World Economy

US Launches WTO Complaint Over China Aluminum Subsidies

China’s capacity to produce aluminum more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2015.
China’s capacity to produce aluminum more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2015.

US President Barack Obama’s administration has launched a new complaint against Chinese aluminum subsidies at the World Trade Organization, accusing Beijing of artificially expanding its global market share with cheap state-directed loans and subsidized energy.

The complaint, which seeks consultations with Beijing on the matter, is likely to add to rising trade tension between the world’s two largest economies as president-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office next week with pledges to reduce US trade deficits with China as a top priority, Reuters reported.

The US trade representative’s office said the complaint says China’s actions in the aluminum sector violate WTO rules prohibiting subsidies that cause “serious prejudice” to other members of the trade body.

The complaint argues that “artificially cheap” state-directed loans and coal, electricity and alumina for the Chinese aluminum sector causes such prejudice by undercutting global prices and artificially expanding China’s market share.

“China gives its aluminum industry an unfair advantage through underpriced loans and other illegal government subsidies,” Obama said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “These kinds of policies have disadvantaged American manufacturers and contributed to the global glut in aluminum, steel and other sectors,” he added.

“We are taking action to protect the workers—at home and around the world—who are hurt every day by these policies. That’s what we’ve done since day one.”

The US trade representative’s office said China’s capacity to produce aluminum more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2015, while global prices fell approximately 46%. China now produces more than half of the world’s aluminum.

At the same time, US primary aluminum production fell 37%, although overall US consumption of the metal increased. Nine of 14 US aluminum smelters have halted production since 2011, with only one operating at full capacity, the US trade office said.

In a statement on its website, China’s Commerce Ministry said the US complaint “lacked a factual basis,” but vowed to handle it according to WTO rules. “China’s aluminum market is a highly competitive and marketized industry,” it said. “Relevant loans and raw material purchases are all fully marketized and commercial. The so-called subsidy problem claimed by the United States does not exist.”

The pending complaint follows an October request for a WTO case against China’s aluminum trade practices by six US senators concerned about 15,000 lost jobs in the sector in recent years.

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