Lawmakers press US officials to ramp up pressure on China

House lawmakers are piling on pressure for U.S. officials to address a long list of nagging concerns with China as tensions mount between the two nations.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), along with several others from the panel, want trade officials to use three days of meetings to discuss Chinese currency, intellectual property and indigenous innovation issues they say give China an unfair international trade advantage. 

The lawmakers outlined their concerns in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary John Bryson as they meet with American and Chinese businesses in officials in Beijing and Chengdu, China for the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) this weekend. 

ADVERTISEMENT
During a nine-day trip around the Pacific Rim, President Obama reasserted the continued presence of the U.S. in the region, while stepping up criticism of China, urging them to "play by the rules" be more flexible on its currency and ensure better protection of U.S. intellectual property, among a slew of other issues. 


He started off his trip with a bilateral meeting last weekend with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hawaii and ended it Saturday with a last-minute and closely guarded meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Indonesia, most likely to continue a discussion from Friday night on economic issues.

Lawmakers said they want the latest meetings in China to provide "an important opportunity to further that goal by addressing longstanding and specific concerns, improving U.S. market access in China, and furthering China’s efforts to rebalance its economy away from export dependence." 

"The United States and China both have a significant role to play in restoring global economic health," they wrote. "Both countries have stressed the need to maintain positive economic and financial relations and to fight against trade protectionism."

More detailed concerns include subsidies including directed lending, policies that favor domestic innovation, protection of intellectual property, currency undervaluation, a lack of regulatory transparency, export restraints, adoption of sanitary and phytosanitary measures that are not supported by science and block U.S. agriculture exports and other barriers to U.S. exports and investment. 

"Where progress fails to materialize, the administration, working with Congress and stakeholders, should seek to develop new approaches to these longstanding issues," they wrote. 

"It is important that the trajectory of change is always in the direction of improved market access for U.S. companies, ranchers, farmers, and workers."

While Kirk and Bryson jetted off to China, Obama attended the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting at the tail end of his trip, along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He's the first U.S. president to attend. 

Last weekend, world trade leaders announced the broad outlines of an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the intention of completing negotiations on a legal framework as rapidly as possible, probably some time next year.  

Currently the deal is between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam seeks to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in the region as an avenue to reviving the world economy. 

During U.S.-hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), several other nations — Canada, Japan and Mexico — all expressed interest in joining the negotiations. 

So far, China, the world's second largest economy behind the U.S., has yet to show much interest in joining the pact. 

That isn't stopping Obama from pressing for completion of TPP, with or without China's participation.  

The addition of the three nations and most likely, several others, could slow negotiations enough to provide China a chance to get involved in the expanding trade deal.

Meanwhile, efforts by lawmakers to pass legislation that would punish China for not letting the value of its currency rise faster against the dollar faltered this week.

Levin blasted Republicans on the House floor for stopping the measure. 

“Eight years of talk have yielded meager results," Levin said. 

"American workers and businesses cannot wait any longer and the U.S. economy cannot wait any longer," he said. "The time is now for action.”

House Republican leaders and the White House expressed come concerns over the Senate-passed bill. Obama administration officials said it was likely that some changes would need to be made to comply with international trade laws. 

Trade advocates have urged caution in passing any sweeping measures that could put China on the defensive and consider retaliation, such as lowering prices for products headed to the United States. 

Ways and Mean Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told The Hill this week that rather than legislation, which he opposes, the U.S. should consider a coalition of nations to jointly apply pressure to China.

"What I sense it there are more and more counties the world feeling the squeeze and the pain because from the currency," Brady said. 

"There are more nations that have the same concerns that we do and the USTR and the White House ought to build on that," he said. 

"We're not going to force the issue until they [China] see it's in the best interest of their trading partners."

The lawmakers argue that issues such as the enforcement of intellectual property rights "is a classic example of how China’s commitments have failed to lead to real market access for U.S. companies."

They point to promises and investments made by the Chinese government to reform their software piracy policies but say they haven't followed through. 

"We understand that U.S. companies have not seen a meaningful increase in the market share held by legitimate software, as would be expected from these commitments," they wrote. 

John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, said recently that Chinese protection of intellectual property and restrictions on foreign investment are some of the biggest issues faced by U.S. businesses. 

"There's probably some things that could be done here, reducing investment barriers would probably help both economies because more direct investment creates jobs," he told reporters recently.  

"No doubt about it."