Michigan senators take aim at subsidized China exports

Michigan’s two Democratic senators will introduce legislation today that would make it easier to impose anti-subsidy tariffs on imports from China and other countries found to be manipulating their currency.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin will join Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in sponsoring the Fair Currency Act, which would allow U.S. producers to petition for duties on imports from countries found to have currency misalignment. Other members also may sign on as cosponsors before the legislation is announced at a press conference this morning, one source familiar with the bill said.

The bill could divide the Senate Finance Committee, as its chairman and ranking member are working on separate China trade legislation that some observers do not expect to go as far as the approach backed by the Michigan senators. Stabenow, Bunning and Snowe all are Finance members, and a fourth member, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), has introduced his own currency bill.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) agreed to work with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) after the latter two agreed to hold back legislation last year that would have imposed a 27 percent tariff on Chinese goods due to currency manipulation.

Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) have introduced companion legislation in the House. Both the new Hunter-Ryan bill and the Senate legislation to be introduced tomorrow are similar to a Hunter-Ryan bill that won 178 cosponsors last year, but never received a floor vote.

Supporters of the approach think the chances of passage have increased now that Democrats are in charge of the House. An effort to force a floor vote in 2005 on the Hunter-Ryan bill was defeated on a party-line vote in the House Rules Committee, with Republicans voting against a rule to allow a vote.

The issue of currency manipulation has divided the manufacturing community, with many small and mid-sized companies, including members of the China Currency Coalition, voicing support for Hunter-Ryan, but larger multinational companies lining up in opposition.

In Michigan, the United Autoworkers are members of the China Currency Coalition, but U.S. auto companies have not been advocates for legislation imposing penalties on China for currency manipulation. Auto companies have pressed the administration to put pressure on Japan for alleged currency manipulation.