Commerce Secretary to Lead Trade Group to China

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Wednesday he will lead a delegation of business executives to China this fall as part of an effort to boost exports and reduce America's record trade deficit.

"China is one of our fastest growing export markets and we are having a great year," Gutierrez said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Through May, U.S. exports to China were up by 37 percent from the same period a year ago, and that increase came on top of 19 percent growth in U.S. exports to China in 2005.

However, even with those gains, the U.S. trade deficit with China is running 13 percent above the pace set last year, when Americans recorded a $202 billion deficit with the Chinese, the biggest imbalance ever with a single country.

The growing gap reflects the fact that Chinese exports to the United States are still growing and the Chinese sell $5 in goods to Americans for every $1 in U.S. exports to China.

Gutierrez, who has already made three trips to China since joining the Cabinet last year, said he wanted to lead his first business development mission to China as a way to build on the gains U.S. exporters have already made.

"This mission will help American businesses seize new opportunities there," Gutierrez said. "The prospect of selling to more than a billion consumers, together with China's rising middle class, creates real opportunity for American companies."

The delegation, which is expected to include executives from 20 to 30 companies representing a cross-section of U.S. businesses, will visit China from Nov. 13 to 17 with stops planned in Beijing and Shanghai. The trip will be designed to develop contacts between the U.S. companies and Chinese business and government leaders.

Gutierrez said that in his meetings with Chinese officials he would seek a progress report on efforts China is making to crack down on the theft of U.S. copyrights and patents, which American companies claim are costing them billions of dollars in lost sales annually.

He said initial efforts by the Chinese to fulfill pledges they made in April were encouraging, including a commitment to require that all personal computers sold in China have factory-installed operating programs as a way of reducing the pirating of U.S. computer software.

The administration is also pressing China to allow its currency to rise in value against the dollar as a way of lowering the trade deficit. U.S. manufacturers contend China is unfairly depressing the value of the yuan by as much as 40 percent to make their goods cheaper and more competitive against American products.

Gutierrez said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would take the lead in pushing the Chinese to allow for greater flexibility of their currency.

Paulson, who took office last month, will have his first opportunity for face-to-face meetings with Chinese officials this fall. Treasury officials announced Wednesday that Paulson will attend meetings of finance ministers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam on Sept. 7-8.

Paulson is also scheduled to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank which this year will be held in Singapore on Sept. 19-20.