China on Wednesday rejected charges from the United States and Europe that its restrictions on raw materials exports violated international trade rules, saying that its policies were in keeping with WTO regulations.
The European Union and the United States said on Tuesday they were taking a complaint to the World Trade Organization over China's export curbs on some industrial raw materials used in steel, cars, microchips, planes and other products.
In the first official Chinese response, the Ministry of Commerce rejected the complaint but said it would go along with the consultation procedures required under WTO rules.
The main objective of China's relevant export policies is to protect the environment and natural resources. China believes the policies in question are in keeping with WTO rules, the press office of the ministry said in a faxed statement.
Following the WTO procedures for dispute resolution, China will appropriately handle the request for consultations.
Washington and Brussels have launched the WTO case while they are also looking for China's cooperation in pulling the world economy out of a slump. The complaint may become another irritant in ties alongside recent friction over military modernization, Internet controls and the United States' own economic policies.
But China's initial response was relatively mild compared with its vehement reaction to earlier WTO complaints. And traders said the move would have little immediate impact on trade flows.
I don't think it will impact exports as steel wire rod has already carried a 15 percent export tax, therefore no one can ship any anyway, said a senior executive at Sinosteel Corp, the country's largest state-owned steel trader. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Brussels and Washington say Beijing continues to restrict exports of raw materials used in steel, semiconductors, aircraft and other products despite China's pledge to eliminate taxes and charges on exports when it joined the WTO in 2001.
This hurts foreign downstream producers of goods, such as aluminum producers and steelworkers, since the export restraints limit their access to raw materials and raise world market prices for the materials while lowering the prices that domestic Chinese producers have to pay, U.S. officials said.
Included in the materials covered by the case is a range of strategic minor metals used in applications such as alloys, ceramics, mobile phones and light bulbs.
Zhou Shijian, a former Chinese trade official, said the U.S. and EU were guilty of hypocrisy.
Protecting natural resources is perfectly reasonable, and all countries in the world, including the United States, protect their national resources, Zhou told the Global Times, a Chinese-language paper.
The WTO stresses one cannot restrict imports and should open markets, but it doesn't have specific rules on what should be done about exports, said Zhou.
(Additional reporting by Alfred Cang in Shanghai; Editing by Ken Wills and Dean Yates)