U.S. business worried China stimulus favors locals

A vendor smokes as he sells garlic at a wholesale market in Taiyuan, Shanxi province April 13, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. companies are concerned that they are not getting a fair chance at contracts linked to China’s 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package, a leading U.S. business group said on Friday.

For its part, Beijing has strongly criticized the ‘Buy American’ provisions of the U.S. stimulus package finalized in February, saying it is opposed to any rise in protectionist measures in the wake of the global economic slowdown.

But Myron Brilliant, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that China’s own stimulus package lacked clarity in terms of how foreign firms can bid for contracts on infrastructure projects.

“We are very concerned that the stimulus package may have a significant local bias,” Brilliant told reporters in Beijing.

“There is certainly a perception in the foreign business community that a lot of these contracts are going to domestic providers. And there is, I think, a legitimate concern that there isn’t a fair and transparent way for the foreign business community to invest in these projects and to contribute.”

Expectations that Beijing’s stimulus measures will help lead to an early recovery in the world’s third-largest economy have helped support share prices in markets around the world in recent weeks, in anticipation that China will be able to help anchor the global economy.

China said on Thursday that its economy grew 6.1 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier. While that marked a slowdown in year-on-year terms from the 6.8 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2008, analysts said it represented a rebound in sequential growth.

The comments by Brilliant, however, suggest that Western firms could find it difficult to benefit directly from China’s increased spending.

“I think that’s a lost opportunity if that in fact is how it manifests itself,” he said.

Reporting by Jason Subler; Editing by Ken Wills