Donald Trump may be threatening to start a trade war with China, but the US and its geopolitical rival are already skirmishing ahead of what could be a combative summer.
The latest sign came yesterday when the US brought a new challenge in the World Trade Organisation against
Chinese anti-dumping tariffs on US poultry products. It is the 12th time the Obama administration has taken China to the WTO, more than any of its
“American farmers deserve a fair shot to compete and win in the global economy, and this administration will continue to hold China responsible when they attempt to disadvantage our farmers, businesses and workers,” said Mike Froman, the US trade representative.
The latest move is part of a broader effort by the administration and US industry to get tough on China, with trade rhetoric rising even far from the campaign trail.
“This is war. This is not trade,” Lourenco Goncalves, chief executive of Cliffs Natural Resources, an iron ore producer, told reporters last week on the sidelines of a US steel industry association meeting. “China is waging economic war. We ought to recognise that and act accordingly.”
Driving the administration’s push is politics and its desire to secure congressional approval before Mr Obama leaves office in January for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade deal negotiated by the US in more than 20 years.
Those plans have been complicated by the rhetoric of Mr Trump and others campaigning to succeed Mr Obama. But the administration’s response has been to intensify its argument that the TPP, which includes the US, Japan and 10 other Pacific rim economies but not China, is an important strategic response to Beijing’s bid to control commerce in the region.
If China is the problem, as Mr Trump and others argue, then the TPP, rather than the crude tariffs the presumptive Republican nominee is proposing, is the perfect response, US officials argue.
Those efforts are coinciding with rising anxiety in US business about what is seen as a new economic nationalism in China and its impact on such things as US agricultural exports, technology businesses and the global steel industry.
By the end of this month the US commerce department is set to decide whether to allow a case brought by US Steel seeking a ban on steel imports from China as punishment for what it says were Chinese hacking attacks and the theft of intellectual property. By the end of the summer three anti-dumping cases could result in punitive tariffs of as much as 266 per cent being imp-osed on certain Chinese steel products.
The US is also applying trade pressure elsewhere. It has been quietly lobbying to block China from securing “market economy” status under the WTO, something Beijing prizes and says it should be granted automatically in December with the 15th anniversary of its accession to the global trade body.
Even as it pushes to make progress on a bilateral investment treaty with China, the Obama administration is keeping Beijing out of separate talks in Geneva on the global trade in services and pressing it to loosen restrictions on green products such as solar cells in yet another set of negotiations.
Chad P Brown, a former member of Mr Obama’s council of economic advisers, said there was a fundamental difference between the administration’s tactics against China and what Mr Trump was proposing. The current moves were being conducted within “the rules of the game”, he said, while Mr Trump’s proposed unilateral tariffs would probably put the US in violation of WTO rules. But other advocates of free trade bemoan what they see developing.
Dan Ikenson, who directs trade resear-ch at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the administration’s pushing of the TPP as a response to the rise of China highlighted how weak Mr Obama’s position was with Congress. “The elements are all there for the administration to cast China as this real international scofflaw. And the best way to hit back is to bring these trade cases,” he said.
There was also a risk of an “extremely hostile period” in US-China trade relations auguring ill for the economies, said Gary Hufbauer at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
铁矿石生产商Cliffs Natural Resources首席执行官洛伦索?贡萨尔维斯(Lourenco Goncalves)上周在美国钢铁工业协会(US steel industry association)会议间歇向记者表示：“这是战争，不是贸易。中国正在发动经济战争。我们必须认识到这一点，并采取相应行动。”
白宫经济顾问委员会前成员查德?P?布朗(Chad P Brown)表示，奥巴马政府的对华策略与特朗普的提议之间有本质区别。他说，美国当前采取的措施都是在“游戏规则”之下进行的，而特朗普提议实施的单方面关税很可能会让美国违反世贸组织规则。但还有一些自由贸易的倡导者抱怨他们所看到的形势变化。
自由派智囊机构加图研究所(Cato Institute)负责贸易研究的丹?伊肯森(Dan Ikenson)表示，奥巴马政府为应对中国崛起而推动TPP，凸显了在国会面前奥巴马处于多么弱势的地位。他说：“奥巴马政府要把中国定性为真正的无视国际规则的国家，所有的理由都摆在面前。最佳的回击方式就是提起这些贸易诉讼。”
彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)的加里?赫夫鲍尔(Gary Hufbauer)表示，还存在一种风险，即美中贸易关系进入一个“极端敌对期”，这对这两个经济体来说都是凶兆。