall trade surplus of only $150 billion but a trade surplus of $200 billion with the United States?” Chen responded rhetorically to a journalist’s question.
“Every man, free from prejudice and armed with common sense economics can come to the right conclusion,” Chen said.
Chen’s comments come a day after the U.S. Congress passed the bill that Obama is set to sign into law. A U.S. court ruled in December that the U.S. Commerce Department did not have authority to impose countervailing — or anti-subsidy — duties on goods from “non-market economies.”
U.S. imports from China were a record $399.3 billion in 2011. Washington said the U.S. deficit with China reached a record $295 billion, but China’s data showed only a $202 billion surplus. China says the difference is caused by U.S. statistical methodology which includes part of Hong Kong’s trade data in the calculations.
China’s total trade surplus shrank 15 percent in 2011 versus 2010 to $155 billion, largely as a result of stalling demand in its two biggest markets with the European Union hobbled by a debt crisis and U.S. consumer spending below par.
China has pledged to balance the trade account and wants to ramp up imports to support an expansion of the domestic economy and drive consumer demand.
Chen said Chinese exports increased by an estimated 7 percent in the first two months of this year from year-ago levels, while import growth was likely above 7 percent.
The government’s 2012 target is 10 percent growth in both imports and exports. Chen said “trade growth in the second half would be faster than the first half” of the year.
The consensus view of a Reuters poll is that China’s annual export and import growth enjoyed a sharp rebound in February from a year earlier, primarily on seasonal factors.
CHINA REJECTS TRADE CRITICISM
Chen said U.S. criticism of China was unfounded.
“The U.S. government had subsidized its companies, like the three big automakers … but China did not criticize these moves or start massive countervailing actions against such moves,” Chen said.
Chen added that China’s yuan exchange rate was now close to its fair value, and China had no intention to let the yuan appreciate sharply.
Asked about a World Trade Organization (WTO) Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance meeting that would discuss the relationship between exchange rates and trade, Chen said the yuan should not be what he called an “academic discussion.”
“I have noticed that the U.S. trade representative and treasury secretary have noted to the Congress that they would use the meeting, as well as other events, to push forward yuan reform,” Chen said.
“When I heard about this, I thought I heard wrong. They should push the U.S. dollar reform since the U.S. trade deficit is about 4.8 percent (of GDP),” he said.
“China believes all countries should maintain the basic stability of their exchange rates, against the background of global financial crisis,” he said. “Any country’s measures to devalue its own currencies or force other countries’ currencies to appreciate is not appropriate,” Chen said.
China’s growing manufacturing strength has been coupled with a rising trade surplus that has exacerbated friction with the United States and other trading partners.
The Obama administration recently announced an Interagency Trade Enforcement Unit that will police compliance with trade rules by America’s trading partners, including China.
Chen said China was willing to talk to the body.
(Writing by Zhou Xin; Editing by Nick Edwards and Robert Birsel)