WASHINGTON – A bill that would give the U.S. government the power to impose economic sanctions on China and other countries found to be manipulating their currencies to gain trade advantages has won approval from a key House committee.
The Ways and Means Committee approved the legislation Friday and Democratic leaders said the measure would be taken up by the full House next week. Supporters say the bill would protect U.S. jobs against unfair trade competition.
The measure was expected to win easy House passage, although trade analysts said it was unlikely to be taken up in the Senate before the November elections. However, they said the proposal would send a clear message to China that it risks U.S. trade sanctions unless it moves faster to allow its currency to rise in value against the dollar.
The House action comes as the Obama administration has stepped up its pressure on China to make more progress on currency reform and other contentious trade issues. The White House said that President Barack Obama pushed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to move faster on currency revaluation during a two-hour meeting the two leaders held in New York on Thursday.
U.S. manufacturers contend that China’s currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent against the dollar. That makes Chinese products cheaper and more competitive in the United States and American products more expensive in China.
The House bill would allow for the imposition of stiff sanctions on Chinese imports by expanding the definition of trade sanctions to include a government’s undervaluation of its currency.
Currently, the Commerce Department does not consider currency manipulation under the definition of improper government subsidies for which it can impose the sanctions, known as countervailing duties.
The Ways and Means passage of the bill came after an original measure, which had gained more than 140 House co-sponsors, was amended by Committee Chairman Sander Levin in a way that he said would make it more likely to withstand a challenge before the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based body that enforces global trade rules.
Several Republican committee members expressed opposition because of concerns the legislation could spark retaliation by the Chinese against U.S. exports.