The U.S. Congress voted Tuesday to authorize renewed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods from China and other countries considered to be state-run economies, a move aimed at countering unfair subsidies.
The measure approved by lawmakers reaffirms the legality of a tariff program in place since 2007 on imports from “non-market economies,” which was struck down by a court ruling in December.
With support across party lines, the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to give such authority back, following a similar vote a day earlier in the Senate. President Barack Obama plans to sign the bill.
Representative Dave Camp, a Republican who heads the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said on the House floor that the measure would preserve an “important tool” for the United States.
“China distorts the free market by giving enormous subsidies to its producers and exporters, and our companies and workers should not be expected to compete against the deep pockets of the Chinese government,” Camp said.
Before the court ruling, the Commerce Department said that such countervailing duties were in place against 23 goods from China and one from Vietnam which were worth a total of $4.7 billion in import value a year.
Representative Sandy Levin, the top member of Obama’s Democratic Party on the Ways and Means Committee, said that the vote would help “tens of thousands of American workers who would have had the rug pulled out from under them” by an appeals court’s December ruling.
But Levin, a sharp critic of China’s trading practices, said: “It provides no new tools to stop China from creating unfair advantages for its producers or forcing American companies to move to China in order to do business in that market.”
“Congress must not use this step as an excuse to forgo future action on those fronts,” Levin said.
The bill does not address the level of China’s currency. U.S. lawmakers argue that, despite the yuan’s recent appreciation, China keeps the currency artificially low to make its manufactured goods cheaper in export markets.
The House voted 370 to 39 in support of the measure. All of the dissenters were Republicans, with some conservative members arguing that any such tariffs amounted to new taxes.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012