U.S. steel executives press Congress on China yuan

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. steel executives on Thursday urged Congress to get tough with Beijing on trade, while a Chinese official pressed President Barack Obama’s administration not to label his country a “currency manipulator” with an undervalued yuan.

“We are in a trade war. We just haven’t shown up for it,” Dan DiMicco, chief executive officer of Nucor Corp, told the Congressional Steel Caucus during a hearing rife with U.S. industry complaints about China.

Carl Moulton, vice chairman of the Specialty Steel Industry of North America, told the bipartisan lawmakers’ group that China’s undervalued currency gave it a “huge commercial advantage” over the United States.

“A significant part of any successful plan to restore jobs and revive the economy must be correction of foreign governments’ enforced undervaluation of their currencies,” Moulton said, noting that many Asian economies link their currencies to China’s yuan.

Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan held a second day of talks with the Obama administration on trade and currency concerns.

Zhong, who began his visit by rejecting U.S. calls for China to let the yuan rise more rapidly, met on Thursday with Robert Hormats, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs.

He met on Wednesday with officials at the U.S. Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the Trade Representative’s office and the U.S. International Trade Commission.

That was on the heels of a visit by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, who met with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on Tuesday.


Zhong and Cui were tight-lipped in mostly closed-door meetings in Washington, but in Beijing on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry called for dialogue on trade friction.

“It is imperative to seek a mutually beneficial and win-win solution to some problems and frictions in the Sino-U.S. trade and economic relations through equal consultation, dialogue and communication,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

Pressure has been building in Congress for Obama to formally label China as a currency manipulator in a semi-annual Treasury Department due out on April 15.

Many economists estimate that China’s currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent, which they say gives China an unfair price advantage in trade.

Obama’s decision on whether to label China a currency manipulator comes at a delicate time -- just two days after he hosts a nuclear non-proliferation summit on April 13 that he hopes Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend.

Hu will be in Brazil on April 15 for a meeting of the so-called BRIC nations -- Brazil, Russia, China and India, but has not committed yet to Obama’s meeting.

Obama declined to brand China as a a currency manipulator in two previous reports, but Congress is growing impatient with Beijing, which has kept its yuan pegged at about 6.83 to the dollar since July 2008.

“We cannot sit idly by as China continues to break the rules by illegally subsidizing its exports and controlling its currency’s exchange rate,” Representative Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, said at the steel caucus hearing.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, are spearheading a bill that could lead to tariffs on some Chinese goods if it does not revalue the yuan.

DiMicco urged Congress to pass a similar bill in the House of Representatives that would require the Commerce Department to treat undervalued currencies as an illegal export subsidy.

That would let the steel industry and other companies seek countervailing duties against the practice.

Mario Longhi, past chairman of the Steel Manufacturers Association, said he was pessimistic the United States could by itself persuade China to revalue its yuan.

He urged the Obama administration to push for an international monetary conference “led by the U.S., the EU, Japan and, hopefully, with Chinese participation” to thrash out and implement a new international currency regime. (Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn and Paul Eckert; Editing by Jan Paschal)