Recession Opens U.S.-China Rift Paulson Talks Bridged

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ray245
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Recession Opens U.S.-China Rift Paulson Talks Bridged

Post by ray245 » 2008-12-30 12:48am

http://news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20081 ... i3pbnjy7ty

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The global recession is re-exposing fissures in U.S.-China relations that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson spent more than two years smoothing over.

Heightened tensions between China and the U.S. may worsen a contraction in world trade that already threatens to deepen and prolong the economic downturn. The friction comes as President- elect Barack Obama readies a two-year stimulus package worth as much as $850 billion that will require the U.S. to borrow more than ever from China, the largest buyer of Treasury securities.

“The American economic slump is running into the Chinese economic slump,” says Derek Scissors, a research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. “It's creating the conditions for a face-off between Beijing and the U.S. Congress, possibly leading to destabilization of the world's most important bilateral economic relationship.”

Paulson, 62, who visited China 70 times during his career on Wall Street, made improving ties a priority when he arrived at the Treasury in 2006. He advocated diplomacy instead of confrontation, establishing a twice-yearly “strategic economic dialogue” with officials in Beijing, aimed at cooling tensions and deterring Congress from taking up trade sanctions.

The approach produced some results, including a pledge to share data on food safety and agreement to allow foreign mutual funds to invest in China's stock market. The value of China's currency, the yuan, rose 21 percent versus the dollar from 2005 levels to redress what U.S. officials saw as an unfair price advantage for Chinese products.

Shelved Sanctions

Paulson refrained from labeling China a currency manipulator and hailed an end to tax rebates on Chinese exports as a sign of improving trade relations. Congressional leaders, though dissatisfied with the pace of progress, shelved sanctions legislation.

Paulson “achieved some success, but it was much more difficult to get the Chinese to restructure their economy,” says Myron Brilliant, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Now, Brilliant says, the economic crisis has prompted China to turn back to “export-oriented policies that could lead to an increase in the trade imbalance” and new tensions with the U.S.

China's exports declined in November for the first time in seven years, and economic growth may slow by more than half to as little as 5 percent in 2009, according to Royal Bank of Scotland Plc. That has prompted China's leaders to increase tax rebates on thousands of exported products; meanwhile, the yuan's steady rise against the dollar stalled in July, and the currency has barely budged since. It was trading at 6.8462 a dollar at 1:33 p.m. in Shanghai today, from 6.8414 on Dec. 26.

A Harder Line

In the U.S., business and labor groups, along with lawmakers, are pushing the new Obama administration to take a harder line with China than President George W. Bush did.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, plans legislation that would raise tariffs on dumped imports from China and other nations. And newly elected Democratic congressmen such as Larry Kissell of North Carolina and Dan Maffei of New York have pledged actions to stop jobs from being shipped to China.

Lawyers representing companies such as Nucor Corp., the second-largest U.S. steelmaker, NewPage Corp., a maker of coated paper, and smaller textile and steel pipe makers say they are considering new trade complaints against China. During the presidential campaign, Obama promised groups including the National Council of Textile Organizations and the Alliance for American Manufacturing that he would take a tougher stance on China's currency policies.

Pushing Back

Officials in Beijing will push back, says James McGregor, chairman of Beijing-based research firm JL McGregor & Co. and author of the book “One Billion Customers,” about doing business in China. Chinese leaders “will do whatever they need to protect their interests and to say to the U.S., 'Do not mess with us on this one,'” he says.

Paulson, before leaving for talks in Beijing this month, told business representatives his biggest concern was that China was changing course and reversing moves it had made during the past year to cut aid to exporters and stimulate domestic consumption.

China's five-year plan through 2010 seeks to rebalance growth away from exports -- so far, without significant result. Household consumption slumped to slightly more than 35 percent of China's gross domestic product last year from 45 percent in 1993. By contrast, consumer spending represents more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Low Consumption

“What separates China from the rest of the world is its incredibly low level of consumption relative to GDP,” says Brad Setser, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “What can China do that would most directly help the world economy during a period of very severe weakness? Get its consumption back up to 40 percent of GDP.”

Policies in both countries are shaped by the need to cope with steep declines in employment. More than 10 million migrant workers lost their jobs in China during the first 11 months of this year, Caijing Magazine reported Dec. 17, citing a Labor Ministry official.

The total will likely grow in 2009. The World Bank forecasts that global trade, which grew 6.2 percent in 2008, will shrink by 2.1 percent next year, the first such contraction since 1982.

The collapse in overseas demand is exposing China's years of overinvestment in industries such as automobiles and telecommunications.

Sitting on a Stockpile

China's steel industry, the world's largest, is sitting on a stockpile of 63 million metric tons, equivalent to about 13 percent of annual production, and Baosteel Group General Manager He Wenbo said in November that his company was facing the “most difficult” period since it was founded 30 years ago.

The government is considering measures including buying unsold inventory and raising export rebates to help steelmakers weather the slowdown, Minister of Industry and Information Li Yizhong said Dec. 12.

In the U.S., factory payrolls have shrunk by 4 million during the eight years of the Bush administration, and total job losses this year may top 2 million.

“China-bashing will only intensify in a softer economic climate,” says Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley's Asia division in Hong Kong. “Bipartisan congressional support for anti-China trade legislation has been gathering in intensity.”

Obama's Pledges

Obama made specific pledges on the campaign trail to take a tougher approach to China than the Bush administration did. He has said the failure by Bush and Paulson to label China a currency manipulator was “unacceptable,” and he endorsed legislation to let U.S. companies seek import duties to compensate for the advantage an undervalued currency gives their Chinese competitors.

Obama also pledged to reverse course from Bush and consider petitions seeking higher tariffs on specific Chinese products.

American businesses, labor unions and lawmakers are already gearing up to force Obama's hand. Steelmakers, paper producers and textile companies are preparing trade complaints that could lead to increased tariffs. Unions and lawmakers plan to push measures to force China to raise the value of its currency.

McGregor says Obama's China policy will require a balancing act “fundamentally different” from what his predecessors faced: Obama's Treasury will need to fund a budget deficit heading for $1 trillion this year and “you don't scream at your banker.” China's holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, at $653 billion, are the world's largest.

That means an increase in trade tension “is very easy for China to handle,” says Guan Anping, a managing partner of Beijing-based law firm Anjin & Partners and a legal adviser to former Vice Premier Wu Yi until 1993. “China can react by reducing its purchases of U.S. government bonds.”

Even so, the Obama administration may not need much prodding to take a harder line on the currency issue, says William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and a former Clinton administration trade official.

“There will be consequences,” he says. “But they will do it anyway, if only to distinguish themselves from Bush.”
A lot of economist has been talking about the fact that trade protectionism is a bad thing during a recession. However, the track records of those economist makes me skeptical of their claim.
Humans are such funny creatures. We are selfish about selflessness, yet we can love something so much that we can hate something.

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Re: Recession Opens U.S.-China Rift Paulson Talks Bridged

Post by Patrick Degan » 2008-12-30 01:31pm

If you want to see how protectionism can wreck an economy during a downswing, just look up "Smoot-Hawley" sometime.
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