In her first trip since rejoining Team Obama, newly-minted Obama campaign Traveling Press Secretary Jen Psaki joined White House Press Secretary Jay Carney for what reporters call a “Double Gaggle” aboard Air Force One, en route to Ohio. Carney began the briefing by announcing the Obama administration’s action against China with the WTO, and denied suggestions that the timing is political, while Psaki jumped in to slam Mitt Romney for opposing administration efforts to stand up to China.
The United States Trade Representative announced, earlier today, an enforcement action against China via the following press release:
Washington, D.C. – United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced today that the United States is challenging China’s imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties on more than $3 billion in exports of American-produced automobiles. Specifically, the United States has requested dispute settlement consultations with China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in an attempt to eliminate these unfair duties, which appear to represent yet another abuse of trade remedies by China.
“As we have made clear, the Obama Administration will continue to fight to ensure that China does not misuse its trade laws and violate its international trade commitments to block exports of American-made products,” Ambassador Kirk said. “American auto workers and manufacturers deserve a level playing field and we are taking every step necessary to stand up for them. This is the third time that the Obama Administration has challenged China’s misuse of trade remedies.”
Through this case, the United States is addressing its concerns that China’s duties on imports of American-made vehicles appear to be inconsistent with WTO rules. Consultations are the first step in a WTO dispute. Under WTO rules, if parties do not resolve a matter through consultations within 60 days, complainants may request the establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel.
This is the latest in a series of enforcement steps the Administration has recently taken to continue to hold China accountable for its WTO commitments. In two earlier WTO cases, the United States challenged duties that China had imposed to restrict imports of certain steel products and chicken products from the United States. The United States has also brought actions against China’s export restraints on several industrial raw materials, including rare earths, China’s restrictions on electronic payment services and subsidies to China’s wind power equipment sector. In each of these matters, the key principle at stake is that China must play by the rules to which it agreed when it joined the WTO. Those commitments include maintaining open markets on a non-discriminatory basis, and following internationally-agreed procedures in a transparent way. In addition, the United States previously invoked a China-specific safeguard to address rapidly increasing imports of Chinese passenger and light truck tires.
Carney opened the gaggle by reintroducing Jen Psaki to reporters, and saying, “I wanted to note before we get started that earlier today, the Obama administration launched an enforcement action against China at the World Trade Organization for imposing unfair duties on more than $3 billion in auto exports from the United States. The Chinese duties in question cover more than 80 percent of U.S. auto exports to China, including cars manufactured in Toledo and Marysville, Ohio, and Detroit and Lansing, Michigan. And the duties disproportionately fall on General Motors and Chrysler products because of the actions that President Obama took, as you know, to support the auto industry during the financial crisis.”
“This is the seventh such action that this administration has taken against China,” Carney added, pausing for emphasis. “Seventh. The previous six have all been successful.”
Asked if the action, which coincides with President Obama’s bus tour of a region that depends heavily on the auto industry, was politically timed, Carney responded, “The fact is this is an action that has been in development for quite a long time. The USTR studies these issues and prepares actions with great deliberation to ensure their success at the WTO. This one has been in development for many, many months, and that’s just a fact.”
“And again,” Carney reiterated, “this is the seventh such action that this administration has taken. It simply can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign. The President is committed to doing this throughout his presidency and will continue to take these actions when they’re appropriate to ensure that there’s a level playing field for our businesses and workers.”
Reporters pressed Carney on the timing of the move several more times, which gave him the chance to bring up President Obama’s successful rescue of the auto industry. “I don’t need to remind you,” Carney said, “but I will, that this President took what was seen as very bold and risky action to ensure that General Motors and Chrysler, during the great recession, did not liquidate because of the enormous pressure on the American automobile industry. Had that happened, according to a study done by the Bush administration in December of 2009 — or 2008 rather — the United States would have lost 1.1 million additional jobs. And some studies suggest that had the American automobile industry been forced to liquidate not just GM and Chrysler but, because of the supply chain, Ford eventually as well, that the job loss would have been ever more substantial.”
After Carney finished extolling the virtues of the auto rescue, Jen Psaki jumped in to slam Mitt Romney for opposing previous action against China. “As you know,” she said, “one of the first actions the President took regarding China was to put in place stiff tariffs in 2009 on Chinese tires. Many people didn’t read Mitt Romney’s book. If you did read Mitt Romney’s book, you’ll note that in there he criticized the President for this step, for taking this step. He said it was bad for workers; it would be bad for the country and the nation.”
It’s tough to argue with Carney’s explanation that this action was in the works long before this campaign trip was planned, but given the fact that the news is a handy two-fer that allows the campaign to answer back to Romney’s frequent use of China as a vehicle of attack, while also highlighting the President’s rescue of the auto industry, the timing could hardly have been better.
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