Saddled with a ballooning trade deficit and facing pressure from domestic manufacturers, US Com-merce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez will lead a business team to China to push for more export avenues.
With leaders of 25 US companies in tow, Gutierrez will visit Bei-jing and Shanghai on Monday and Tuesday to "expand US export opportunities" and "resolve key bilateral issues," the US Commerce Department said on Thursday.
The announcement came as the trade deficit with China again jumped to record highs, raising the possibility of political tensions after the Democratic Party regained control of Congress in elections later this week.
The trade gap was at US$23 billion in September, after US$22 billion in August. Imports from China rose 3.3 percent to a record US$27.6 billion, the department said on Thursday.
Amid charges the Chinese yuan currency is giving Beijing an unfair trade advantage and complaints of loss of US manufacturing jobs, the Democratic victory could see a vigorous debate over US trade policy in the remaining two years of Republican President George W. Bush's term.
"This week's election results revealed strong public dissatisfaction with US economic policy, and today's trade figures show again that voters are right to be concerned," said Alan Tonelson of the US Business and Industry Council.
"America's poor performance in leading-edge industries makes clear that the US trade crisis continues unabated," he said.
Although US exports to China have also risen to record levels, US officials and politicians say there is immense room for expansion and Beijing needs to do more to remove trade barriers.
"US exports to China are already at record levels, but we're not satisfied -- there's room to grow," Gutierrez said ahead of his trip.
He will be meeting with senior Chinese officials "to continue consultations on how we can strip away impediments to US exports."
Gutierrez said that while China was more open than before, "much progress must still be made to provide fair access to American exporters and businesses."
The commerce chief is expected to raise the US grievances at a meeting of the joint committee on commerce and trade, the major US-Chinese bilateral trade forum, during the trip.