An old Chinese proverb says, “You can’t expect both ends of a sugar cane to be just as sweet.” Presidents Obama and Hu, however, do not seem to believe the proverb applies to the U.S.-China trade relationship, according to their public statements leading up to November’s APEC meetings in Singapore and the subsequent bilateral meetings in Beijing. A joint statement on behalf of China and the United States said that the two countries “recognize the importance of open trade and investment to their domestic economies and to the global economy, and are committed to jointly fight protectionism in all its manifestations." Just prior to the APEC summit, President Obama explained that the United States’ relationship with China “does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another.” At the summit, President Hu said, “We both agreed to properly handle trade frictions through negotiations on an equal basis and to make concerted efforts to boost bilateral trade and economic ties in a healthy and steady way.”

Both leaders have suggested recently that there are important steps that their respective countries can and should take to improve the balance of U.S.-China trade. President Obama noted that Americans need to consume less, save more and export more to help offset the trade imbalance with China. President Hu declared that China is in the process of reorienting its export-driven economy to expand and fill an internal, domestic demand for products.

The diplomatic sentiments of mutual cooperation and joint responsibility expressed by Presidents Hu and Obama are noble and serve an important purpose in building constructive relations. China and the United States should aspire to mutually beneficial relationships in trade and on other matters. But no one should think that political pronouncements and temporary trade adjustment policies will easily overcome the seriousness of the trade disputes for the industries involved, and the determination of the governments to act upon their own interests. In 2009, China and the United States both took steps to impose antidumping, anti-subsidy, or safeguard duties on products such as tires and steel pipe from China, or nylon, chicken and automobiles from the United States.

During the recent visit to Shanghai, there was more than a little irony in a November 16 exchange between President Obama and Communist Party Secretary Yu. According to news reports, Secretary Yu told President Obama that business was “pretty good” at a General Motors plant in Shanghai. He went on to say that, “[b]y the end of October this year their sales has increased by 40 percent over the same period of last year. I think that the fantastic performance here in Shanghai is definitely a boost to their business in the United States." President Obama responded, “Absolutely. I think [General Motors] can learn from their operations here in terms of increasing sales back in the United States." Neither of them apparently mentioned the fact that China currently is investigating whether to impose countervailing duties against General Motors to offset alleged subsidies that it is receiving from the U.S. Government in response to the economic crisis, and that China’s petitioners claim General Motors has received over decades.

Even were China and the United States able to agree on the need for reversing current trade flow trends, one should not expect that stopgap policies can be effective in addressing the problem. The policies designed to put the brakes on trade flows easily could become the subject of new WTO complaints about unfair market access restrictions. For example, suppose that China adopted policies such as quotas or duties restraining exports of certain raw materials in an effort to stimulate domestic demand and help reduce the trade imbalance. Instead of receiving a note of thanks from the U.S. Trade Representative, China would likely receive a request for consultations under the WTO Agreements.

That reaction is precisely what happened in response to China’s imposition of quotas and export duties on bauxite, coke, fluorspar, silicon carbide, zinc, and other products. On November 5, 2009, the United States requested that a WTO Panel be formed to resolve the dispute:

"We are going to the WTO today to enforce America’s rights, so we can provide our country’s manufacturers with a fair competitive environment. We believe the restraints at issue in this dispute significantly distort the international market and provide preferential conditions for Chinese industries that use these raw materials," said Debbie Mesloh, a USTR spokeswoman. "Working together with the European Union and Mexico, we tried to resolve this issue through consultations, but did not succeed. At this point, therefore, we need to move forward with the next step in the WTO dispute settlement process. We remain open to working with China to find a mutually agreeable solution to our concerns.”

The United States contends that China’s export restraints on raw materials violate Article XI(I) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

President Obama declared on his way to the APEC Summit, “I do not believe that one country’s success must come at the expense of another.” But he will find, if he hasn’t already, that it is no easy task for governments to intervene in markets and solve international problems, even when the countries concerned can agree on the problem. It is not easy, either, for a President to control fully the actions of his Commerce Department, nor is it certain that the Secretary of Commerce himself controls the actions of his Import Administration, where he has yet to choose his own Assistant Secretary. China surely hopes to see the U.S. economy stabilize, especially as it holds so much U.S. debt, and yet President Obama’s emergency stimulus packages to assist U.S. auto companies and calm fears about the U.S. economy are now the subjects of countervailing duty actions in China. As China applauds stabilizing the American economy, it initiates investigations into the very measures that are bringing stability. Meanwhile, Chinese policies that would stimulate domestic demand and potentially limit U.S. consumption are coming under the WTO scrutiny from the United States. At least one important lesson would seem to be that, even when governments are cooperating, short-term government policies to correct systemic trade imbalances typically create new disputes more than they solve old ones. And even Presidents may not have complete control over the decisions taken by others in their own governments.


       中国有句谚语:“甘蔗没有两头甜。”但是,根据中美双方在新加坡举行的APEC会议上以及随后举行的双边会谈中发表的公开声明,奥巴马总统和胡锦涛主席似乎并不相信这一谚语适用于中美贸易关系。中美联合声明指出两国“认识到开放贸易和投资对本国经济和全球经济的重要性,并致力于共同反对各种形式的保护主义”。 就在APEC首脑会议召开前夕,奥巴马总统指出美中关系“不是零合游戏,一个国家成功不应该以另外一个国家的牺牲作为代价”。在首脑会谈中,胡锦涛主席发言指出:“我们都赞成在平等基础上、通过磋商适当处理贸易摩擦,同时积极促进双边经贸关系健康稳定发展。”



        虽然中美两国都承认应当改变双边贸易巨额逆差,但是这一政策不足以解决问题。阻碍贸易的行动很容易在世贸组织面临不正当市场准入限制的指控。 例如,如果中国采取配额或关税政策限制生产原料出口以扩大内需、减少贸易顺差。美国贸易代表办公室不仅不会写感谢信给中国政府,而且中国可能还会接到世贸组织贸易纠纷磋商请求。

        中国针对黄磷、铝矾土、焦炭、氟石、镁、锰、金属硅、锌产品采取的配额和出口关税政策现在正面临这一处境。2009年11月5日,美国要求世贸组织成立专家组裁决这一纠纷。美国贸易代表办公室发言人Debbie Mesloh 指出:“我们今天要求世贸组织采取行动确保美国的权利,使我们可为美国生产商提供公平竞争环境。我们相信案件中提到的这些贸易限制政策严重扭曲了国际市场,并为中国企业提供竞争优势。与欧盟以及墨西哥一起,我们希望通过协商解决这一纠纷,但是未果。因此,在这一时刻,我们需要更进一步,进入世贸组织纠纷解决机制的下一阶段。我们仍然希望能与中国一起找到双方都可接受的解决方案。”美国认为中国对这些原材料采取的出口限制违背了《关贸总协定》第十一条第一款。

        奥巴马总统在前往参加APEC会议的途中提出“我不相信一个国家的成功必须以另一国的牺牲为代价。”但是如果他现在还没有认识到,那么他迟早会意识到政府干预市场、解决国际问题并不是件容易的事,即使涉及的国家都承认这一问题。美国总统全权控制商务部的举动,这不太容易;即使让美国商务部长全权控制下属的进口贸易局(Import Administration)的行动也不太可能,因为直到现在他还未选择助理部长。中国当然希望看到美国经济趋于稳定,因为中国持有大量美国国债;美国经济复兴计划帮助美国汽车生产厂商,这有助于消除对美国经济悲观恐慌情绪,现在却成为中国反补贴调查的对象。中国一方面拍手称赞美国经济趋于稳定,另一方面又调查这些促进经济稳定的政策。同时,中国促进内需、却可能限制美国消费的政策也面临世贸组织的审核,美国提出这一要求。其中可得出的重要教训是,即使政府正在合作,政府采取的纠正贸易不平衡的短期政策不仅没有解决以往纠纷,通常还会造成新纠纷。 同时,即使是总统也不能完全控制政府内部其他成员的决定。