Fixing credit markets and energy policy are largely domestic challenges, whereas recalibrating trade with China requires cooperation from Beijing. However, such cooperation requires fundamental changes in Chinese industrial policies and a departure from maintaining an undervalued yuan to spur industrial development.
The United States has engaged in high level talks with China since negotiations for its entry into the World Trade Organization. Most recently, the Strategic Economic Dialogue was launched in 2007.
Throughout this process the United States has encouraged China to more substantially raise the value of the yuan, which would require Beijing to purchase fewer dollars and other currencies to sustain its value. Instead, China has increased its foreign exchange market intervention as the gap between the official value of the yuan and its fundamental value has widened. This has exacerbated the damage to the U.S. economy and China’s other trading partners.
The United States has three broad policy options to leverage change.
First, the United States could bring a complaint in the World Trade Organization. China’s currency policy policies create a WTO illegal subsidy on exports, and subvert the benefits its trading partners expected when they acceded to China’s entry into the world trade body.
Were the United States to bring such a suit, other WTO members would likely join the petition. If they prevailed, either China would have to stop intervening in currency markets, or face tariffs–approved by the WTO and imposed by WTO members participating in the complaint–to redress the trade imbalance. Those tariffs would be strictly temporary and removed when China complied with the WTO decision, ended currency market intervention, and let the yuan rise in value.
Second, the United States, consistent with its WTO obligations may impose tariffs on imported goods that receive government subsidies, if those goods harm U.S. industries when they enter U.S. markets. Until 2006, the United States did not apply the subsidy and countervailing duty law to commerce with China, but in a case regarding imports of Chinese paper, the Bush Administration changed that policy. However, in addressing the domestic industry’s petition, the Bush Administration denied application of the subsidy and countervailing duty law to China’s undervalued currency.
Bills sponsored by Senators Jim Bunning (R-KY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in the Senate and by Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) would make more likely the subsidy implicit in an undervalued currency were included in the computation countervailing duties in both dumping and subsidy cases, when a “fundamental and actionable misalignment” is present. Such circumstances would be determined by a standard consistent with International Monetary Fund guidelines.
Third, Americans need to accommodate to the fact that China is much less a market economy, either by design or by policy, than North American and Western European economies.
Its financial system may not be able to sustain an unmanaged floating exchange rate; however, China can manage the value of the yuan at 4 as easily as it does 6.8. In fact, it would be a lot easier to manage a value closer to balance of payments equilibrium.