U.S. Treasury Stops Short of Calling China a Currency Manipulator

Department’s report does sharply criticize Chinese exchange-rate policies

Chinese 100-yuan notes being counted in Hong Kong. The U.S. Treasury Department said China would remain on a ‘monitoring list’ of trade partners with policies deemed to be a risk to the U.S. economy.

Chinese 100-yuan notes being counted in Hong Kong. The U.S. Treasury Department said China would remain on a ‘monitoring list’ of trade partners with policies deemed to be a risk to the U.S. economy. PHOTO: XAUME OLLEROS/BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Treasury sharply criticized China’s exchange-rate policies on Friday, though it stopped short of labeling the Asian trade giant a currency manipulator, as President Donald Trump said he would do while running for office.

“China has a long track record of engaging in persistent, large-scale, one-way foreign-exchange intervention,” the Treasury Department said in its semiannual report on foreign exchange policies of major U.S. trade partners. Although Beijing has allowed the yuan to slowly appreciate in recent years and actively fought depreciation recently, its past interventions “imposed significant and long-lasting hardship on American workers and companies,” the Treasury said.

The report followed an apparent warming of relations between the U.S. and China following a visit to Washington and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort by Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week. Mr. Trump is counting on Mr. Xi for support in a confrontation with North Korea. After the visit, Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal he wouldn’t name China a currency manipulator, a label that may have led to a deepening trade confrontation.

Still, the administration sought to stick to some of the tough themes Mr. Trump laid out as a candidate and as president on trade and currency.

“Treasury will be scrutinizing China’s trade and currency practices very closely, especially in light of the extremely sizable bilateral trade surplus that China has with the United States,” the Treasury report said.

The report has traditionally been used as a diplomatic tool to prod other countries whose currency policies were deemed a threat to U.S. industries. The latest report’s censure of China and other countries, including South Korea and Germany, could be used in the future as a pretext for new tariffs.

“Treasury is committed to aggressively and vigilantly monitoring and combating unfair currency practices,” the report said.

Preserving a two-decade precedent, no country was named a currency manipulator.

Along with Friday’s about-face was an acknowledgment by Mr. Trump and his team that Beijing has been propping the yuan up over the last two years, instead of pushing it down as the president had previously alleged. Building debt problems and a slowing economy has put downward pressure on the yuan, forcing the central bank to burn through $1 trillion, or a quarter of its foreign-exchange reserves, to keep the currency from falling.

“The administration clearly realized this was not the right time to have a fight with China over currency,” said Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior U.S. Treasury official in the Obama administration.

Still, “there’s a clear suggestion that China needs to do more to open up its markets to U.S. goods and services,” Mr. Setser said. “The challenge will be getting real changes that have a real impact on the size of U.S. exports to China.”

Most Western economists agree Chinese authorities in the past used an undervalued exchange rate to help fuel its rise to being the No. 2 economy in the world. A cheaper currency makes products less expensive to produce and more attractive to buyers overseas. That was an essential factor in making China the world’s biggest manufacturing base, but it cost the U.S. and other countries millions of jobs.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump tapped into anger at China that was pent up in major manufacturing states, saying he would label the country a currency manipulator and slap fresh tariffs on its imports.

Amid rising concerns about an increasingly belligerent North Korea sparking a dangerous conflict with U.S. allies Asia, Mr. Trump earlier this week said he decided to treat Beijing with more leniency on trade and currency in exchange for Beijing’s help in reining in Pyongyang.

China was not alone in being targeted in Treasury’s latest report.

Repeating criticisms made under the Obama administration, the Treasury Department also kept China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland on a special “monitoring list” that flags trade partners with currency and other economic policies deemed to be a risk to the U.S. economy.

The name-and-shame list can trigger sanctions against offending trade partners if the countries can be shown to intervene in foreign-exchange markets and maintain large trade surpluses with the U.S. and rest of the world. None of the countries met all of the criteria.

Japan and South Korea, two major U.S. trade partners, have long been on Treasury’s radar in part because they have pushed down the value of their currencies in the past. And even though Germany doesn’t control the value of the euro because it is only one member of the European currency union, the country has been targeted because its economic policies and a relatively weak euro have helped the country to achieve the world’s largest trade surplus.

Future reports could step up the criticism, given Treasury’s latitude under the original laws guiding the report to Congress.

China could again allow the yuan to fall, triggering fresh criticism from U.S. manufacturers and renewed political pressure on the administration to label them a manipulator. There are costs to keeping the yuan stable beyond selling exchange-rate reserves. It also makes it harder for the government to meet its growth targets.

Also, the Commerce Department is preparing a study of why the U.S. has such large trade deficits with other nations, and some analysts believe that could lay the foundation for applying countervailing duties against countries that manipulate their currencies. The exchange-rate undervaluation, under a proposal the Commerce Department is considering, would be considered a subsidy.

While some trade experts question whether that plan would be compliant with current World Trade Organization rules, the administration could still use it as a pretense for levying across-the-board tariffs on imports from a currency-manipulating country.

Although many of the findings in the report repeated the basic assessments made under the Obama administration, the report still carried a distinct Trump administration tone. For example, it used sharper language in its warning trade partners against exchange-rate offenses.

“Though there has been a trend in the last two years towards reduced currency intervention by key trading partners, it is critical that this not represent merely an opportunistic response to shifting global macroeconomic conditions…but a durable policy shift away from foreign-exchange policies that facilitate unfair competitive advantage,” the report said.

“The United States cannot and will not bear the burden of an international trading system that unfairly disadvantages our exports and unfairly advantages the exports of our trading partners through artificially distorted exchange rates,” it added.

Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-treasury-department-declines-to-label-any-country-a-currency-manipulator-1492204704?mod=e2twa

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2 Responses to “U.S. Treasury Stops Short of Calling China a Currency Manipulator”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

  2. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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