In Ohio, Obama to highlight trade suit against China on autos

President Obama will highlight a World Trade Organization suit against China on Thursday during a campaign appearance in Toledo, Ohio.

The suit attacks duties China imposed earlier this year on U.S. auto imports. Obama and the United States argue the duties violate international trade rules.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced Thursday morning the administration will ask China to enter dispute settlement negotiations at the WTO over the auto tariffs, the first step in legal action. 

The case is part of an effort by Obama to get tough with China on economic issues, a message the president thinks will resonate with voters in Ohio and other Rust Belt states critical to his reelection effort.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has accused Obama of being too soft on China, and has announced that one of his first actions, if elected president, would be to find that China manipulates its currency to secure a trade advantage.

China imposed duties on U.S. autos because, it argued, Chrysler and General Motors vehicles were subsidized by the United States as a result of the bailout effort backed by Obama. The duties cover more than 80 percent of U.S. auto exports to China, according to the Toledo Blade.

“As we have made clear, the Obama administration will continue to fight to ensure that China does not misuse its trade laws and violate its international trade commitments to block exports of American-made products," Kirk said in a statement. “American autoworkers and manufacturers deserve a level playing field and we are taking every step necessary to stand up for them."

Kirk noted that this is the third time the administration has challenged China's practices at the WTO.

Another key message of Obama’s presidential campaign is the work he has done for the auto industry. Obama argues the industry is roaring back to life as a result of the controversial bailout, and he is betting voters in Ohio, Michigan and other auto-industry states will back his reelection as a result of his auto industry policies.

Romney has repeatedly criticized the bailout, including in a memorable op-ed in 2008 headlined “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

This story was posted at 7:12 a.m. and updated at 9:51 a.m.