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Wednesday March 1, 2006 - 18:55:01 GMT
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Forex: US Senate Backs Off Some On China Sanctions Vote...At Least Through April

US Senate Backs Off Some On China Sanctions Vote...At Least Through April

Market News reported today that US Senators will delay a vote on sanctions against China until after the US Treasury Report due in late-April or early May and China's President Hu visits Washington (these dates I have not been able to pin down, though I suspect it will be timed around the IMF and World Bank meetings the week of April 22 (G7 meets April 21-22).

The report, attached below, notes that Senators Schumer and Graham, the main sanctions bill sponsors, expect China to be under plenty of pressure from the White House and US Treasury and hence additional pressure of a Senate vote on sanctions would be overkill. The vote was supposed to happen late this month.

Why would these two protectionist leaning Senators back off on a key Senate vote? I think they have pretty solid assurances from Treasury that China will be named a manipulator barring any meaningful yuan revaluation by mid-April. Indeed late Tuesday, Senator Graham said he thought US Treasury would name China a manipulator. This prompted something of a denial (no decision) from Treasury's Adams, Under Secretary for International Affairs, now in Japan finishing up a two-week Asia trio that included a visit to Beijing. Adams said the report has not been written and it is wrong to prejudge the findings.

But Adams has been out speaking to market participants (in January) to get a read on how markets might react to naming China a manipulator (reported by Bloomberg's Rich Miller last month). I have no reason to doubt Graham's info and it just makes sense that standing down on a sanctions vote would only happen because Treasury has assured the Senators that it will indeed name China in the semi-annual report to Congress.

Does this mean a trade war will break out if China resists pressure to allow a substantial yuan rise? I doubt it and certainly the US Treasury is not equating naming China an FX manipulator the equivalent of a declaration of war on trade. Under the Clinton administration, China was named a manipulator on several occasions and with little fanfare. Korea too (once). Of course the stakes are much higher today given the importance this trade relationship has to global growth and the two economies (cheap goods for US consumers and strong goods exports for China). But there is nothing in the trade act that prompts automatic sanctions once a trading partner is named a manipulator. it would trigger Congressional hearings and with Schumer and Graham poised with a protectionist bill ready for vote, it is easy to see why the stakes are in fact very high in naming China.

And China is showing greater tolerance for a faster rise in the yuan...ever higher daily closes for the yuan. But I doubt even a more rapid pace of appreciation in the yuan, allowed by Chinese officials, will be sufficient to avoid Treasury naming China a manipulator.

Lastly, it is worth noting that Schumer and Graham are planning to visit China together in March. So it will be interesting to see how Chinese officials handle the two leading protectionists in the US Senate.

Assuming Treasury names China, I think we could see pressure on US stocks, bonds and the dollar. China has tackled US goods inflation, immigration and India have tackled US services inflation. Oh and productivity too. I give the Fed credit for checking inflation expectations, but not inflation. Fed fund rate increases, even 14 in a row, are pretty meaningless for the price level when market rates barely budge. Greenspan is no Volcker when it comes to inflation. He did not need to be. Bernanke on the other hand will very likely be to deflation as Volcker was to time.

David Gilmore


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