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中国问题成为美国大选年枪靶

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China Focus Stalls Bush's Trade Agenda

President Bush starts his last year in office determined to press what is left of his trade agenda, including a pact with Colombia. But the most important item on the list may be blocking legislation that would crack down on trade with China.

At the dawn of an election year, trade skepticism is on the rise in the U.S., roiling the fights for control of the White House and Congress. It also clouds much of what Mr. Bush wants to do over the next 12 months.

Much of the anxiety is focused on the competition posed by China, which is the U.S.'s second-largest trading partner, after Canada. Democrats in the House of Representatives already are girding for action on legislation to address concerns over Chinese counterfeiting, product safety and currency policy, among other things.

The administration is pressing China to address those issues across a number of fronts, including direct negotiations and through litigation at the World Trade Organization, but its approach will face a political test on Capitol Hill.

'You're entering a difficult period here,' said Karan Bhatia, until recently a top trade negotiator for Mr. Bush, with a focus on Asia. He said political pressure is understandable, but warned legislation is the 'least well suited' of the many options for dealing with China.

'Managing that China relationship -- and keeping it on the rails -- is going to be a challenge and an important endeavor for the administration over the next 12 months,' said Mr. Bhatia.

The looming China debate could overshadow Mr. Bush's attempts to secure new market-opening trade deals. He is lobbying the Democratic-led Congress to approve three agreements signed with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. All face opposition.

The Panama deal has been on ice since a Panamanian lawmaker -- accused in the U.S. of killing an American soldier in 1992 -- was tapped to lead that nation's Legislature. Questions dog the South Korea pact about whether it will fully open the Korean market to beef and autos from the U.S. Colombia is fighting to overcome doubts among U.S. lawmakers spurred by violence against labor organizers there.

Congressional approval of any one of pending agreements might help provide momentum for the president's trade-expansion drive. Similar hopes were voiced after lawmakers approved a free-trade deal with Peru this past fall, but the three pending deals still languish.

Political strategists suggest that one way to proceed would be a bargain under which Democratic leaders allow votes on the three pending deals, in return for White House support for expanding federal aid for workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition. That would allow both sides to claim political victory. But absent any immediate effort at compromise, the pending deals will stand on their own merits, with Colombia appearing most likely to move first. Some administration allies are pressing for action early in 2008 to minimize election-year politics.

'As the campaign intensifies there will be more tough rhetoric on trade,' said William Rhodes, Citigroup Inc.'s senior vice chairman and chairman of the Council of the Americas, the business group that promotes trade and democracy in the Western Hemisphere. 'It's not going to be easy, because -- let's face it -- next year is an electoral year.'

Mr. Bush still is pushing to close out the Doha round of global trade talks. The White House would like to conclude a deal before Mr. Bush leaves office in January 2009, hoping to burnish his legacy. But those talks, launched in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were beset with problems from the beginning.

Led by the WTO, the discussions are mired in disputes over cutting farm supports and lowering barriers to trade in manufactured goods.

In the case of China, the Bush administration is pursuing engagement over conflict, preferring to address U.S. complaints through dialogue and negotiations.

Where dialogue hasn't made rapid progress, the administration has launched formal complaints at the WTO, and just recently settled a case in which Beijing agreed to revoke government-export subsidies the U.S. complained were unfair. Additional complaints pending at the WTO allege China isn't protecting intellectual property from the U.S., doesn't allow fair trade in auto parts, and denies access to Chinese markets for a range of U.S. goods.

The administration offers the WTO complaints as evidence of the maturing U.S.-Sino relationship. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the cases are 'a form of engagement,' as she put it in a recent speech, that helps 'prevent trade wars rather than fuel them.'

She said it is likely that lawmakers 'will grapple' with China in the coming year, but she urged them to resist intervening through legislation. New laws 'are crude tools for a complex task,' she said, adding that action on anti-China bills in Congress would add friction to U.S.-Sino relations and might end up hurting 'the American workers, farmers and entrepreneurs they purport to help.'

Administration critics don't have to look far to see reasons for legislation. The U.S. trade deficit with China is on pace to exceed $250 billion in 2007. That would eclipse the previous record of $233 billion set in 2006. Moreover, recent talks between the U.S. and China in Beijing produced only modest accomplishments and little or no progress on fundamental issues, chief among them complaints about currency.

Critics contend China keeps its currency artificially low, creating imbalances that give Chinese exporters an unfair advantage in the global marketplace. Beijing has allowed its currency to strengthen at a faster pace in recent weeks, though there is little indication this has satisfied U.S. critics of its currency policy. Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), an important voice on trade policy in the House, said the recent negotiations showed the administration is 'more talk than action.' Rep. Levin, chairman of the Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said the talks' middling outcome has 'increased the notion on the Hill that we really need to take a serious look at legislation.' Members of the Senate also are pushing to give the White House new tools to toughen policy toward China.

Mr. Bhatia warned such actions could strengthen the hands of Chinese nationalists who want to slow Beijing's drive to integrate into the global economy.

当美国总统布什迈入其任期最后一年,贸易领域仍有不少“作业”等着他去完成,例如与哥伦比亚的一份贸易协定。但最重要的恐怕是阻止国会通过可能打击中美贸易的议案。

随着大选年的到来,贸易怀疑主义在美国抬头,并成为白宫和国会争夺战的催化剂,同时也让未来12个月布什总统的工作任务笼罩在阴云之下。

美国人这一次将躁动的情绪集中发泄在竞争威胁日益增加的中国身上──中国是仅次于加拿大的美国第二大贸易伙伴。众议院的民主党势力早就“磨刀霍霍”,想通过立法来解决他们对中国盗版、产品安全和汇率政策及其他问题的担忧。

虽然美国政府正通过好几种不同渠道督促中国解决这些问题,其中包括与中国直接对话以及向世界贸易组织(World Trade Organization)提起贸易诉讼等,但政府的这些工作将在国会山面临政治考验。

曾主管亚洲贸易谈判、并在最近才离任的前美国贸易副代表卡兰•巴提亚(Karan Bhatia)称,政府工作进入了困难时期。他提醒说,虽然政治压力可以理解,但立法是解决中国相关问题众多手段中“最不合适的”。

巴提亚称,处理并维护与中国的正常关系,将是美国政府未来12个月面临的一大挑战及重要的工作内容。

中国话题的日益升温也给布什总统新的市场开放贸易计划笼上了阴影。目前他正在劝说民主党把持的众议院批准与巴拿马、哥伦比亚和韩国的贸易协定。这三份协定在国会都遭到反对。

自从巴拿马推选一名议员出任议长后(此人在美国被控于1992年杀死一名美军士兵),美国与巴拿马的这份协议就被冻结了起来。韩国也是问题缠身,例如它是否能对美国完全开放本国牛肉和汽车市场。至于哥伦比亚,则因为对劳工组织人士施以暴力而受到美国议员质疑。

国会批准任何一项协定或许都有助于布什总统推行以扩大贸易为导向的经济政策。今年秋季美国与秘鲁达成的自由贸易协定让人看到了希望的曙光,但眼下政府对上述三份协议依然是一筹莫展。

有政治战略家建议,为了让这三份协议获得通过,政府和民主党该各让一步。民主党以允许三份协议在国会表决为代价,换取政府支持加大对因国外竞争而失业的美国工人的联邦援助。这样双方都可以自称获得了胜利。但如果无法达成任何立即生效的妥协,这三份协议就只能各安天命了,其中与哥伦比亚的协议看起来最有可能率先获得突破。政府的一些盟友为了让这些工作于明年初取得进展而奔走,旨在减少大选年产生的政治副作用。

花旗集团(Citigroup Inc.)高级副董事长、美洲委员会(Council of the Americas)主席威廉•罗德斯(William Rhodes)称,随着选战的深入,关于贸易的口水战会愈演愈烈;这并不容易对付,因为即将到来的08年毕竟是大选年。美洲委员会是一家促进西半球贸易及民主进程的商业组织。

此外,布什总统还在努力给多哈回合全球贸易谈判一个结果。白宫方面会希望在布什2009年1月离任前达成相关协议,以此给他的政绩镀金。然而从2001年9•11事件后就开始的多哈回合谈判始终都是麻烦缠身。

由于各国在削减农产品补贴以及减少制造业产品贸易壁垒方面纠缠不休,以致于由世贸组织牵头的多哈回合谈判一直僵持不下。

在中国问题上,布什总统主张多接触少对抗,提倡以对话和谈判的方式解决美方提出的问题。

对于那些仅靠对话无法迅速取得进展的问题,美国政府则向世贸组织提出了正式申诉。就在最近了结的一起世贸诉讼中,中国同意取消美国认为不公平的出口补贴。目前中国在世贸组织受到的指控还包括没有保护美国的知识产权、汽车部件贸易不公平、以及对美国封锁一系列产品的国内市场等。

美国政府将世贸组织诉讼视为中美关系走向成熟的佐证。美国贸易代表苏珊•施瓦布(Susan Schwab)在最近的讲话中称这些贸易诉讼为“一种接触模式”,能起到“避免而不是加剧贸易战的作用”。

施瓦布认为,明年议员们可能会在中国问题上“较劲”,但她呼吁国会不要通过立法的方式进行干预。施瓦布称,用立法来解决对华贸易问题“就像是笨重的工具做精细活一样”。她还表示,国会通过反华议案会加剧中美摩擦,并有可能最终伤害到议员本想帮助的美国工人、农民和企业家。

然而,由于今年美国对华贸易逆差将突破2,500亿美元,刷新去年2,330亿美元的纪录,因此批评政府的人士主张立法制裁中国的理由简直是俯拾即是。此外,美国最近与中国进行的对话成效有限,在一些根本性的问题上几乎没能取得进展,其中首当其冲的就是人民币汇率问题。

他们指控中国有意将汇率压制在低水平,从而不公平地为本国出口商在国际市场中赢得了优势。最近几周人民币汇率的升值速度有所加快,但没有迹象显示美国方面的不满因此缓和。美国国会贸易问题上的重量级人物──密歇根州众议员桑德尔•莱文(Sander Levin)最近表示,最近与中国开展的对话显示政府是“光说不练”。莱文是美国众议院筹款委员会(House Ways and Means Committee)的主席。他表示,对话所取得的那些二流成果“让国会越发认识到,的确有必要好好研究一下是否动用立法工具”。而参议院也有议员提倡给予白宫新的工具来强化对华政策。

巴提亚则警告称,美国的此类做法反而会助中国民族主义者一臂之力,而恰恰是这些人想放缓中国融入全球经济的脚步。
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