(Adds details from letter)
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, May 9 (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans on Monday urged the Obama administration to hold China’s feet to the fire over currency and industrial policies they said are hurting American companies.
“The U.S.-China relationship is critically important. But much work needs to be done to strengthen that relationship and improve U.S. market access into China,” Republican members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee said.
They put their message in a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hosted Chinese officials beginning on Monday two days of high-level talks on economic and geopolitical concerns.
The annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue follows Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit in January to the United States and another high-level forum in December known as the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.
During both the Hu visit and the JCCT meeting, “China made encouraging commitments. However, those commitments can be deemed meaningful only if they result in improved market access for U.S. companies, as measured by sales, jobs and exports,” the Republican lawmakers wrote.
They urged President Barack Obama’s administration to push China to follow through on Hu’s promise to ‘de-link’ government procurement and indigenous innovation policies that could shut foreign firms out of China’s huge public sector.
“Now is time to provide more clarity how they are going to implement that very high-profile pledge with a timeline for doing so,” said John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, in a separate interview.
“That’s something we should expect at this meeting and I would hate to think that we wouldn’t see that,” Frisbie said.
The lawmakers also complained that China’s “currency misalignment continues to be a serious problem,” driven in large part by China’s refusal to open its capital market.
“China must let the RMB (renminbi) appreciate and move toward allowing market supply and demand to determine the value of its currency,” they said.
The Republicans, who won control of the House in last November’s election, steered clear of threatening legislation to force China to revalue its yuan, or renminbi, currency.
But in the Democrat-controlled Senate, Senator Sherrod Brown said he believed legislation was needed to stop “China’s unfair currency manipulation.”
“The Chinese government has taken small steps to allow the yuan to appreciate, but it is not enough,” the Ohio Democrat said, echoing the view last week of Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat.
House Republicans also pressed for faster results on China’s promise to fight software piracy by increasing the use of legitimate software by government agencies.
“We are concerned that U.S. companies have not yet seen a meaningful increase in sales” of legal software in the Chinese market, they said.
The lawmakers criticized China’s use of “WTO-inconsistent subsidies” and regulatory practices that they said give Chinese companies an unfair advantage over foreign firms.
They also accused Beijing of of misusing its anti-dumping laws “to retaliate against U.S. companies,” and of throwing up food safety barriers to keep out U.S. farm exports.
The Republicans took aim at Chinese restrictions on rare earth exports and called on Beijing to do more to help bring world trade talks to a successful conclusion. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Gary Crosse))