Bush Admin. Criticizes China, 58 Other Countries for Unfair Trade Barriers

The Bush administration on Friday accused 62 trading partners including China and the European Union of erecting unfair trade barriers against American exports.

The National Trade Estimate Report, required to be presented to Congress each year, details what the administration said were significant unfair trade practices that are harming U.S. manufacturers, farmers and service companies.

This year's list of 59 countries ranges from Angola to Vietnam and includes the trading blocs of the European Union, the Arab League and the Southern African Customs Union.

As in past years, the report devotes the most attention to China, the country with which the United States is running the largest trade deficit, an imbalance that totaled $256.3 billion last year, the highest deficit ever recorded with a single country.

While the deficit with China went up by 10.2 percent last year, America's total trade deficit actually declined by 6.1 percent to $711.6 billion. It marked the first decline after the deficit set records for five straight years. The improvement was spurred by a weaker value of the dollar against many foreign currencies, which makes U.S. goods more competitive on overseas markets.

The report prepared by the office of U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the administration was pursuing a number of avenues including negotiations and the filing of trade cases in an effort to dismantle the offending barriers.

"We filed a number of very strong cases with the World Trade Organization to combat barriers to the free and fair trade of American goods and services, including four cases against China in the past four months," Schwab said in a statement.

The administration released this year's report the week before Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was to travel to China for two days of talks in Beijing with Chinese leaders. Officials said he will continue to press the Chinese to move more quickly to address what American manufacturers see as the biggest trade irritant between the two nations — China's currency.

U.S. manufacturers contend that China's currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent, making Chinese goods cheaper for American consumers and American products more expensive in China.

Alan Holmer, the administration's special envoy for China, told reporters at a briefing Friday that China's currency would come up during Paulson's talks next week. He said while the currency needs to rise more quickly in value against the dollar the administration is happy that the pace of appreciation has picked up in recent months.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and 13 other members of the panel sent President Bush a letter on Thursday urging the administration to take a tougher line on trade matters with China, especially in the area of currency manipulation.

Paulson will be highest-ranking administration official to visit China since Beijing's harsh crackdown in Tibet. Holmer said that Paulson would raise the issue of Tibet during his meetings next Wednesday and Thursday.

Earlier this week, the White House said that Bush had sharply confronted China's President Hu Jintao during a telephone call about the violence in Tibet. China has defended its use of force against anti-Chinese protesters in Tibet, describing demonstrations that broke out in the capital city of Lhasa on March 14 as riots and violent crimes.

The trade barriers report, which has been prepared annually for more than two decades, devoted 66 pages to China's barriers to U.S. products and services, the most for any country, with the European Union coming in for 42 pages of criticism.