Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Case to Watch

From the Washington Post:

A majority of the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended on Monday that President Barack Obama impose additional duties for three years on imports of low-cost Chinese tires the panel says are harming U.S. industry.

In a case seen as a test of how the Obama administration will cope with Chinese trade issues, four members of the six-member commission recommended that Obama impose additional duties of 55 percent in the first year, 45 percent in the second year, and 35 percent in the third year on imports of passenger vehicle and light truck tires from China.

"In our opinion, these tariff levels would remedy the market disruption that we have found to exist," the four said in a statement. The complaint was brought by the United Steelworkers union, which said a surge of Chinese tire imports have cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

Two other members of the commission disagreed, saying Obama should take no "trade-restricting" action because this would do more harm than good....

Trade experts are watching to see whether Obama, who criticized China for what he called unfair labor practices during his campaign and won strong labor support in his bid for the White House, will be tougher on China than predecessor George W. Bush. Bush routinely rejected petitions for restricting Chinese imports.

President Obama's views about international trade are still something of a mystery. As a senator and presidential candidate he seemed like a protectionist, but once elected he hired a bunch of free traders as economic advisers.

Larry Summers once said of Barack Obama, "When I’ve heard him talk about economic issues—with the exception of NAFTA, where I just hope he doesn’t believe what he says—he seems intelligent and serious. I wouldn’t say I’m bowled over by the brilliance of anything I’ve heard, but everything has a kind of thoughtfulness to it that’s sort of impressive." That is, even the president's chief economic adviser was discomfited by his campaign rhetoric concerning international trade.

This Chinese tire case may be one indication of the president's true feelings about trade. So let's wait and see what happens.