China Not Treating U.S. Automakers Fairly, Says Obama Administration

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Shanghai traffic (photo by http2007 via flickr)

The United States filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization over what it says are unfair trade practices for imposing new duties on American-made cars.

According to the complaint, which was filed by the United States Trade Representative on Thursday, "the United States has requested dispute settlement consultations with China at the WTO in an attempt to eliminate these unfair duties."

Last year, Beijing imposed import tariffs ranging from 2 percent to 21.5 percent on larger cars and SUVs exported from the U.S. In 2011, the U.S. exported more than $3 billion of these automobiles to China.

China has argued that General Motors and Chrysler have benefited from government subsidies, enabling the companies to sell cars at less than fair market value -- thereby hurting the Chinese auto industry.

Word of the complaint came as President Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Ohio, a swing state, is home to thousands of auto workers.

"Americans aren't afraid to compete," said the president, speaking at a campaign event in Maumee (OH).  "We believe in competition. I believe in as long as we're competing on a fair playing field instead of an unfair playing field, we'll do just fine. But we're going to make sure that competition is fair."

White House spokesperson Jay Carney noted that this is the seventh such action taken against China, and denied the timing behind the announcement was politically motivated. "The fact is this is an action that has been in development for quite a long time." he said. "It simply can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign."

China's once-booming auto industry is decelerating due to its slowing economy -- and its government's own efforts to get a handle on traffic. Earlier this month, Guangzhou became the third Chinese city to put a cap on annual car sales to combat growing traffic jams and pollution.

You can read a copy of the letter the USTR sent the WTO here.