China escalates U.S. trade row, asks WTO to judge dispute

GENEVA Thu Aug 23, 2012 2:23pm BST

GENEVA (Reuters) - In a move that escalates a trade row with the United States, China said it would ask the World Trade Organization (WTO) to adjudicate a dispute over U.S. punitive import duties on 22 Chinese exports, including solar panels and steel products.

China first brought the complaint to the WTO in May by asking the United States for formal "consultations" to explain the duties, which Washington says are intended to offset illegal subsidies that gave Chinese goods an unfair price advantage.

WTO rules entitle China to demand adjudication after a 60 day period of consultations. China will make the demand for adjudication at a meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body on Aug 31, China said in a statement circulated to WTO members this week.

The office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in May that China's decision to bring the dispute to the WTO was "premature and not an appropriate use of dispute settlement system resources", because the U.S. Department of Commerce was already working to address the issues raised by China.

But China's statement said two subsequent rounds of talks, on June 25 and July 18, had failed to resolve the dispute, which includes wind towers, as well as certain types of steel pipe, wire, cylinders and wheels, aluminium extrusions, wood flooring, magnesia bricks, thermal and coated paper and citric acid.

China is by far the world's biggest producer of steel and is also a leading maker of clean energy equipment such as solar panels and wind towers, helped by Beijing's ambition of tackling carbon emissions without slowing China's growth.

Foreign competitors complain that its oversupply is the result of a market that is driven by forces such as government edicts and subsidies rather than fundamental supply and demand, and China has created surpluses that distort the global market.

China decided to bring the latest WTO complaint, which it says affects exports worth $7.3 billion, after winning a previous WTO dispute last year over U.S. duties on imports of Chinese steel pipes, off-road tyres and woven sacks.

Many of China's grievances might have been dealt with by a U.S. court decision last year, which struck down the Commerce Department's ability to impose anti-subsidy duties on "non-market economies" like China.

But the U.S. Congress voted to restore it in March, ensuring U.S. duties on about two dozen Chinese goods stayed in place.

The case is one of several currently "live" disputes between the United States and China at the WTO.

The United States is challenging Chinese export restrictions on rare earths, tungsten and molybdenum and Chinese duties on certain U.S. car exports and U.S. chicken exports.

Last month China also lost an adjudication decision against a U.S. claim that it was discriminating against U.S. bank card suppliers. It could decide to appeal the decision but has not yet said whether it will do so.

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)