Beijing bid to fend off US call for yuan rise
Beijing is sending a top-level envoy to Washington in an attempt to mend frayed trade ties with the world's biggest economy and fend off calls for a stronger yuan.
The Ministry of Commerce said yesterday that Vice-Minister Zhong Shan will lead a delegation next week to meet representatives of the US Department of Commerce, Treasury and Congress to ease trade frictions and resolve trade-related issues.
The move, backed by conciliatory comments by a senior official of the Ministry of Commerce, aimed to take the heat out of the currency issue after five US senators floated legislation earlier this week that would make it easier for the US to declare currency misalignments and take corrective action.
The legislation may lead to the imposition of heavy import tariffs on consumer goods produced in China, economists warned.
Premier Wen Jiabao has rebuked repeated calls for a strong yuan and does not think the currency is undervalued. The battle over yuan appreciation is the latest sticking point between the two countries and comes after disputes over steel products, poultry, tyres and raw materials in the past few months.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Commerce's Director-General for American and Oceanic Affairs, He Ning, said Sino-US trade relations should be 'mutually beneficial'.
'Based on the principle of a level playing field and by avoiding taking trade issues politically and emotionally, many trade problems can be resolved properly,' he said. 'Some US politicians' proposal will complicate the trade situation and disrupt Sino-US communication.' He did not elaborate on this.
The yuan gained 0.1 per cent last year against the greenback to 6.82 after rising 16 per cent in the three years to 2008. Economists widely expect the yuan to rise about 3 to 5 per cent by the end of this year.
Nomura International chief China economist Sun Mingchun said next week's meeting between Beijing and Washington officials signalled the mainland's desire for reconciliation. 'They are making efforts to resolve the dispute nicely,' Sun said. 'But some people are making it a political issue, which delays the appreciation rather than hastening it.'
He said Beijing may allow the yuan to rise as soon as next month.
Federation of Hong Kong Industries chairman Cliff Sun Kai-lit said a more expensive yuan against the US dollar would be 'fatal' to tens of thousands of Hong Kong exporters across the border. 'The chain reactions are far-flung,' he said. 'We have no choice but prepare for the worst.'
Cliff Sun said for every 5 per cent rise in yuan against the greenback, exporters' overall cost will jump by 2 per cent and will eat directly into their already thin profit margins.
'When profit margins are depressed to a level that makes business unviable, many factories will be forced out of business, jobs will be cut and consumers will have to pay more for the same or even lower quality of goods,' he said. 'This is not good for the US consumers.' China is the largest supplier of goods in the US.
Zhang Yujing, the president of the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products, said 'companies are under pressure over cost increases', and a stronger yuan would force many of them to go under.
The US is the second-largest export destination for Chinese goods. China shipped US$35.12 billion worth of goods, or 17.2 per cent of its total exports of US$204.08 billion, to the US in the first two months of this year.