U.S. seeks more clean energy market access in China

HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will press for more access for American companies in China’s clean energy sector, an area where Washington feels it can make inroads on its enormous trade imbalance with China.

China’s ambitious wind power plans, as well as national policies to reduce emissions and use water and fuel more efficiently, create a potential market for U.S. firms who have developed those technologies, Locke said in Hangzhou before the annual Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting.

China’s overcapacity in some sectors, including solar panels, drive low-cost exports that have created friction with trading partners, while Western firms have complained they are cut out of China’s most lucrative domestic projects.

“These are the issues we’ve been raising in a number of discussions that are part of the JCCT. Our objective is to allow American companies to compete,” Locke told reporters, in response to a question about market access for U.S. firms.

“We recognize that the Chinese companies also have much to offer the United States, and we seek a level playing field for both sides,” he said.

Ahead of the JCCT, U.S. industrial services company Harsco Corp. inked a joint venture on Wednesday with Zhejiang Construction Group, one of China’s 10 largest construction firms.

“Chinese companies are becoming more aware of the need for efficiency,” said Harsco president Geoff Butler, adding his company uses less equipment and labor, reuses materials more and brings greater safety to the construction process.

Locke’s visit is overshadowed by a number of trade disputes, including recent U.S. decisions to enact duties on Chinese products that U.S. industry says are flooding U.S. markets.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday set preliminary duties on imports of steel grating and concrete steel wire strand, citing Chinese government subsidies. A final determination on the duties is due in January.

The Obama administration in September imposed safeguard duties on imports from China for the first time, with duties on tires that Chinese officials warned would reduce their willingness to make concessions at this week’s JCCT meeting.

Locke declined to comment on whether he expected any retaliatory trade measures by China.

“Because China and the United States have formal mechanisms for resolving those trade disputes, I think it’s a symbol of the maturity of the relationship that we are able to discuss and resolve these trade disputes,” Locke said.

China responded to the tire duties by launching its own anti-dumping investigations into U.S. poultry and auto parts, which together accounted for roughly the same value as the Chinese exports of tires to the United States.

Locke is pressing China on this visit to crack down on piracy of U.S. intellectual property and to open markets for U.S. medical devices and pharmaceutical products, in addition to energy innovations.

On Tuesday, Locke said the United States wants China’s currency -- which has been effectively pegged to the dollar since the summer of 2008 -- to climb further.

Editing by Paul Tait