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Trade tensions likely to last through U.S. election

A string of recent Sino-U.S. trade disputes appears likely to rumble on ahead of Premier Wen Jiabao's forthcoming visit to Washington, with analysts predicting further friction as Amiercans head into an election year, RFA reports.

Trade will likely rank high on the agenda during Wen's visit, following recent U.S. moves to cap some imports of Chinese textiles and slap tariffs on televisions. Observers both inside and outside China see the moves as connected to political posturing ahead of U.S. elections in 2004.

"I just see some rough waters ahead, and I expect the Chinese would be surprised if there weren't some stormy waters in the year 2004," Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, told RFA in a recent interview.

Hufbauer said he expected trade-related quarrels to quiet down by 2005. "I think whoever is elected in November in this country will recognize that the longer-term interests are not served by big rhetorical fights and big trade fights and so forth," he told RFA special correspondent Michael Lelyveld. "2005 will be a much calmer and happier year."

Chinese official media welcomed Friday U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to drop steel import tariffs, but said that the threats to impose caps and tariffs on textiles and televisions were likely to intensify. The English-language China Daily called the moves a "poll ploy" and quoted Chinese analysts as warning that "harsher measures could follow in an attempt to garner support for Bush's bid for a second term."

Wen was due in New York Sunday to begin his first official U.S. visitsince assuming office. During his Dec. 7-10 visit, bilateral trade and diplomatic ties, human rights, and cross-Straits tensions are likely to figure prominently in Wen's talks with senior U.S. officials, including Bush.

Washington's proposed "safeguard" quotas, allowed under the U.S.-China agreement with the World Trade Organization, cover imports of knit fabrics, bras, and robes. The three categories accounted for $497 million, or only about 5 percent, of U.S. textile imports from China in the first nine months of this year.

Premier Wen said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he was "surprised and shocked" by the proposals. China also summoned U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt twice in two days to voice what it called "deep regret and firm opposition" to the measures. However, Wen also indicated that China was most unhappy with the lack of "prior discussion" before the announcement was made.

Meanwhile, U.S. textile manufacturers are getting ready to submit new petitions to the Commerce Department, seeking quota relief from Chinese imports in other categories, according to the vice president for government relations at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Robert DuPree.

"We are seriously considering and working on petitions in the areas dealing with socks and also dealing with gloves, certain categories of gloves that were decontrolled almost two years ago, and then Chinese imports have surged in those categories," DuPree told RFA.

"I think the trade relationship with China has some serious problems, and they have to be addressed," DuPree said.#####


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