STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Delaying action on a bill to punish China for its currency policies just shows the U.S. government is afraid to stand up to China, according to some local manufacturers.

On Tuesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said they would delay for six months a vote on a bill punishing China for restricting its exchange rate, saying they had seen signs of currency reform during a recent trip to China.

“They’re afraid to stand up for what’s right,” said Larry Sippy, president of Sipco Molding Technologies of Meadville and a past national president of the National Tooling and Machining Association, an industry trade group.

“Our politicians are just that (politicians) — playing a political game at the cost of American jobs,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

Mark Hanaway, director of marketing at Tech Tool and Molded Plastics, said the American manufacturing base is continuing to erode.

“I’d love to see the government take a stand for its own people,” he said.

The bill has drawn strong support from both parties of Congress, where frustration is growing with Chinese policies that lawmakers say hurt American workers and the economy.

The bill would impose 27.5 percent tariffs on Chinese imports if the currency dispute isn’t settled. The lawmakers said they would delay a vote to no later than Sept. 29; if the pace of China’s currency reform slowed before then, they said, they would call for a vote.

During a news conference Tuesday, Graham said he hoped Chinese President Hu Jintao would announce further currency reforms during his visit to Washington next month. He warned that “the jury is still out” and promised to call a vote on his bill if reform wasn’t pursued.

Schumer said the “Chinese see the fact that manipulating their currency cannot continue.”

“We believe that if we hadn’t introduced this strong medicine, nothing ever would have happened,” he said. “Now that we’re on the path to progress, we don’t have to fire this so-called nuclear weapon, but can hold it in abeyance, as we carefully watch and wait and expect continued progress.”

U.S. lawmakers want China to take steps to allow the yuan to strengthen against the dollar, saying the currency is undervalued by up to 40 percent.

The undervalued currency, U.S. manufacturers and politicians say, gives Chinese exports an unfair trade advantage, contributing to the United States’ record $202 billion trade deficit with China last year.

China revalued the yuan last July, raising its value by 2.1 percent and cutting its link with the U.S. dollar, allowing it to trade instead against a basket of currencies. Since then, however, the yuan has appreciated only about 1 percent against the dollar — which U.S. critics say is far too small.

Chinese leaders have said they plan eventually to let the yuan trade freely on world markets, but that doing so immediately would cause financial turmoil and damage the Chinese economy.

However, both Sippy and Hanaway said China has yet to live up to its commitments.

“The Chinese will say whatever they have to,” Sippy said. “China is not moving.”

“The Chinese have made promises that they rarely meet,” Hanaway said. “The previous maneuvering (on currency) was 2 percent. It was to be a stepping stone to further reformation. That’s not occurred.”

Graham and Schumer returned Sunday from a trip to China, where they met with top Chinese officials.

The lawmakers said that up to 67 of the Senate’s 100 members have indicated they would vote for their bill, which calls for the new tariffs to be imposed two years after passage, allowing time for further negotiations.

Graham said the Senate would overwhelmingly support the bill if China failed to implement more reforms by September. “Not only will we have a vote, we will have an overwhelming vote,” Graham said after the news conference. “There is no way to stop this if the Chinese go backward.”

Also Tuesday, Sens. Charles Grassley, a Republican, and Max Baucus, a Democrat, said they would introduce a bill meant to spur foreign countries, specifically China, into revaluing unfair currency rates.

The bill would require the Treasury Department to engage foreign governments and the International Monetary Fund to resolve currency “imbalances” with the dollar. It would also create a new Treasury Department position: an assistant secretary who would focus on currency and exchange rate issues.

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