By and  on April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON — Despite some improvements, significant tariff and nontariff barriers continue to hamper U.S. trade with China and other countries, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in its annual trade barriers report to Congress.

The report was submitted Tuesday, ahead of Thursday’s G-20 summit in London when world leaders will meet to discuss protectionism. Key trade barriers outlined in the report include ineffective intellectual property protections and enforcement, discriminatory taxes on imports, trade distorting export subsidies, new registration requirements for a range of imports and burdensome testing and certification requirements for consumer goods.

A variety of barriers continued to hamper textile and apparel firms in China, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and India. Specific intellectual property concerns for apparel and accessories were listed as impediments in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

China, a major concern for U.S. apparel and textile companies, did take important steps to improve its trading relationship with the U.S. and to comply with World Trade Organization requirements, the report said, but more needs to be done. Significant trade barriers are still in place, including increased value-added taxes on clothing and textiles. The U.S. filed a WTO case against China’s “Famous Brand” program in December for allegedly using export subsidies to unfairly advantage domestic producers, including textiles and apparel.

India was also cited for having lingering tariff issues. The domestic textile industry expressed concern about India’s lack of transparency in the application of tariffs and taxes. Subsidies have been given to the Indian textile sector as part of the country’s modernization efforts.

Existing free trade agreements did remove some trade barriers abroad, most notably in the Central American Free Trade Agreement region, the USTR report said. CAFTA created more economic opportunity for the U.S., Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

In anticipation of the report, a group of 16 House Democrats, led by Ways & Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Sander Levin (D, Mich.), chairman of the trade subcommittee, sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to “systematically improve its ability to eliminate barriers and open foreign markets to U.S. exporters.”

The Democrats advocated for stronger enforcement against illegal Chinese subsidy and export aid, passage of a bill introduced by Rangel that would allow U.S. companies to file subsidy cases against China and give them access to remedies, and a full investigation of all of China’s subsidies and their impact on trade.

The report set out goals that included establishing a process to prioritize and address the most significant global trade barriers outlined in the report and to help identify areas where market access for U.S. goods and services is at risk, and to prosecute those cases.

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