U.S. Commerce Secretary Leads Trade Mission to China
May 18, 2010The Commerce Department's trade mission intends to help deliver on President Barack Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports over the next five years and create 2 million jobs.
The visit, one of several by U.S. Cabinet officials, preceeds annual talks called the Strategic Economic Dialogue, a top-level venue for thrashing out grievances on trade, currency and other policy issues.
Locke, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will attend those talks, which begin Monday in Beijing. They come as the two countries are mending ties after a bout of friction over various issues, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
The Commerce Department's trade mission intends to help deliver on President Barack Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports over the next five years and create 2 million jobs.
"Promoting American exports, particularly here in Asia, will create more jobs in America while improving the lives of people around the world and introducing new products and services to local communities," Locke said before leaving Hong Kong for Shanghai.
In Hong Kong, the U.S. and local governments signed an agreement on promoting American wines. In the Chinese mainland, Locke's delegation will be promoting technologies related to clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric energy storage, transmission and distribution in Asia.
On Tuesday, American Superconductor Corp. announced a new electrical components order from Sinovel Wind, China's largest wind turbine maker. Beijing-based Sinovel, ranked the world's third-largest wind turbine maker worldwide, has so far ordered US$1 billion from AMSC.
China's potential market for renewable energy is huge: Total investment by the government and private sector last year was $34.6 billion, nearly double U.S. spending of $18.6 billion, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
But U.S. and European companies complain they are being squeezed out of the market as Beijing strives to build up its own suppliers of wind, solar and other equipment.
So far, Washington and Beijing have avoided a formal dispute over clean energy and have emphasized cooperation in research. But they are embroiled in plenty of other disputes, over currency policy, trade in various goods and Chinese policies favoring local companies at the expense of foreign competitors.
As the European financial crisis deepens, China appears to be pulling back from expected moves to loosen its currency's tie to the U.S. dollar, saying the euro's slide to four-year lows against the dollar is putting too heavy pressure on its own exporters.
China has kept the yuan at a rate of about 6.83 per dollar for nearly two years, seeking to cushion its exporters from the global financial crisis. Some economists reckon the yuan is undervalued by up to 40 percent against the dollar, giving Chinese exporters an unfair advantage in overseas markets.
"The current situation for exports is not optimistic and financial markets remain volatile," Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian said Monday at a news briefing, noting that the yuan has gained 14.5 percent against the euro in recent weeks, obliging Beijing to focus on "maintaining stability."
Yao also reiterated Beijing's complaints over U.S. export controls that it says are restricting high-valued high-tech exports
In a move some in the industry said was politically timed, a major Chinese steel firm, Anshan Steel announced plans Monday to invest $175 million in Mississippi-based U.S. Steel Development Corp. in exchange for gaining technology to use scrap to make steel using electric arc furnaces.
"This is as politically driven an investment as possibly could be," said a note by Steel Market Intelligence, a newsletter published by Michelle Applebaum Research, a Chicago-based consulting firm. It noted that China's steel exports to the U.S. had doubled in January-April from a year before.
Locke's schedule includes a visit to the U.S. pavilion at the World Expo, a six-month event showcasing urban sustainability designs and know-how under the theme "Better City, Better Life."
The success in raising U.S. corporate funding for the pavilion, underscores China's importance, especially at a time when the U.S. and European economies are still on the mend.
Locke also was visiting the Shanghai engine center of United Technologies Corp.'s jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, highlighting U.S. ambitions in China's aviation sector as the country develops its own jet aircraft.
AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.
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