China on Thursday decried a U.S. decision to impose duties of 10 to 16 percent on Chinese-made steel pipe, the biggest U.S. trade case to date against China, and said it had been made a scapegoat of protectionist interests.

The Ministry of Commerce said it was strongly dissatisfied with and resolutely opposed to the vote of the U.S. International Trade Commission for countervailing duties, which Washington said were needed to balance out unfair state subsidies to Chinese makers of pipes for oil wells.

The global financial crisis and fall in demand for oil, not Chinese policies, were to blame for pressures on U.S. manufacturers, said a statement issued on the ministry's website (

U.S. domestic industry has been seeking opportunities to win trade relief and protection, and shifted the blame for its hardships onto imports, an unnamed ministry official said in the statement. Finding that Chinese oil well pipes have damaged U.S. industry is a mistaken step that ignores the facts.

The ministry made no mention of any tit-for-tat moves against U.S. products, but these cannot be ruled out. It urged Washington to abandon the decision at a final vote on the anti-dumping case in May.

But a lawyer representing the United Steelworkers union and U.S. companies in the case earlier told Reuters that hearing is virtually certain to also approve separate anti-dumping duties on the pipes.

The ITC vote capped a year of U.S.-China trade friction likely to extend into 2010.

U.S. companies and unions brought about a dozen trade cases against China this year, alleging government subsidies and unfair pricing practices.

President Barack Obama also angered Beijing in September by slapping a 35 percent duty on imports of about $1.85 billion of Chinese-made tires in response to what the ITC said was a surge in imports that disrupted the market.

China, in response, accused the United States of protectionism, filed a complaint against the tires decision at the World Trade Organization and began a probe into whether U.S. autos are dumped in China at unfairly low prices.

The United States imported $2.74 billion of oil country tubular goods from China in 2008, more than triple the previous year, as rises in oil prices led to increased demand for the oil well tubing and casing.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski.)