September 23, 2010 / 1:31 AM / 9 years ago

WRAPUP 6-Chinese PM pushes back as U.S. currency bill looms

* China PM Wen: yuan appreciation would mean bankruptcies

* Wen says no link between currency and trade balances

* U.S. House of Representatives panel to vote on Friday (Adds background, details, U.S. Commerce Secretary)

By Paul Eckert and Doug Palmer

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pushed back on Wednesday against U.S. pressure to revalue the yuan, as U.S. lawmakers threatened to penalize China for keeping its currency artificially low.

Wen, who is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in New York on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly, said in a speech to U.S. business leaders the yuan exchange rate had no relation to U.S. trade deficits and should not be politicized.

He added that a 20 percent appreciation of the yuan, also called the renminbi, as demanded by U.S. lawmakers would cause many bankruptcies in the Chinese export sector, where firms operate on thin margins.

“The conditions for a major appreciation of the renminbi do not exist,” Wen said, adding the appreciation of China’s currency demanded by U.S. lawmakers would not bring jobs back to the United States because U.S. firms no longer make such labor-intensive products.

“The main reason for the U.S. trade deficit with China is not the renminbi exchange rate, but the structure of trade and investment between the two countries,” he said, using language similar to U.S. economists critical of the currency bill. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

PDF on the yuan: r.reuters.com/cad44p

Graphics: link.reuters.com/byx64p

Why is yuan rising all of sudden? [ID:nTOE68K03B]

Factbox on Sino-U.S. tensions [ID:nTOE68K06J] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

A House of Representatives committee scheduled a vote for Friday on a China currency bill, and a Democratic aide said the full House was expected to vote on the measure next week.

Critics inside and outside Congress say China deliberately undervalues its currency by as much as 25 percent to 40 percent to give Chinese companies an unfair trade advantage, hurting U.S. exports and job prospects.

Obama said on Monday that China had not done enough to raise the value of the yuan, keeping up Washington’s tough rhetoric on Chinese policy as U.S. lawmakers planned legislation to punish Beijing. [ID:nN20274446]

“It is time for Congress to pass legislation that will give the administration leverage in its bilateral and multilateral negotiations with the Chinese government,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“If China allowed its currency to respond to market forces, it could create a million U.S. manufacturing jobs and cut our trade deficit with China by $100 billion a year, with no cost to the U.S. Treasury.”

In the conciliatory part of his stern, 75-minute speech to a dinner sponsored by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in New York, Wen said, “I fully believe that all the disputes and friction in China-U.S. trade at the moment can be resolved.”

He added that China wanted a “strong and stable U.S., just as the U.S. needs a strong, stable China” and called for more bilateral macroeconomic policy coordination to ease imbalances.

ISSUE GAINING MOMENTUM

U.S. lawmakers have pressed this issue for years with little success, but it appears to be gaining momentum — and bipartisan support — six weeks before congressional elections in which the high unemployment rate is the top issue.

The bill being considered was co-sponsored by a Democrat and Republican, and several Republican lawmakers strongly criticized China’s currency policy at congressional hearings on the matter last week.

Prospects for action in the Senate, which would also have to approve legislation, is uncertain. Key senators have said time may be too tight since lawmakers hope to leave Washington in just a few weeks to campaign ahead of the Nov. 2 elections.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it would “carefully examine” any proposals put forward by Congress.

Some analysts see pressure for a bill building.

“The momentum is certainly there on the Hill to push this forward before the midterm elections,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University. “There is a real prospect on this occasion that heated rhetoric will get translated into substantive legislative action.”

China's central bank said in June it would loosen a peg against the dollar and let the yuan fluctuate more freely. Since then it has risen 1.8 percent against the dollar CNY=.

The slow appreciation of the yuan makes it an easy target for U.S. politicians eager to address high unemployment in an election year.

China’s yuan has risen 1.35 percent in the past nine trading days, quickening its rate of climb against the backdrop of growing U.S. criticism of China’s exchange rate policy. [ID:nTOE68K036]

EXPORT SUBSIDY

The proposed legislation, which is certain to irritate Beijing, would essentially treat China’s “undervalued” currency as an export subsidy and allow the Commerce Department to impose countervailing duties to offset the undervaluation.

U.S. companies applying for the duties would have to show they have been injured by China’s exchange rate practices.

Addressing the business group before Wen, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke avoided currency talk, but said, “A worldwide rebalancing, in which America buys a little less and sells a little more to China and the rest of the world will help create a more prosperous future for everyone.”

Congressional aides said the bill did not guarantee the United States would apply countervailing duties against undervalued currencies, but eliminates a hurdle that has blocked the Commerce Department from doing that in the past.

“This bill is being advanced in the absence of effective action on a multilateral basis,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin said as he announced his panel would take up the bill.

“Hopefully the concrete step of this bill can spur efforts leading to the kind of multilateral structure needed to address major currency imbalances,” he said in a statement.

Both Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, pushed China to move to a more market-oriented exchange rate. But the results have not come fast enough for American lawmakers who blame the huge U.S. trade deficit with China for the loss of manufacturing jobs.

“It is very important that our companies face a level playing field around the world and that’s why it’s so important that we continue to try and encourage China to let their exchange rate reflect market forces and to end practices that discriminate against U.S. companies,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers on Wednesday.

In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry told Washington to stop pointing its finger at Beijing over the yuan and focus instead on fixing its fragile economy. [ID:nTOE68K070].

But Chinese analyst Sun Zhe of Tsinghua University said that despite outward Chinese resistance to U.S. pressure on the yuan, “in reality it has been making some concessions.”

“It takes very seriously the pressure from the United States over the renminbi exchange rate, he said. (Additional reporting by Emily Kaiser and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)

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