China battles through year of rising trade challenges, but fight will go on

Updated 2016-12-23 10:03:23 Global Times

"Raping." "Killing." "Slitty-eyed."

These are some comments made by top politicians in the U.S. and the EU - China's two largest trading partners - about Chinese exports and trade officials. In the U.S., China is "raping" and "killing" the U.S. on trade with cheap products that benefited from a deliberately devalued currency, its trade-bashing populist President-elect Donald Trump has said. In the EU, "slitty-eyed" Chinese trade officials are determining international trade rules, while the EU is failing to negotiate free trade deals, suggested Guenther Oettinger, a center-right politician from Germany who was named to become the EU's next budget commissioner.

A little extreme? Perhaps. But such sentiment against China, which is growing at a horrifying speed in some countries, indeed reflected, to some extent, the tough trading environment the world's largest trading country experienced in 2016.

It was a year of rising challenges on trade, amid an unprecedented wave of anti-free trade, anti-globalization sentiment that flowed through traditionally pro-free trade countries and regions like the U.S. and the EU, Chinese experts said.

Rising challenges

As of Monday, there had been more than 260 anti-dumping measures or investigations against Chinese goods this year from countries and regions on all continents and at different levels of economic development, from South America to Africa and from the U.S. to Argentina, the Global Times found in counting statements from the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). This year's number represents a roughly 17.7 percent rise from 2015.

By country, more than 40 of the protectionist measures or investigations in 2016 were taken by the U.S. and the EU, while emerging economies like India, Brazil and South Africa took more than 70 anti-dumping measures or investigations against Chinese exports.

The measures or probes were aimed at a wide range of Chinese goods, from agricultural products to tires to solar photovoltaic systems. But Chinese steel products were the target of the most anti-dumping measures or probes in 2016.

Claiming Chinese manufacturers are selling steel into Europe at unfairly low prices, the EU has launched a slew of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures against Chinese steel imports. As of December 9, the EU had 40 such measures in place, and almost half of them involved imports from China, according to Reuters.

In October, the EU slapped tariffs of up to 73.7 percent on Chinese steel imports. And in the U.S., new tariffs of as high as 266 percent were imposed this year on steel imports from China, the Wall Street Journal reported on December 8. Such measures led to a year-on-year drop of 16 percent in China's steel exports in November, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Chinese officials and industry experts have vigorously pushed back claims that the country is dumping its steel production and blasted the EU and the U.S. for taking such unfair measures against Chinese products.

Easy target

"All these countries like to blame China for their own problems in the steel industry, but China didn't create the problems for them, it's sluggish global demand amid weak economic growth that caused the problem," said Jiang Yong, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Global trade is in the doldrums and a lot of countries are facing tough economic times at home, with unemployment rising and wages stagnating, Jiang told the Global Times on Sunday. "When things are not going well, it is easy to point fingers at others, and that is what they are doing - pointing fingers at China," he said.

It's not just the steel industry. China is an easy target for trade criticism for foreign politicians in many other areas as well, mostly because of China's position as the largest trading nation, according to Sang Baichuan, director of the Beijing-based Institute of International Business at the University of International Business and Economics.

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