- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration yesterday accused 60 countries and three trading blocs of erecting unfair barriers to American exports.

The administration used an annual report to intensify pressure on China to deal with such long-simmering trade disputes as the piracy of copyrighted music, movies and computer software, which American companies contend costs them billions of dollars a year in lost sales.

The administration is required by Congress to issue the National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers as a way of shining a spotlight on the practices of America’s trading partners that are deemed most harmful to sales of U.S. manufactured goods, farm products and services overseas.

Democratic critics charged that the administration has been reluctant to go after the biggest offenders, particularly China, even as America’s overall trade deficit soared to a record $724 billion last year and the imbalance with China hit $202 billion, the highest ever recorded with a single country.

Critics of Mr. Bush’s trade policies say the string of record trade deficits has contributed to the loss of nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since mid-2000.

“We need to take every opportunity we can to stand up for U.S. trade rights or we will continue to see American jobs move overseas,” said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee.

Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, said, “The Bush administration too often has responded to these practices with weak rhetoric when it should be taking a stand for U.S. interests by challenging these unfair trading practices at the WTO or through bilateral forums.”

The administration devoted 71 pages of the 712-page report to criticizing China, with special emphasis on charges that the country has failed to crack down on rampant piracy of a wide range of American products.

The report cited 60 countries, from Angola to Vietnam, and three trading blocs: the European Union, the Arab League and the Southern African Customs Union.

The United States joined with the European Union on Thursday to file a case before the WTO accusing China of levying unfair taxes on auto parts made in the United States and other foreign countries.

The administration is seeking to force China to make a number of trade concessions in coming weeks to address the huge trade gap with the United States in advance of the mid-April visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington.

The new report will serve as a guide to U.S. negotiators over the next year in their efforts to attack barriers seen as doing the most damage to American companies.

The report has been prepared annually for 20 years under legislation Congress first passed in 1974 to require the executive branch to give an accounting of which countries were erecting the most harmful barriers to U.S. exports.

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