Hayes talks tough on China trade in Charlotte appearance

By TIM WHITMIRE : Associated Press Writer
Aug 1, 2005 : 4:38 pm ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Four days after reversing course and casting a vote that helped secure passage of a free-trade agreement with Central America, Rep. Robin Hayes sharply criticized Chinese trade policy, calling it the greatest threat facing North Carolina manufacturing jobs.

Hayes appeared Monday with Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., author of a measure that would slap tariffs on China for controlling the value of its currency to gain a trading advantage. Hayes said he and English are both lobbying for passage of that bill and other legislation aimed at deterring what they called China's unfair trade practices.

"Part of our concern in keeping jobs here is pushing back on China," Hayes said.

Both men argued the Chinese are a much larger threat to U.S. manufacturing than the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Each said he voted yes on CAFTA -- Hayes doing so after repeatedly pledging to vote no -- after receiving assurances that the Bush administration was prepared to crack down on Chinese trade violations.

"China is a huge threat, particularly against our textile industry," Hayes said.

Hayes said his position to lobby for a tougher trade line with China has "never been any better" than after his last-minute switch early Thursday helped secure 217-215 passage of CAFTA in the U.S. House. The deal eliminates trade barriers between the United States and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Though Democrats have called his switch a flip-flop, Hayes said Republican leaders promised enough attention to trade issues to make the vote worthwhile for constituents in his textile-heavy district.

"They owe me big-time," Hayes said Monday.

English, who represents a district in northwestern Pennsylvania that is similarly heavy with manufacturing interests, said Hayes "has been a great partner" in his effort to battle China on trade issues.

"Robin Hayes, I'm happy to say, is one of the key guys who gets it on China trade policy," English said.

The Chinese have long pegged the value of their currency, the yuan, to the U.S. dollar, resulting in the Chinese currency being undervalued. That has made Chinese products cheaper in U.S. markets and American products more expensive in China.

The Chinese announced last month that they were revaluing the yuan so that it would take 8.11 yuan -- not 8.277 yuan -- to purchase one dollar. That change had an immediate effect of revaluing the yuan by 2.1 percent.

China also said it would switch from linking the yuan to the dollar and instead link it to a basket of unspecified currencies and would allow the yuan to change in value within a 0.3 percent band each day.

English said he believes those steps were a response to the threat of congressional action.

English's proposed legislation would require the U.S. treasury secretary to determine whether China is manipulating the exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar and, if so, place tariffs on Chinese imports equal to the amount of advantage they gain from the manipulation. The bill, which English is sponsoring along three other congressmen, is stuck in a House committee.

A separate English-sponsored bill requiring the Commerce Department and the U.S. trade representative to step up monitoring of China's trade practices passed the U.S. House on Wednesday and English said he believes it will see Senate action when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.

Though Monday's news conference with English gave Hayes a chance to address the controversy over his CAFTA switch, Hayes spokeswoman Carolyn Hern said English's trip to Charlotte was planned well before last week's vote, with English's office paying for the congressman's plane ticket to Charlotte.

Since the CAFTA vote, Hayes has cited several developments as evidence that textile concerns are being taken seriously.

On Thursday, the government announced U.S. customs agents will be allowed to enter Hong Kong for unannounced textile site visits.

Friday brought a letter from Hayes to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman expressing concern over a surge in Chinese textile exports since quotas were lifted at the beginning of this year.

That was followed by a Commerce Department announcement Monday that it will meet with textile industry representatives before deciding on requests from the industry to limit Chinese exports in six product categories.