By  on April 21, 2005

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers, seeking to boost domestic manufacturing, renewed efforts to turn up the pressure on the Bush administration Wednesday to change government trade policy .

Thirty-five members of the House and Senate, the Congressional China Currency Action Coalition, refiled an unfair trade practices case with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to demand action against China’s alleged currency manipulation.

The petition urges the USTR to file a formal case with the World Trade Organization if China does not immediately eliminate its fixed currency rate on the grounds that it artificially lowers the price of Chinese goods by as much as 40 percent. The lawmakers contended that, if China’s currency goes unchecked, the trade deficit will worsen and more U.S. manufacturing jobs will be lost.

It is the third time such a petition has been filed in less than a year, and the second time the congressional coalition has filed such a request. Industry groups and organized labor filed a similar petition in September, but the USTR quickly rejected it. The coalition filed its first unfair trade case against China in September, which the USTR turned down in November.

“Three strikes and the administration will make it clear that they are out of the game,” Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.) said in a statement. “Congress will have to take over and support comprehensive legislation to force action on this issue of vital importance to U.S. businesses and workers.”

Last year, the U.S. trade deficit with China reached $162 billion, making it the single largest trade imbalance in history. The USTR has 45 days to respond to the petition and a year to complete an investigation and attempt to resolve the alleged unfair practice. The Bush administration has refused to intercede in the currency issue, opting to negotiate with the Chinese to prod them into change.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who signed the petition Wednesday, is cosponsoring legislation with Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) that would impose an across-the-board tariff of 27.5 percent on Chinese imports if the yuan isn’t revalued upward.

There are two similar bills — in the House and in the Senate — targeting imports from China and other nonmarket economies that produce subsidized goods. Both seek to permit firms to file unfair trade complaints against nonmarket economies like China, alleging subsidized exports hurt the U.S. manufacturing base.Meanwhile, a bipartisan contingent of House and Senate lawmakers joined organized labor and industry trade groups at a news conference on Capitol Hill urging the administration to renegotiate the Central American Free Trade Agreement with Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Offering a glimpse of the  battle CAFTA faces in the Senate and the House, several lawmakers took a stand against the accord that offers duty-free benefits to the six countries, maintaining it will increase the trade deficit and imperil more U.S. jobs. Bush has not sent CAFTA to Congress for consideration.

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