US trade body 'targets' China

Updated: 2012-03-01 07:19

By Ding Qingfen and Li Jiabao (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China will be alert to threats posed by the trade task force in the United States to investigate and crack down on what it claims are unfair practices by Washington's trading partners, officials from the Ministry of Commerce warned on Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order on Tuesday establishing the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to see whether trade partners, including China, "play by the rules".

"China is not the only target but we cannot ignore the negative impact it will exert on China and Chinese exports in the long term," an official from the ministry's bureau of fair trade for imports and exports, who requested anonymity, told China Daily.

"We have to closely watch what cases the agency might launch and prepare for possible countermeasures."

Trade relations must benefit both parties, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"The essence of China-US trade should be mutually beneficial," said Hong Lei, Foreign Ministry spokesman, in response to the US move.

Both parties should be able to discuss and resolve the causes of any friction, he said.

Obama announced the creation of the center in his State of the Union address in January. The Executive Order marks its official launch.

The center will "bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to investigate and counter unfair trade practices around the world, including by countries like China", Obama said.

Although China is not the only nation that will be investigated by the center, experts believe it will probably be the main focus.

"I am sure that China will be the major target," Zhou Shijian, a senior trade expert from Tsinghua University, said.

There are growing fears that anti-China rhetoric will increase as the presidential election campaign heats up.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has criticized Obama for what he described as being soft on China.

"The election campaign will lead to growing trade friction between China and the US," Zhou said, but dismissed the likelihood of a full-blown trade war.

The center will be up and running in a few months.

"In a matter of just 90 days, we will hire leadership and core staff ... and we will put them to work on the toughest cases," US Commerce Secretary John Bryson said.

Zhang Yansheng, secretary-general of Academy Commission of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that the "goal of the move is obviously connected to the US election and targets China. The US fears China will challenge its global position."

The establishment of the center was welcomed in the US.

"President Obama took a significant step forward in ensuring America's continued economic growth and security by establishing it," said US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

This center will "ensure that America's trading partners play by the rules. It will help American workers and businesses compete and win on a fair global playing field", Kirk said.

Zhou said China should be "fully prepared" for trade disputes.

"We must be hard in fighting back," he said.

In November the US Department of Commerce launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation against Chinese solar panel producers and a month later, the US International Trade Commission issued a preliminary determination saying that Chinese imports are harming American industry.

After the solar panel case, the US launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation against wind towers imported from China and Vietnam, arguing that the imports hurt the US wind tower industry.

Zhang Yunbi contributed to this story.