United States launched a trade complaint Thursday against China at the World Trade Organization, accusing Beijing of unfairly imposing duties on more than 3 billion dollars in exports of US-manufactured automobiles.
The announcement came as President Barack Obama hit the “Betting on America” campaign trail in the highly industrialized states of Pennsylvania and Ohio where automakers have been affected by the tariffs imposed in December. It underscored how the US trade relations with rising economic power China could color the political debate ahead of the November presidential election.
WTO rules, countries are allowed to impose punitive tariffs to offset damage from both subsidies and dumping — selling products at below market value — but the US contends that in this and other cases, China has used those remedy measures in an unfair and retaliatory way to hurt US exporters.
Last month, the US successfully challenged Chinese tariffs imposed on high-technology steel products and has also disputed tariffs levied on chicken products.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that the Chinese duties cover more than 80% of US auto exports to China and fall disproportionately on General Motors and Chrysler because of the actions Obama took to support the auto industry during the financial crisis.
Some critics have contended that the administration’s bailout of the auto sector — which has seen it return to profitability even as the wider economic recovery has stuttered — could leave US products vulnerable to countervailing duties by international competitors claiming it amounted to an unfair subsidy.
Polls show that linking the Republican candidate Mitt Romney to the outsourcing of US jobs when he was at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, which he co-founded, is an effective approach with voters in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.