US ‘erred’ in supporting WTO membership for China, Russia: USTR

WASHINGTON: China and Russia have shown no intention of living up to World Trade Organization rules and Washington should not have supported their membership in the global trade body, the Trump administration said Friday.

In strongly worded reports to Congress, the US Trade Representative delivered a laundry list of grievances over unfair trade practices by Beijing and Moscow it says runs counter to global free trade rules.

USTR Robert Lighthizer said the reports show “the global trading system is threatened by major economies who do not intend to open their markets to trade and participate fairly.”

“This practice is incompatible with the market-based approach expressly envisioned by WTO members and contrary to the fundamental principles of the WTO,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has ratcheted up retaliatory measures against foreign trading partners, notably China, as part of his America First economic agenda which lifted him to power a year ago. That included an aggressive new trade probe into possible dumping of aluminium and steel.

The US had a US$309 billion trade deficit in goods and services with China in 2016, and that was on track to expand by US$10 billion last year.

USTR report said after joining the WTO in 2001, Beijing effectively abandoned efforts to adopt market-friendly reforms and instead increased central government control over commerce while erecting barriers to foreign competition.

But WTO rules are insufficient to correct Beijing's interventionist policies, and the United States “erred” in supporting China's membership in 2001, the report said.

US dialogue with Beijing since Trump took office yielded some results, such as renewed access to Chinese markets for US beef, but these were piecemeal changes, the report said.

“China is determined to maintain the state's leading role in the economy and to continue to pursue industrial policies that promote, guide and support domestic industries while simultaneously and actively seeking to impede, disadvantage and harm their foreign counterparts,” the China report said.

Chinese authorities also continue to pressure American companies into sharing valuable intellectual property, the report said.

The USTR likewise accused Moscow of an “accelerating withdrawal” from the open market system demanded by WTO membership since joining in 2012, citing burdensome import licensing, opaque customs regimes, and barriers to agricultural imports.

“It was a mistake to allow Russia to join the WTO if it is not fully prepared to live by WTO rules,” the report said. — AFP

US$1 = RM3.94

US shutdown unlikely to harm debt rating: Fitch

WASHINGTON: A possible shutdown of the US federal government at midnight Friday amid a congressional deadlock on spending would have no immediate effect on America's sovereign debt rating, ratings agency Fitch said.

The prospect of a partial shutdown of US government operations, the first in more than four years, grew increasingly likely on Friday afternoon as Senate Republicans and Democrats remained at loggerheads over legislation to authorize funding to keep the government open.

In a statement on Friday, Fitch said partial shutdowns had occurred in the past and the one looming at midnight on Friday “does not have a direct impact” on the top-notch AAA/stable rating for US sovereign debt.

“Its main implication for the US's sovereign creditworthiness would depend on whether it foreshadowed a further destabilization of US budget policymaking, or brinkmanship over the federal debt limit,” Fitch said.

The agency cited Congressional Budget Office findings, according to which the federal government is not likely to exhaust its borrowing ability until late March or early April.

Markets appeared unconcerned by the possible shutdown on Friday, with Wall Street and the US dollar relatively stable — although US currency has weakened in recent weeks against the euro. — AFP

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