Monday, September 14, 2009
34) China fights back, on the same token
In connection with my post 32, below...
China Moves to Retaliate Against U.S. Tire Tariff
By KEITH BRADSHER
The New York Times, September 13, 2009
HONG KONG — China unexpectedly increased pressure Sunday on the United States in a widening trade dispute, taking the first steps toward imposing tariffs on American exports of automotive products and chicken meat in retaliation for President Obama’s decision late Friday to levy tariffs on tires from China.
China may move against new U.S. tariffs on tires with duties on chickens and car parts.
The Chinese government’s strong countermove followed a weekend of nationalistic vitriol against the United States on Chinese Web sites in response to the tire tariff. “The U.S. is shameless!” said one posting, while another called on the Chinese government to sell all of its huge holdings of Treasury bonds.
The impact of the dispute extends well beyond tires, chickens and cars. Both governments are facing domestic pressure to take a tougher stand against the other on economic issues. But the trade battle increases political tensions between the two nations even as they try to work together to revive the global economy and combat mutual security threats, like the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Obama’s decision to impose a tariff of up to 35 percent on Chinese tires is a signal that he plans to deliver on his promise to labor unions that he would more strictly enforce trade laws, especially against China, which has become the world’s factory while the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. The trade deficit with China was a record $268 billion in 2008.
China had initially issued a fairly formulaic criticism of the tire dispute Saturday. But rising nationalism in China is making it harder for Chinese officials to gloss over American criticism.
“All kinds of policymaking, not just trade policy, is increasingly reactive to Internet opinion,” said Victor Shih, a Northwestern University specialist in economic policy formulation.
Eswar Prasad, a former China division chief at the International Monetary Fund, said that rising trade tensions between the United States and China could become hard to control. They could cloud the Group of 20 meeting of leaders of industrialized and fast-growing emerging nations in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and 25, and perhaps affect Mr. Obama’s visit to Beijing in November.
“This spat about tires and chickens could turn ugly very quickly,” Mr. Prasad said.
China exported $1.3 billion in tires to the United States in the first seven months of 2009, while the United States shipped about $800 million in automotive products and $376 million in chicken meat to China, according to data from Global Trade Information Services in Columbia, S.C.
For many years, American politicians have been able to take credit domestically for standing up to China by taking largely symbolic measures against Chinese exports in narrowly defined categories. In the last five years, the Commerce Department has restricted Chinese imports of goods as diverse as bras and oil well equipment.
For the most part, Chinese officials have grumbled but done little, preferring to preserve a trade relationship in which the United States buys $4.46 worth of Chinese goods for every $1 worth of American goods sold to China.
Now, the delicate equilibrium is being disturbed.
China’s commerce ministry announced Sunday that it would investigate “certain imported automotive products and certain imported chicken meat products originating from the United States” to determine if they were being subsidized or “dumped” below cost in the Chinese market. A finding of subsidies or dumping would allow China to impose tariffs on these imports.
The ministry did not mention the tire dispute in its announcement, portraying the investigations as “based on the laws of our country and on World Trade Organization rules.”
But the timing of the announcement — on a weekend and just after the tire decision in Washington — sent an unmistakable message of retaliation. The official Xinhua news agency Web site prominently linked its reports on the tire dispute and the Chinese investigations.
The commerce ministry statement, posted on its Web site, also hinted obliquely at the harm that a trade war could do while Western nations and Japan struggle to emerge from a severe economic downturn. “China is willing to continue efforts with various countries to make sure that the world economy recovers as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
The Chinese government sometimes organizes blog postings to defend its own policies. But some postings on the tire decision have been implicitly critical of the Chinese government, making it unlikely that they are part of an orchestrated effort.
“Why did our government purchase so much U.S. government debt?” said one posting signed by a “Group of Angry Youths.” It continued, “We should get rid of all such U.S. investments.”
China has accumulated $2 trillion in foreign reserves, mostly in Treasury bonds and other dollar-denominated assets, and held down the value of its currency, which has kept Chinese goods quite inexpensive in foreign markets. China’s exports have soared — China surpassed Germany in the first half of this year as the world’s largest exporter — while China’s imports have lagged, except for commodities like iron ore and oil that China lacks.
Worries that China might sell Treasury bonds — or even slow down its purchases of them — have been a concern for the Bush and Obama administrations as they have tried to figure out how to address China’s trade and currency policies.
At the same time, the Chinese economy relies heavily on exports to the United States, while the American economy is much less dependent on exports in the other direction. Exports to the United States, at 6 percent of China’s entire economic output, account for 13 times as large a share of the Chinese economy as exports to China represent for the United States economy.
Carol J. Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United States trade representative, said that the United States wanted to avoid disputes with China and continue talks, but would look at any Chinese trade decisions for whether they comply with W.T.O. rules.
Products involved in trade disputes between the United States and China together make up only a minuscule sliver of the two countries’ trade relationship.
The bigger risk for China, economists and corporate executives have periodically warned, is that trade frictions could cause multinationals to rethink their heavy reliance on Chinese factories in their supply chains. The Chinese targeting of autos and chickens affects two industries that may have the political muscle in the United States to dissuade the Obama administration from aggressively challenging China’s policies.
General Motors sees much of its growth coming from its China subsidiary, the second-largest auto company in China after Volkswagen. And the farm lobby in the United States has long pressed for maximum access to a market of 1.3 billion mouths.
But spotlighting automotive trade may be risky for China. G.M. and Ford both rely mostly on local production to supply the Chinese market, while China is rapidly increasing auto parts shipments to the United States.