US accuses China of being one of the most protectionist major countries in the world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 2:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 3:04am

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross criticised China as one of the most protectionist major countries on Friday, less than a week before President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet for the first time in Florida.

“My view is that the United States is about the least protectionist of the major countries --and that China is one of the most protectionist,” Ross said Friday in an interview. “There’s an inherent clash between those two even though China uses a tremendous amount of free-trade rhetoric. We’d like the rhetoric and the behaviour to become more congruent.”

Ross’s comments follow tweets Trump posted Thursday blaming China for US trade deficits and job losses. Trump is set to sign executive orders on Friday toughening enforcement of penalties on countries that engage in trade abuse. Trump and Xi have agreed to meet for an April 6-7 summit at the US president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

In the interview, Ross said China’s effort to obtain market economy status was critical, and negotiations continue. He declined to say whether Trump’s pledge to declare China a currency manipulator would come up during the meetings, saying that was the purview of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Chinese officials expressed optimism about the summit despite Trump’s predictions for difficulty.

Foreign ministry officials deflected questions about Trump’s latest China criticism at a briefing in Beijing on Friday, with Vice Minister Zheng Zeguang calling it a “new starting point” for relations. The news conference took place just two hours after Trump’s Twitter post.

The order Trump will sign Friday strengthens enforcement of existing countervailing duties and anti-dumping penalties against foreign products to address under-collection, said Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council. Anti-dumping penalties target exporters that sell goods for less than the cost of production, and countervailing duties are intended to compensate for foreign-government subsidies to producers.

Trump on Friday also will instruct the Commerce Department to complete a country-by-country, product-by-product assessment of the causes of US trade deficits within 90 days. The study will cover faulty trade deals, cheating by foreign competitors, currency misalignments and “constraints” imposed by the World Trade Organisation, Ross told reporters at a White House briefing.

In his interview, Ross said the US already has begun its work on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta. He said Trump would like to add the word “fair” to the acronym, changing it to Naffta.

Ross said he’s “anxious” to get negotiations started on the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, pointing out Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections.

“The closer we get to those elections, the more difficult it will be for any government to make a deal,” he said.