US wants China to increase imports


Washington : Americans are "impatient" to see China import more and slim its huge trade surplus which is fuelling anti-China sentiment in the United States, a top US finance official has said.

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Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's warning came Tuesday at the start of a US-China economic summit in Washington, where the US is seeking to ease trade tensions and prod China to boost imports from the US.

"Our policy disagreements are not about the direction of change, but about the pace of change," Paulson told the opening session. "Americans have many virtues … but we are also impatient."

Both sides also held talks on energy and the environment, a hot topic as the US government predicts that energy use in China, the world's fastest-growing economy, will top that of the US within 15 years.

No major new initiative was announced, but US companies view China as a vast market for power generation and environmental technology.

With 16 top Chinese government officials attending, discussions ranged from coal and nuclear power to wind and solar energy and biofuels, US officials said.

"We're all in this together," US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told reporters. "We're all looking at how do we replace fossil fuels."

Energy offers a topic for US-Chinese cooperation. But pressure in the US Congress to punish China on trade is running high as Paulson and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi began two days of talks.

Opening up China's market for US products and services "will be a big focus of our discussion," Paulson told Cable News Network (CNN).

Many US lawmakers view China as an unfair trade partner that keeps its foreign exchange rate artificially low to boost exports and has killed hundreds of thousands of US manufacturing jobs.

"There is growing scepticism in each country about the others' intentions," Paulson said. "Unfortunately, in America this is manifesting itself as anti-China sentiment, as China becomes a symbol of the real and imagined downside of global competition."

China's image in the US also recently suffered after pet food tainted with an ingredient imported from China killed an unknown number of dogs and cats.

In moves meant to signal flexibility ahead of Tuesday's talks, China's government Friday increased the amount its currency can appreciate and raised interest rates for the fourth time in 11 months.

But as Congress threatens anti-China legislation to protect US jobs and the 2008 US presidential election campaign heats up, Paulson's effort to prod Beijing for gradual change is a tough task.

The US is the largest overseas market for Chinese goods, and Americans' appetite for low-priced Chinese products lifted the US trade deficit with China to a record $233 billion in 2006.

The Chinese yuan has appreciated by some 7 percent since July 2005, but China's critics say it remains significantly undervalued. To help shift the balance against exports, the US has also been pressing China to raise interest rates.

This week's talks are part of a "strategic economic dialogue" launched by presidents George W. Bush and Hu Jintao last year, part of US efforts to prod China to accept more responsibility as a global economic player.

"Neither America nor China can shrink from the role we have carved for ourselves in the world," Paulson said Tuesday. "We both must exercise leadership."

Yet Washington got tougher with China in the run-up to the meeting.

The US filed two complaints against China with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in April, targeting copyright piracy and Chinese barriers to US music, films and books.

In March, the US overturned more than two decades of trade policy and slapped duties on Chinese imports for the first time, designed to counter alleged Chinese export subsidies.