The US and the EU filed separate unfair-trade cases against China on Tuesday, accusing it of favoring domestic industry by limiting exports of materials needed to produce steel, aluminum and other products.
Beijing defended its curbs as an effort to protect the environment and said they comply with China’s WTO commitments.
Analysts expect the fight over China’s export restrictions will be just one of many trade cases US President Barack Obama’s administration files against China. Obama made campaign pledges to take a tougher approach with US trading partners in the face of soaring job losses and the longest US recession since World War II.
The materials at issue include coke, bauxite, magnesium and silicon metal, the US complaint says.
The US and EU complaints filed with the Geneva-based WTO say China’s export restrictions give its companies an unfair edge over their foreign rivals by giving them access to cheaper materials, despite WTO rules against export curbs.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the Obama administration decided to pursue a WTO case after two years of talks between the Chinese and the Bush administration had failed to reach a resolution. He said China’s actions were endangering US jobs.
“The United States believes that China is unfairly restricting exports of raw materials,” Kirk said. “These actions are hurting American steel, aluminum and chemical manufacturers, among other industries, that desperately need these material to make their products.”
Beijing said it hoped to resolve the dispute through dialogue in the WTO.
“The goal of the Chinese side’s policy on the relevant exports is to protect the environment and natural resources, and the Chinese side considers the relevant policy to be compliant with WTO regulations,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a written statement.
The ministry yesterday said that Beijing has filed its own complaint asking the WTO to investigate a US ban on imports of Chinese poultry.
The US and EU complaints trigger a 60-day consultation period.
If the dispute is not resolved, they can formally request a WTO hearing panel. At that point, the cases likely would be merged.
If the US and EU prevail at a WTO hearing — a process that can take up to a year — and China still refuses to lift the export restrictions, the two would be given a go-ahead to impose economic sanctions on China. Those sanctions would be equal to the harm inflicted on their companies by Beijing’s actions.
“The United States has a strong case,” said Dan Griswold, a trade economist at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank. “And it certainly adds weight to the US case that the two largest trading entities in the WTO have joined together. That should get China’s attention.”
Officials from the US and EU sought to protect their domestic companies’ collective ability to compete on a global scale.
The American Iron and Steel Institute — whose members include Nucor Corp and United States Steel Corp — the United Steel Workers and other industry groups released a joint statement praising the administration’s decision to pursue a WTO case against China.
“When China joined the WTO in 2001, it committed to removing these restrictions,” the groups said.
They called the barriers on the export of raw materials and minerals “just another way in which China favors its domestic manufacturing industries at the expense of the rest of the world.”