US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Saturday the US was not in a trade war with China, but he was troubled by Beijing’s tendency to retaliate when other members of the WTO launch trade cases against it.
“I am troubled by what I see as a trend of China to retaliate when members — not just the US, other members of the WTO — bring China to dispute settlement over legitimate matters,” Kirk said in an interview.
“That’s not only disruptive to global trade, it’s not only not in the interest of the members of the WTO, but I think long term it’s not in China’s interest. It begins to cut away at their credibility and their belief in the two-way value of trade in which not only they marvelously and spectacularly benefit as they have, but they’re also committed and have a commensurate responsibility to open up their markets fairly to us,” he added.
Asked if the US was in a trade war with China, he said: “I really do push back on that. It is not a trade war for me to use the tools, the resources that every member of the WTO has open to them, to go to China and say: ‘We believe the way you’re executing this policy — that is WTO-inconsistent.’”
Kirk was speaking on the last day of the WTO’s biennial ministerial conference in Geneva. Many had hoped for a constructive meeting, but on the eve of the gathering China slapped punitive duties of up to 22 percent on large cars and SUVs made in the US, a US export flow worth nearly US$4 billion a year.
China’s decision to impose duties was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after US challenges to China, most recently in the solar industry and poultry sector.
“Part of a foundation of a rules-based system is dispute settlement,” Kirk said. “That’s what we think is so important about the WTO. How China reacts to that is up to China, but I just cannot buy into the argument that our standing and protecting the rights of our exporters and workers is somehow igniting a trade war or being protectionist.”