Geithner criticizes China's currency policy

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- As debate over global trade heats up, the United States is considering cracking down on China's trade policies, the Treasury Secretary told lawmakers on Thursday.

In testimony before a Senate Banking panel, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner criticized Chinese exchange rate policy, saying that the administration is looking at using "all tools available" to improve trade imbalances between the two countries.

While Geithner has, so far, stopped short of calling China a currency manipulator, he said the administration is urging China to allow appreciation of the yuan and "end discriminatory trade and investment measures."

"The only person in this room that believes China is not manipulating its currency is you," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY told Geithner.

Geithner responded by explaining that calling China a currency manipulator under U.S. law, isn't "consistent with our international obligations."

China is accused of keeping its currency artificially low, contributing to trade imbalances, as Chinese exports remain cheap. The low currency also encourages U.S. companies to move jobs and production to China.

In June, China pledged to let its currency float more freely, but the yuan has only appreciated 1% against the dollar since then. The movement has been so meager, lawmakers are irate.

Geithner was asked to appear at two hearings on Capitol Hill Thursday, as several lawmakers have filed bills that threaten more retaliatory action against China. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, for example, has a bill to tax Chinese imports.

"For years the department has relied on a strategy of dialogue, which has yielded some reforms, but it's clearly not enough," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. "Year after year, administration after administration, Treasury has declined to declare currency manipulation."

Geithner's speech was measured but sharp, pointing out the administration considers the exchange rate policy a top priority.

"China needs to allow significant appreciation over time to correct this undervaluation and allow the exchange rate to fully reflect market forces," Geithner said.

The Chinese central bank has left interest rates unchanged since September 2008 when it cut rates in the face of the global financial meltdown.

There isn't an overnight lending rate in China comparable to the U.S. Federal Reserve's benchmark fed funds rate, which has been near 0% since December 2008.

By comparison, the People Bank of China's one-year lending rate has been at 5.31%, but that relatively lofty rate has done little to slow the economy overall.

China's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy, was up 10.3% in the second quarter compared to a year earlier.

Geithner warned that any currency movement by the Chinese would be gradual. He pointed out that the last Chinese move on its currency which was a 20% appreciation, took place over two years. To top of page

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