China says U.S. auto trade complaint driven by election race

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 18, 2012 7:45 PM
China says U.S. auto trade complaint driven by election race

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said it has been made a victim of U.S. electoral politics after Washington launched an international trade case alleging that Beijing has been unfairly subsidizing automobile and auto parts exports.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the World Trade Organization (WTO) case against China over allegedly illegal subsidies for automobiles and auto parts during an election campaign stop in Ohio on Monday.

At around the same time, Beijing filed a complaint against U.S. duties on many Chinese exports, in the latest example of tit-for-tat trade disputes filed between the world's two largest economies.

In its first official comment on the complaint, issued on Tuesday evening, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce was unusually blunt in blaming the case on the race for the White House.

"In the midst of an election race, the United States chose to announce this news in Ohio, an automobile production area, showing that the U.S. took this step against China out of considerations of electoral politics," an unidentified Chinese commerce official said on the ministry's website.

"We express our opposition to this," said the official, adding that China would deal with the U.S. request for consultations in keeping with WTO rules.

This year, the United States has also pursued anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases against Chinese-made solar panels and wind turbine towers in response to industry petitions.

Obama's latest trade enforcement steps come as he and Republican rival Mitt Romney vie for a few important states, including the auto manufacturing state of Ohio, that could determine the outcome of the November 6 presidential election.

U.S. steelworkers and other union groups had pushed for action at the WTO to stop what they said was a flood of unfairly subsidized Chinese auto parts.

Republicans, including Romney, who has accused Obama of not being tough enough with Beijing, cast the move by the Democratic White House as a blatant effort to sway votes in an election battleground state.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said at a press briefing on Wednesday that the WTO case filing number on China's complaint showed it preceded the U.S. complaint, suggesting it was Washington playing tit-for-tat with trade policy, not Beijing.

"Looking at the sequential order of the two case numbers, we can clearly see the United States' political goal," Shen said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley and Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait and Jeremy Laurence)