*This article was published in International Trade Law 360 on January 7, 2010. 中文请点击这里

On January 4 The Washington Post headlined on Page 2, with a Beijing dateline, “U.S. and China in a snowballing trade fight.” The article followed two others prominently presented with similar messages on January 1 and 3, one bannered with the same wintry theme (“U.S.-China relations set for chill, experts say”). The Washington Post is not accustomed to covering international trade, let alone with major articles. Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman was anticipating and endorsing in The New York Times on New Year’s Eve more trade remedy actions against China.

Trade remedy petitions are not prepared overnight. Nor are they, at least in the United States, the products of coordinated policy. Companies and industries decide that they are facing unfair international competition and that they could benefit from a trade action. Such decisions are not reached easily because trade actions are expensive and take a lot of time and attention. Whereas steel companies may orchestrate petitions because they may bring complaints about different products they make, their actions are independent of the manufacturers of non-steel products. Hence, the perception of a coordinated attack on Chinese goods is understandable (it requires only several petitions close in proximity on the calendar), but it does not correspond to a national trade policy.

Contributing to the perception of a coordinated attack on Chinese goods are the results of petitions. Most, but not all, result in affirmative determinations from both the Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) and the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) and the imposition of duties. A constant anti-China roar from Congress contributes. Nonetheless, the process is anchored in the independent initiatives of the American private sector, not in the coordination of the government.

China’s initiation of trade investigations now projects a reflection of the American process, but with insufficient transparency to be entirely persuasive that the new wave is without political motive. China’s Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”) says it is receiving petitions from private enterprises and trade associations, is analyzing them and deciding whether to initiate investigations, exactly like the process in the United States. However, MOFCOM announces the filing of a petition only upon the initiation of an investigation. Some Chinese lawyers say these petitions may be the product of MOFCOM itself, and that their dating is unreliable. Because MOFCOM does not reveal the existence of the petition until it decides whether to investigate, there is no way to know. However, in the United States, Commerce must initiate an investigation within twenty days of the filing of a petition, which is a public document upon filing, Commerce cannot schedule initiations of investigations for political purpose. By contrast, MOFCOM retains complete control of its schedule and therefore can initiate investigations according to a political calendar.

American officials are talking about “inevitable” and “normal” conflicts in a growing trade relationship. China has a different view. It sees nothing inevitable or normal in the cases being brought against its goods, even though the United States has not been as aggressive in challenging Chinese exports as have been the European Union and India. Nor does it accept the results. One of the Washington Post articles, for example, was headlined, “China denounces U.S. trade ruling on steel pipes,” and Chinese Ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong called the tires safeguard signed by President Obama in September “a very dangerous precedent.”

Tit For Tat

Were there “tit for tat” in this story, it would be almost entirely in the “tat.” The United States is doing what it has always done, initiating countervailing duty and antidumping investigations on virtually every petition Commerce receives. Commerce is acting as it has always acted, protecting U.S. industries by giving them the benefit of almost every doubt and zealously defending the indefensible, such as the practice of zeroing that has been struck down repeatedly by the WTO.

Commerce has been neither diplomatic nor delicate in its treatment of China. In published determinations it has accused Chinese officials of deceptive practices and misinformation. It has ignored expert testimony. It has cancelled verifications based on suspicions. It has refused to listen to government witnesses. China has ample reason to be distressed by Commerce conduct.

Notwithstanding its experience, China has complained little, if at all, about Commerce’s brass-knuckles treatment. There have been no official protests and no reports of unofficial complaints. The Chinese Government has not challenged Commerce’s conduct and determinations in U.S. courts. Conspicuously, China has reserved its public protest for denunciation of President Obama, and of the ITC, where it has declined to appear.

The President and the ITC, unlike Commerce, have not displayed animus toward China. In the tires safeguard, discussed in earlier postings on this blog, the President adhered closely to the terms of the accession protocol China had signed while fashioning a measure of relief designed to disadvantage Chinese exports without putting them out of business. Chinese commentators have suggested that Democrats, faithful to trade unions, are more protectionist than Republicans, but the ITC, with three Republican commissioners, has been consistently unanimous in its conclusions about injury caused by Chinese imports.

Chinese complaints, thus, do not seem aimed at changing results. They have not changed the course of U.S. actions, nor could they, inasmuch as the petitions do not arise from any particular policy except Commerce’s likely findings supporting petitioners.

The “tat” for the continuing American trade actions seems more apparent. Instead of contesting each trade action within the rules and laws, China has opted to take its own initiatives. Although they are not necessarily linked to American actions, it appears that China wants them interpreted this way. It was not possible, for example, for retaliatory petitions to have been readied within forty-eight hours of the President’s safeguard decision, yet Chinese statements frequently invoke the tire duties as a starting point for apparent retaliation.

Ariana Eunjung Cha linked the tires safeguard directly to Chinese reactions in The Washington Post. First she said that the safeguard “struck an emotional nerve.” She reported, “On Internet bulletin boards, public sentiment about the United States turned ugly.” Then she reported on the Chinese Ambassador’s warning that the safeguard is a “dangerous precedent,” followed by, “Two days later, China accused the United States of predatorily ‘dumping’ chicken products and auto parts into the Chinese market and warned that it could impose its own tariffs.” “Then,” she added, “in October, China made good on that threat by hitting the United States with duties of as much as 36 percent on certain nylon exports.”

With Chinese proceedings less than transparent, it is possible that the Chinese investigations were retaliatory. Ms. Cha’s subsequent statement, however, does not follow: “On Nov. 4 and 5, the United States went on the offensive again – slapping anti-dumping duties on Chinese-made steel pipe and launching two more probes of Chinese imports.” Breathlessly, now with the accumulating evidence of tit-for-tat, she adds, “Barely 24 hours later, the Chinese announced they had opened an investigation into U.S.-made passenger cars.”

The United States is not capable of the tit-for-tat this imagined trade war requires, if for no other reason than it does not control the timing and subject matter of petitions. The ITC does not have the capacity to orchestrate hearing and determination dates according to actions in China. Nor have all the ITC determinations been affirmative, and in the one instance where Chinese interests (but not the Chinese government) have challenged the legality of agency actions, the Court of International Trade handed them a partial victory as discussed in an earlier posting on this blog.

China, by contrast with the United States, may be capable of retaliatory actions, although such capability ought not be exaggerated. Bureaucracies share the same infirmities everywhere. They all move slowly, and they all have difficulty with deadlines. There is surely more coincidence than conspiracy in the timing of apparently reciprocal actions, although retaliation is not impossible.

There is, in the telling, nonetheless encouragement. Commerce has been consistent in rewarding U.S. petitioners. Congress has incited petitions. Professor Krugman, generally supportive of free trade, has declared protectionism justified, even warranted. Seen from Beijing, this apparent pattern could be seen as a policy requiring response.

The Tires Trigger And Chinese Conduct

Since accession to the WTO, China has been participating in trade disputes according to the rules, but less than fully. Unlike other countries, China is not appearing before the ITC. It is not appealing adverse agency determinations in U.S. courts. It is not pursuing administrative reviews of countervailing duty orders, when final duties are determined and set for collection. It is not even answering questionnaires in administrative reviews in support of its own companies. Instead, China is counting on the WTO for trade vindication, a strategic choice almost certain to disappoint.
The prevailing excuse for China’s incomplete commitment to the legal process, and its rising anger over American actions, continues to be President Obama’s safeguard decision. The complaint focuses on the proposition that China “did nothing wrong.” The safeguard exception in the WTO, however, expressly requires that nothing wrong be done. It exists strictly as a response to an unexpected and disruptive surge in imports.

China’s handling of the safeguard, like its handling of some of the other trade disputes, has displayed little strategic thinking. China did not present President Obama with a cogent legal argument as to why no duties should have been imposed on Chinese commercial tires, that there was no industry adjustment plan and, therefore, no remedy could serve the law’s object and purpose. Instead, China argued that the President, a Democrat elected with union support, should respect the decision of U.S. industry to offshore jobs to China.

China’s reaction to the ITC steel pipes decision has a similarly tone-deaf political character. Steven Mufson reported on New Year’s Day in The Washington Post, “China’s Ministry of Commerce said that China was ‘strongly dissatisfied’ with the U.S. International Trade Commission’s Wednesday ruling that Chinese subsidized imports had harmed or threaten to harm U.S. steel pipe manufacturers . . . The Commerce Ministry said that the ITC’s ruling was ‘wrong. . .’” Yet, MOFCOM did not present its case to the ITC. Commissioner Lane, extraordinarily, told the lead counsel for the Chinese industry during a public hearing that she did not think he was answering her questions and insisted on directing questions to the second chair.

China’s unhappiness, then, with U.S. trade actions may be the legitimate result of a pattern of petitions and decisions, but the only event deviant from the past has been the one safeguard action. It has proven not to be the “precedent” of which the Chinese Ambassador warned. No other safeguard action has been brought, even though the core injury complaint against steel pipes was about a surge.

The Bigger Picture

China is participating just enough in trade disputes arising in the United States to be informed and to complain, but not enough to prevail. Respondents to trade remedy petitions in the United States hope, but do not expect, to prevail at the ITC. They have little hope at Commerce except to build a record for appeal. Respondents, therefore, who do not appear at the ITC and do not appeal Commerce determinations do not expect ever to prevail. China’s choice of partial participation must be for some other reason.

China’s reasons may be detectable in the countervailing duty petition against U.S. automobiles, discussed in an earlier posting on this blog. The trade issue in the petition is that the U.S. industry is at least as much the beneficiary of state support as any Chinese industry, such that there is no reason for the United States to persist in treating China as a non-market economy. The grander strategic issue appears to be in the petition that the U.S. automobile industry, like the United States more generally, is in decline, whereas the Chinese industry, and China more generally, are ascending.

Trade disputes, as seen in the automobile petition, are expressions of China’s greater vision, as outlets for China to assert itself and to take on the United States as no other countries have been willing to do. As long as the United States continues business as usual, with agencies favoring domestic producers against Chinese imports, Chinese frustration will grow. Although a better answer, if China were focused on free and fair trade, would be to test the legal system, so far China prefers, apparently, to use trade as a soapbox for a bigger message.

Should China and the United States persist on these paths, the media will persist in seeing a trade war, reading into calendar coincidences strategic conspiracies. It may be the read China wants, and Congress might want it as well. The deteriorating atmosphere may then impact other critical bilateral and global issues. Consequently, it is important for China and the United States to pull back and think strategically together. Otherwise, toxic trade could pollute everything that concerns them.
 

        1月4日《华盛顿邮报》在第2版刊登了题为《美国和中国 打雪仗似的贸易战》的文章。此前,该报还于1月1日和3日刊登了类似文章,其中一篇使用了同样寒冷的标题(《专家说美中关系将转冷》)。《华盛顿邮报》不习惯于刊登报道国际贸易的文章,更不用说在显著位置刊登此类文章。与此同时,元旦前夕,诺贝尔奖获得者、经济学家保罗•克鲁格曼在《纽约时报》刊文赞同对中国采取更多贸易救济行动

        贸易救济申请不是一夜间就可准备好的。至少在美国,它们也不是协调政策的产物。而是企业和行业认定它们面临不公平的国际竞争,它们可受益于贸易行动。这种决定不容易达到,因为贸易行动是昂贵的,需要很多时间和精力准备。钢铁公司可能协调行动递交申请,因为他们可就不同产品协调行动,但是这与其他产品的制造商的调查申请无关。因此,认为中国商品受到协调攻击的想法可以理解(它仅需要几乎同时递交几个申请),但这些行动与美国国家贸易政策无关。

        调查结果更助长了中国产品受协调攻击的看法。美国商务部和国际贸易委员会的大多数、并非所有的裁定导致中国产品面临惩罚性关税。但是,调查进程扎根于美国企业的、独立的推动作用,而非政府协调的结果。

        中国启动的贸易调查似乎是美国行动的反射,但因为缺乏足够的透明度,很难说中国掀起的新浪潮没有政治动机。中国商务部称它接受民营企业和协会申请、分析这一申请、然后决定是否展开调查,和美国的过程完全一样。然而,中国商务部在发起调查时才宣布接到调查申请。一些中国律师说这些申请可能是中国商务部自身产品,申请递交日期也不可靠。由于中国商务部在决定展开调查前不透露申请书的存在,因此没有办法获悉。然而在美国,美国商务部在申请书递交后20天内必须发起调查,申请书从递交日起也成为公开文件。美国商务部不能根据政治目的安排调查进程。相比之下,中国商务部保留了对日程的主导权,因此可以根据政治目的安排调查日程。

        美国官员谈论,成长中的贸易关系必将包括“不可避免”和“正常”冲突。中国有不同的看法。虽然美国不像欧盟和印度那么对中国出口品咄咄逼人,但是中国认为对中国产品展开的调查中没有“不可避免”和“正常”冲突之分。中国也不接受调查结果。《华盛顿邮报》的一篇文章的标题是《中国谴责美国对钢管行业的裁决》。中国驻美大使周文重称奥巴马总统去年9月批准的轮胎特保行动是“非常危险的先例。”

针锋相对

        “针锋相对”是否存在取决于“针”。美国一如既往地行动,对美国商务部接到的几乎每一份反补贴、反倾销申请书发起调查。美国商务部也是一如既往地捍卫美国产业,热情帮助它们捍卫站不住脚的论据,如世贸组织已经反复否决了的归零法。

        美国商务部对中国既没有使用外交辞令、也没有微妙处理。在发布的裁决中,它指责中方官员的欺诈行为、提供错误信息;美国商务部漠视专家证词;它在怀疑的基础上取消核查;它拒绝政府证人作证。中国有充分的理由对美国商务部的行为感到痛心。

        尽管面临这些待遇,中国不曾抱怨美国商务部的做法。既没有官方抗议也没有非正式投诉。中国政府也没有在美国法院反对美国商务部的行为和裁决。引人注目的是,中国却在公开场合抗议奥巴马总统以及美国国际贸易委员会的决定,虽然中国拒绝参加国际贸易委员会调查。

        总统和国际贸易委员会与美国商务部不同,并没有对中国显示敌意。在轮胎特保案中,总统严格按照中国入世议定书条款、制定了将限制中国出口品但不将它们排除在美国市场之外的贸易保障措施。中国评论家认为,忠于工会的民主党人比共和党人更倾向于贸易保护主义,但是国际贸易委员会五位委员中有三位是共和党人,这三位委员一直、一致认定中国出口品对美国产业造成损害。

        因此,中国的投诉似乎不是为了改变结果。它们没有改变美国的行动。它们也不可能,因为调查申请愿不是政策支持的结果,或仅仅来自美国商务部的裁决可能支持调查申请。

        美国的贸易行动将持续。中国没有利用法律对每一项进行斗争,相反决定自己采取行动。虽然中国的行动不一定与美国的行动相关,但中国似乎希望外界这样解释。例如,报复性调查申请不可能在奥巴马总统宣布保障措施前48小时准备完毕,但是中国的新闻发言常常援引轮胎案作为报复的出发点。

        《华盛顿邮报》记者Ariana Eunjung Cha直接把中国的报复行动和轮胎案联系在一起。她首先提到轮胎特保案“撞上了中国的情感神经。”她接着报道说“在互联网电子公告板上,公众对美国的情绪愈演愈烈、愈演愈糟。”接着她引用中国驻美国大使的警告说特保行动是一个“危险的先例”。“两天后中国指责美国掠夺性地在中国市场‘倾销’鸡肉产品和汽车零部件,并警告说中国也可以征收关税”。她补充说,“在十月中国就实现了这一威胁,向美国尼龙征收高达百分之36的惩罚性关税。”

        由于中国的调查过程不太透明,有可能中国的调查是报复性行为。Cha女士随后评论说:“11月4和5日,美方再次发动攻势,向中国钢管征收反倾销税,同时对另两项中国产品展开调查。”双方都毫不松气,越来越多的证据也证明现在双方都是针锋相对地报复对方,“不到24小时,中国宣布开始对美国轿车展开调查。”

        美国没有能力参与这想象中的针锋相对的贸易战,其他原因撇开不谈,美方无法控制调查时间和调查申请主题。美国国际贸易委员会没有能力根据中国的行动左右听证会和裁决发布日期。也不是所有国际贸易委员会的裁决都不利于中国。我们在前文中提到中国代表(但不是中国政府)在美国国际贸易法庭质疑美国政府机构的行动,法院裁决中方获得部分胜利

        与美国相反,中国有能力采取报复行动,虽然这一能力不应该被夸大。世界各地的官僚都有一个相同的毛病。他们都行动缓慢,对截止日期感到头疼。虽然报复并非不可能存在,但是巧合比阴谋显然更有可能。

        当然官方鼓励也存在。美国商务部以裁决奖励美国申请方。国会煽动申请。一般支持自由贸易的克鲁格曼教授也宣称贸易保护合理,甚至必要。从北京来看,这些情况应被视为需要应对的政策。
轮胎案导火线和中方行为

        自加入世界贸易组织以来,中国开始、但没有完全根据规则参与贸易争端。与其他国家不同,中国不参与美国国际贸易委员会调查。也没有在美国法院上诉政府机构发布的不利裁决。中国不参加反补贴行政复审,而行政复审决定最后被征收的税率。中国政府甚至不回答可支持本国公司的行政复议调查问卷。相反,中国指望通过世贸组织解决贸易争端,这是一个几乎注定令人失望选择。

        中国不完整地使用法律进程、对美方行动日益增长的愤怒的借口仍然是奥巴马总统批准特保行动。中国抱怨的重点是她“没有做错任何事”。但是世界贸易组织的保障条款明确规定可对未犯错的被调查国采取行动。保障条款针对出乎意料、破坏性进口激增。

        中国处理特保案及其他贸易争端都显示出她没有太多战略思想。中国没有给予奥巴马总统令人信服的理由说明为什么不应当对中国商业轮胎征收惩罚性关税,也没有提供产业调整计划;因此,中方没有证明没有补救措施可以实现法律的目的和宗旨。相反,中国认为受工会支持当选的民主党总统应尊重美国产业的决定,向中国输送就业机会。

        中国对美国国际贸易委员会钢管案裁决的反应也显示了中国政治不敏感。元旦,《华盛顿邮报》刊登了史蒂芬•穆夫森的报道,“中国商务部声明中国对美国国际贸易委员会的反补贴产业损害裁决表示强烈不满,中国商务部认为美国国际贸易委员会的裁决是错误的”。然而,中国商务部没有很好地参与美国国际贸易委员会调查。国际贸易委员会委员Lane在听证会上告诉中方首席律师她认为这位律师没有回答她的问题,并让第二位律师回答问题。

        中国的不满是对美国贸易行动的正常反应,但只有轮胎特保案是唯一没有先例的案件。它不是中国大使警告的“先例”。因为还没有其他保障措施申请,虽然钢管案的核心投诉是进口大幅上升。

纵观全局

        中国参与在美国发生的贸易争端,只能帮助她获悉、宣泄,但是不能使她占上风。应诉方一般希望在美国国际贸易委员会获胜,但不抱很大期待。他们在美国商务部调查中获胜的希望渺茫,只为上诉做好案件材料准备。因此,不参与美国国际贸易委员会调查、且未对美国商务部裁决提出上诉的应诉方永远没希望占上风。中国选择部分参与必定有其他原因。

        要求对美国汽车展开反补贴调查的申请可显示中国的理由。申请书认为美国汽车产业和中方任一产业一样,接受至少相当的国家支持,因此美国没有理由坚持视中国为非市场经济。调查申请显示更重大的战略问题是美国汽车业和美国整体一样呈下降趋势,而中国产业以及中国整体呈上升趋势。

        包括汽车案在内的贸易争端是中国视野的表现,是中国表现自己权威的渠道,并对美国采取其他国家不愿采取的行动。如果美国照旧行事,政府机构偏袒国内生产商,中国的不满将增长。虽然更好的解决方法是中国利用法律制度捍卫自由和公平贸易,但到目前为止中国明显喜欢使用贸易作为释放信号的肥皂泡。

        如果中美继续在这些道路上前进,媒体将看到持续的贸易战、把巧合解读为战略阴谋。这可能是中国希望看到的解读,美国国会可能也需要这一解读。但日益恶化的气氛可影响其他重要双边和全球问题。因此,中美都应当退一步、采取战略性思考。否则,有毒贸易可能会污染她们关心的一切。

(翻译:朱晶)