* Romney is front-runner in Republican race for White House
* Obama, Bush declined to name China a currency manipulator
* House Republicans fear triggering a trade war
* White House considering auto parts case versus China
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is looking at ways to increase pressure on China over what he sees as currency manipulation and unfair subsidy practices, a Romney campaign adviser said on Tuesday.
“I think he wants to maximize the pressure,” Grant Aldonas, a former under secretary of commerce for international trade, said at a symposium on the future of U.S. manufacturing. Aldonas served at the Commerce Department under Republican President George W. Bush.
Romney, the front-runner in the Republican race to challenge President Barack Obama for the White House in November, has promised if elected he would quickly label China a currency manipulator, something the Obama administration has six times declined to do.
That would set the stage, under Romney’s plan, for the United States to impose countervailing duties on Chinese goods to offset the advantage of what many consider to be China’s undervalued currency.
Last year, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation to do essentially the same thing.
However, the measure has stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where leaders say they fear it could start a trade war, and the Obama administration has not pushed for a House vote on the currency bill.
The U.S. Treasury Department on April 15 faces a semi-annual deadline to declare whether any country is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage. The department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has not cited any country since 1994, when China was last named.
Asked if Romney was serious about declaring China a currency manipulator, Aldonas answered: “He is.”
Aldonas said he would convey a questioner’s suggestion back to the campaign that Romney prove his seriousness by urging House Ways and Mean Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, to take up the currency bill.
However, Aldonas said any currency legislation should also address broader subsidy practices that encourage Chinese companies to build excess production capacity that “spills into our market.”
“So, I’d love to see Dave Camp add something to that bill, which is not just currency but actually goes after the subsidies that bring the excess capacity on the market and actually affects our producers,” he said.
White House economic adviser Gene Sperling, in a speech to the same group, did not directly address concerns about China’s currency practices but said there was “no question” that a surge in imports from China had contributed to the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs in the past decade.
Sperling said the Obama administration had brought cases against China at the World Trade Organization at twice the pace of George W. Bush’s administration and also used a trade provision, known as Section 421, for the first time to stop a surge of tire imports from China.
Immediately after the speech, Sperling declined to comment on whether the administration would take action to curb imports of auto parts from China, as 188 lawmakers urged Obama to do in a letter earlier this month.
But later he indicated the matter was under consideration.
“We take a congressional letter on a trade issue like this very seriously and we are carefully reviewing it,” Sperling said in a statement to Reuters.
The 188 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, accused China of using “predatory” pricing practices to grab an increasing share of the U.S. auto parts market.
“We cannot wait until further damage is done,” the group said in their letter. “Seventy-five percent of the jobs in the automotive sector are in auto parts, and these jobs are at risk in every state in the nation.”