WASHINGTON — Sen. Charles Schumer has delayed the confirmation of Susan Schwab as U.S. Trade Representative over concerns the Bush administration is not being tough enough on trade issues with China.

Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) sent a letter to Schwab asking how the administration plans to press China on its commitment to opening up its financial services market to U.S. companies.

“We would like to learn from you how USTR plans to work with Treasury to ensure that China keeps its commitments in the area of financial services — and what is USTR prepared to do if they fail to do so?” the letter said.

Schumer and Graham have introduced legislation to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports if China does not let the yuan’s value increase in relation to the dollar.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 18-1 on May 22 to approve Schwab’s nomination. Schumer was the only panel member who did not vote. Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) cast the only vote against her nomination.

On Wednesday, Schumer objected to a motion to approve Schwab unanimously without floor debate and effectively stalled the nomination. The full Senate adjourned Friday for the weeklong Memorial Day recess without action on Schwab.

“I know that most senators support your nomination and it is very possible that I will, as well,” Schumer wrote in a separate letter sent to Schwab on Friday. “I simply believe that this is a very critical time for U.S. trade relations and I felt that your responses to several of my questions at your nomination hearing, particularly as they related to China and financial services, were unnecessarily evasive and unhelpful.”

Schwab, who is Deputy USTR, is still expected to be confirmed, but Schumer’s action will delay the process until his concerns are addressed and Senate leaders reach an agreement on how to proceed, either through unanimous consent or a roll-call vote and floor debate.

“We are disappointed,” said a spokesman in the trade representative’s office. “Ambassador Schwab has very broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.”

President Bush nominated Schwab last month to replace Rob Portman, who is moving to the White House to become director of the Office of Management and Budget.

This story first appeared in the May 30, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Finance Committee, said, “We need Ambassador Schwab out there representing us in her full capacity as the president’s trade representative. Senators have had ample opportunity to question Ambassador Schwab and the administration on China policy, and she and the administration have answered the questions that have been posed to them.”