Trade issues merit more talks: Ex-US commerce secretary

Updated: 2012-09-26 09:14

By Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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The United States and China should hold further talks to resolve their trade differences, regardless of who is elected president in November, according to former US commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

In an interview with China Daily, Gutierrez - who is now vice-chairman of Citigroup Inc's institutional client group - said that further talks between the two economic giants would increase mutual "transparency", and that the relationship between the two countries is too important to risk a trade war.

"Some people might feel like we've had dialogue and it hasn't worked," said Gutierrez.

"But further dialogue is always the best option. There is no incentive for anyone to have things go wrong because we are so interdependent, we have so much trade," said Gutierrez, who is an adviser on trade to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

As head of the Commerce Department during George W. Bush's second presidential term (2005-09), Gutierrez - previously CEO of cereal maker Kellogg Co for 30 years - was party to many exchanges with Chinese officials and business executives.

Despite being each other's second-biggest trading partner, the US and China have become embroiled in various trade disputes, some of which have been taken to the World Trade Organization.

In May, for instance, the Commerce Department ordered duties ranging from 30 percent to 250 percent on Chinese-made solar panels, raising concerns from the solar industry in each country.

And last week, President Barack Obama announced a US complaint to the WTO over Chinese automotive and auto-parts subsidies.

The same day, China brought a case to a dispute-settlement body of the Geneva-based organization over an amendment to the US Tariff Act of 1930. The revised law, China argues, is inconsistent with WTO rules on transparency and procedural justice.

"It may be an example that Obama is trying to protect jobs because of the subsidies issues. It was interesting that it was self-initiated, but I don't want to read too much into the timing," Gutierrez said.

While fears that such moves could trigger a trade war have been expressed on both sides, the former commerce chief believes that's unlikely. "I hope there is plenty of dialogue before getting to that stage."

China has been the United States' fastest-growing export market for 11 consecutive years. Sino-US trade was worth $446.7 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Chinese imports of US goods and services amounted to $122.2 billion in 2011, surpassing $100 billion for the first time.

"We are hoping more Chinese companies invest in the US, and US companies continue to invest in China, so it's to our mutual interest to solve these problems," Gutierrez said.

During his time at the Commerce Department, Gutierrez traveled to China at least twice a year, including for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, initiated in 2006 by Bush and President Hu Jintao.

The strategic dialogue provides a framework for bilateral economic discussions.

China has been mentioned in both US presidential candidates' campaigns.

Romney has said he would label China a "currency manipulator" on his first day in office if he is elected.

"I think eventually there is going to have to be a face-to-face dialogue.

"The most important thing is to recognize that there are issues and problems," Gutierrez said.