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Despite what people might think, and notwithstanding an election eight months ago that turned out the Republican Party from both Congress and the White House, the Bush Administration still effectively is governing U.S. trade policy toward China, at least with respect to countervailing duty and antidumping cases. The key offices that make policy decisions on these cases are occupied by temporary placeholders without the political authority or policy knowledge to alter policies left over from President Bush; the Obama replacements either have not been named or have not been confirmed by the Senate to take over. Consequently, the Commerce Department continues to make critical decisions on issues important to China in several antidumping and countervailing duty cases without political guidance from the new Obama Administration.

The Obama Administration, after six months in office, has yet to fill most of the political appointee level positions in the Commerce Department. Instead, lower level career bureaucrats are filling in as “Acting” senior officials on a temporary basis. Obama Administration appointees are particularly absent in the International Trade Administration (“ITA”), which is responsible for enforcing the antidumping and countervailing duty laws and for developing and implementing other policies to counter alleged unfair trading practices. ITA is operating without Obama appointees for the Under Secretary for International Trade; Assistant Secretary for Import Administration; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Negotiations; and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textiles and Apparel. 

Until these positions are filled with permanent political appointees, companies involved in antidumping or countervailing duty proceedings should expect continued paralysis in Commerce’s ability to make policy decisions. Companies should expect the “Acting” officials to avoid policy decisions and therefore to delay cases and decisions as much as possible.

Decisions that must be made due to statutory deadlines are likely to result in a de facto continuation of Bush Administration policy choices. Foreign observers may think this situation to be a positive development based on the perceived notion, reinforced by the recent U.S. presidential campaign, that Democrats are more protectionist than Republicans. However, when it has come to case-by-case enforcement of trade remedies, the Bush Administration Commerce Department was more protectionist than any recent Democratic administration and, effectively remaining now in power, can be expected to continue this way.

It was the Bush Administration that first imposed countervailing duties on China in the Coated Free Sheet Paper case, while still treating it as a non-market economy for antidumping purposes. The Obama Administration is unlikely to reverse that decision, but there is a reasonable chance that it would make changes on the margins to blunt the Bush policy’s overtly protectionist impact.

There is little doubt that President Obama and new Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, are more committed to the rule of law than their predecessors, and consequently are more likely to respect legal interpretations that reasonably cannot be particularly protectionist. For example, Obama may decide to make modifications to the non-market economy dumping methodology to avoid the double counting problem in which the use of third country surrogate values results in dumping duties that already offset the impact of any subsidies to production. He may also decide to comply with the legal requirement that Commerce use in-country benchmarks to measure subsidies in countervailing duty cases.

There have been several antidumping and countervailing cases initiated in recent months. Should those cases reach critical decision stages before the Obama political appointees are fully in place, it will become more difficult for Obama and his appointees to ameliorate the worst protectionist impacts of the Bush Administration polices. It may become strategically wise for Chinese respondents to seek extensions and delays in cases so as to increase the possibility that key policy decisions ultimately will be taken by the new Administration.

Commerce also is now faced with the decision of whether to apply the countervailing duty law to Vietnam in the Polyethylene Retail Carrier Bags case, while still treating it as a non-market economy. There are important differences between Vietnam and China that could lead the Obama Administration to treat it differently than China. However, with the absence of political appointees who could make such a policy decision, it is likely that Commerce would assume, without thorough analysis, that Vietnam and China should be treated in the same way.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has a strong export-oriented trade background with a particular emphasis on promoting trade with China. His appointment as Commerce Secretary is a hopeful sign that, once President Obama has a full team of his own appointees, the Commerce Department would be more likely to resist protectionist pressures to disregard the rule of law. And it may be more likely to take into account a broader range of trade considerations, such as the impact on U.S. exports should trade partners copy U.S. protectionist measures, when making policy decisions in trade remedies cases. There probably has never been a Commerce Secretary with greater potential for productive commercial relations between China and the United States 

 

          不管人们如何认为,尽管美国总统大选和国会选举早在八个月前就已经宣告共和党大败,但是布什政府仍掌控美国对华贸易政策,至少在反补贴、反倾销(“双反”)领域。目前,美国商务部负责制定双反案件政策的部门仍由商务部工作人员暂时主管,他们既没有政治背景、也没有决策知识以改变布什政府遗留下来的政策。奥巴马政府或是尚未提名、或是被提名的候选人正等待参议院审核。因此,美国商务部在缺乏奥巴马政府政治指引的情况下,对几起针对中国产品的双反案件作出重要裁决。

            距离奥巴马就职已经整整六个月了,但奥巴马政府还有待填补商务部所有政治任命级的空缺。因此,级别更低的职业政府官员目前暂时填补空缺、“代理”商务部高层职位。在负责实施反倾销、反补贴法,制订及执行应对其他不正当竞争政策的International Trade Administration (“ITA”),这一现象更为明显。目前ITA空缺的职位包括:负责该机构的副部长、负责Import Administration 的助理部长,负责反补贴、反倾销调查的执行助理部长,政策及国际谈判部的执行助理部长一职,以及负责纺织服装的执行助理部长。

 

            只有当政治任命官员正式填补空缺后,反倾销、反补贴案涉案企业才会看到美国商务部告别瘫痪状态、制定政策性决定。那些“代理”官员一般都会回避政策性决定、推迟案件裁决。

 

            若因法规中最后截止日期的限制而不得不宣布裁决的案件,裁决大都延续布什政府的政策。国外观察家可能认为这种情况是正面讯息,因为人们大都认为民主党人比共和党人更倾向于贸易保护,最近的总统大选更加深了这一印象。但是就贸易救济案件个案而言,布什政府任期内的美国商务部比近代任何一届民主党政府都更倾向贸易保护主义。仍继续掌权的美国商务部官员仍将延续布什政府的这一政策。

 

            虽然中国仍被视为非市场经济国家,布什政府在铜版纸案一案中率先向中国征收反倾销税。奥巴马政府不太可能扭转这一决定,但是完全有理由相信新政府将改变惩罚性关税税率从而减轻布什过激的贸易保护政策带来的影响。

 

            毫无疑问,奥巴马总统以及新就任的商务部部长骆家辉比他们的前任更相信法治,因此有理由相信他们将更尊重那些不倾向于贸易保护的法律解释。举例而言,奥巴马政府可能会修改非市场经济体反倾销税率的计算方法以避免双重征税的问题,因为选用第三比较国数据计算反倾销税率的方法其实已经抵消生产过程中补助带来的利益。此外,奥巴马可能决定在反补贴案件中,美国商务部必须依照法律规定使用被调查国国内的指标计算税率。

 

            最近几个月,美国又针对中国产品展开数项双反调查。如果这些案件进入最后关键时期,而奥巴马任命的政治官员尚未全部就职,这将使得奥巴马总统及其任命的官员很难改善布什政府保护主义政策带来的最恶劣的危害。因此,受调查的中国企业应从战略着眼,要求延期裁决,增加让新政府就自己的案件制定政策性决定的可能性。

 

            目前,美国商务部面临需要在零售用塑料袋案中做出是否对越南实施反补贴法的决策,虽然越南仍被视为非市场经济体。越南和中国的国情有许多显著不同之处,因此奥巴马政府可能区别对待两国。但是如果缺少政治任命官员做出这些政策性决定,在尚未深入分析的情况下,美国商务部很可能同等对待两国。

 

            美国商务部部长骆家辉长期以来支持出口,尤其重视促进对华贸易。他就任商务部部长是一个积极的信号,当奥巴马总统任命的官员全部就任以后,美国商务部更有可能抵制保护主义置法治于不顾的压力。同时,美国商务部就贸易救济案件制定政策性决定时也将更全面地考虑贸易,如如果美国的贸易伙伴模仿美国贸易保护政策将对美国出口带来什么影响。没有哪位商务部部长比骆家辉更具有促进中美商务关系发展的潜力了。