China Takes a Hit at the WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) sided with the United States Wednesday and slapped China for its restrictions on selling copyrighted U.S. films, music, books and other media. (WTO report.) China has been forcing companies to route imports through Chinese state-owned or controlled enterprises, while restricting reading material and music. The U.S. argues that this opens the door to the vast amount of Chinese counterfeiting in these media. And we’re talking about real money for U.S. producers –$3.6 billion lost sales in China of legitimate media in just 2008 alone.

A very important case filed by the U.S. and the European Union in June of this year against China for restricting exports of raw materials is still in the early stages. The U.S. is concerned that the Chinese export restraints hurt U.S. “downstream producers” of goods by limiting access and raising world market prices for the raw materials, while lowering the prices that domestic Chinese producers have to pay. The case covers nine materials: bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon carbide, silicon metal, yellow phosphorus and zinc. (USTR news release.)

The National Association of Manufacturers has long supported the use of WTO cases as a legitimate trade enforcement tool after negotiations fail. The seven cases brought against China since it joined the WTO in 2001 have produced results in areas like semiconductors, foreign financial information suppliers, packaging paper and auto parts. Although it is always preferable to avoid a litigation process, the use of WTO cases doesn’t mean the U.S.-China trade relationship is crumbling – it’s the way trade disputes between mature trading partners are settled – without a costly trade war.

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(Pat Mears is the NAM’s Director for International Commercial Affairs)

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