Ambassador: White House ‘disappointed’ with China

A U.S. trade representative said the Obama administration is “disappointed” with China’s contributions to World Trade Organization (WTO) talks and warned that the White House will “not negotiate indefinitely” on trade rights.

Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, deputy U.S. trade representative, spoke about the complexities of U.S.-China trade policy on Thursday at a conference hosted by Third Way, a liberal think tank.

Marantis said that the administration is focused on trade negotiations with China, but also made clear that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is prepared to file enforcement actions with the WTO if necessary. He citied serious concerns about China’s protectionist trade policies and expressed frustration with China’s commitment to ongoing WTO negotiations.

“We are disappointed, quite frankly, with China’s contribution to date,” he said.

“Our goal is to send an unmistakable message that we will not negotiate indefinitely where U.S. rights are concerned,” Marantis added.

Marantis cited China’s subsidies for domestic industry as a key sticking point in negotiations.

“Chinese subsidies across a wide range of favored sectors harm U.S. manufacturers and workers,” Marantis said.

A lawmaker at the event, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said U.S. trade policy toward China should be “very focused on enforcement.”

“On a whole series of issues, they are not [following trade rules],” Smith said of China.

Marantis echoed Smith’s tough line. “It has been nearly a decade since China joined the WTO, and it is high time for China to follow through on past commitments,” he said.

On the issue of currency, which Marantis did not address directly, Smith said members of Congress are understandably frustrated with what is widely viewed as China’s deliberate undervaluation of the yuan.

“We want to be able to fairly compete with China,” Smith said.

But he said that he hoped the issue of currency could be resolved without congressional action.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently introduced a bill in the Senate to address China’s currency policy.

“You have to be careful how hard you push on that,” Smith said. “How far do you push before it becomes detrimental?”

Smith said that in spite of the problems and challenges ahead, he firmly believes that a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with China is possible.

“It’s trite to say that our trade and economic relationship is full of challenges and opportunities, but that’s the reality,” Marantis said.