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China-US relations

China way more protectionist than US, says Trump official

Beijing superb at free-trade rhetoric and highly protectionist behaviour, says US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 10:10pm

Any protectionist agenda in the US pales in comparison to China’s, according to US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Ross found himself defending the Trump administration’s America First mantra in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday with a group of strong champions of globalisation. “The Chinese for quite a little while have been superb at free-trade rhetoric and even more superb at highly protectionist behaviour,” Ross said. “Every time the US does anything to deal with a problem, we are called protectionist.”

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Ross brushed off criticism that the US is retreating from the world stage and leaving an opening for the world’s second-largest economy, China, to build influence. He said President Donald Trump just has a forceful leadership style that some people do not like.

“We don’t intend to abrogate leadership, but leadership is different from being a sucker and being a patsy,” he said. “We would like to be the leader in making the world trade system more fair and more equitable to all participants.”

He challenged the other panellists – including World Trade Organisation director-general Roberto Azevedo and Cargill Inc. chief executive David MacLennan – to quickly name a nation that is less protectionist than the US He got no responses. Ross then cited a study of more than 20 products that showed China had higher tariffs on all but two items on the list, and Europe all but four.

“Before we get into sticks and stones about free trade we ought to first talk about, is there really free trade or is it a unicorn in the garden,” said Ross.

Despite the tariffs Trump imposed this week on solar panels and washing machines, China is hoping for a “bumper year” for new trade deals, according to China’s Commerce Ministry. The Chinese president’s chief economic adviser, Liu He, told WEF delegates on Wednesday the country would introduce more economic reforms than expected this year.

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China does not want to see an escalation of trade frictions with the US and hopes to handle frictions in a “constructive” way, Gao Feng, the Ministry of Commerce spokesman said at a press conference on Thursday. “China’s door for dialogue and communication is always open,” he said, adding that the nation will still take appropriate measures to counter protectionist actions that go against WTO rules.