The WTO barred China on Thursday from imposing duties on certain US steel exports, siding with US President Barack Obama in a dispute with Beijing over a type of steel made in two election battleground states.
The case involved duties imposed by China on “grain-oriented electrical steel,” which is used in the cores of high-efficiency transformers, electric motors and generators. The steel is made by AK Steel Corp of Ohio and ATI Allegheny Ludlum of Pennsylvania.
Although the specialty steel case is tiny compared with other trade disputes with Beijing, the WTO ruling gave Obama a timely win as he defends himself against accusations by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he is soft on China.
“Today, we are again plainly stating that we will continue to take every step necessary to ensure that China plays by the rules and does not unfairly restrict exports of US products,” US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on its Web site that it would “handle this case according to WTO regulations.”
However, ministry spokesman Shen Danyang (沈丹陽) criticized the “politicization” of trade issues during the US presidential campaign.
Derek Scissors, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Thursday’s ruling was “a small benefit for the Obama campaign because it can advertise ‘beating China’ in Ohio, but it’s not a benchmark for anything.”
Obama has won WTO victories against Beijing in areas ranging from intellectual property rights and financial services to raw materials trade, and he has launched several other challenges, such as a case against Chinese export restrictions on rare earths.
He has also created an interagency trade enforcement unit to devote more resources to ensuring China and other countries abide by global trade rules.
The Romney campaign team repeated on Thursday that China was stealing US jobs and that Obama was not standing up to Beijing.