The United States will continue nudging China at top-level talks in Beijing next week to let its yuan currency appreciate but trade issues appeared to be higher on the U.S. agenda ahead of the sessions.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the department's senior coordinator for Chinese affairs said on Wednesday they will urge China to see yuan appreciation as being in its own interest as well as that of the global economy.
But next Monday and Tuesday's Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing is essentially cast as one in a series of gatherings between now and late June in which the Obama administration will try to gently push its point that Beijing should act.
It's very important, and we've made very clear that a more market-oriented exchange rate would contribute to balanced, sustainable growth, David Loevinger, Treasury's senior coordinator for Chinese affairs, said at a briefing.
Earlier, Geithner said yuan appreciation was not just a U.S.-China issue but one involving the whole global economy. China has amassed huge trade surpluses and foreign reserves while becoming an exporting powerhouse. Now, the United States and others want China to boost consumption at home.
The U.S. Treasury has postponed a report on currency practices of key trade partners past a scheduled April 15 release, saying it wanted to explore the issue further at S&ED talks and at meetings of Group of 20 finance ministers in early June and G20 political leaders later next month.
CLOCK STILL TICKING
Many analysts saw that as an effective deadline for Beijing to resume letting its yuan, also called the renminbi, rise in value or risk being named a currency manipulator with potential trade sanctions to follow.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and nine other senators this week wrote to Geithner urging him to take a stern line with Chinese officials over Beijing's refusal to release an International Monetary Fund report that they believe concluded China manipulates the yuan's value for a trade advantage.
The staff report was part of the IMF's annual consultations with China last summer. Most countries let the IMF to release the staff assessments, and China had sone so in previous years but did not this time.
Schumer said U.S. officials should push China in next week's talks to release the report.
Geithner said he didn't know when China will act on its currency.
I don't know when they're going to move, he said in an interview on CNBC television. But I think it's very much in their interest for them to move.
Trading in offshore dollar/yuan forwards on Wednesday implied that markets thought chances for future yuan appreciation were lower. But trading was thin and market participants were awaiting next week's talks for any hint of a shift in China's yuan policy.
One factor complicating efforts to push China toward resuming the yuan's appreciation -- a move it permitted from mid-2005 until mid-2008 but then abruptly halted -- is the recent steady decline in the euro's value.
That puts China's exports to Europe at risk because a weaker euro raises import prices and is likely to increase Beijing's reluctance to let the yuan rise in value.
EUROPEAN CRISIS A WORRY
A Chinese Ministry of Commerce report issued on Wednesday said the yuan has risen nearly 14.5 percent against the euro so far this year and predicted it will hurt exports this year.
Loevinger linked Beijing's stated concern about the size of U.S. budget deficits with the U.S. call for China to boost consumer spending at home rather than relying on exporting its way to wealth.
The administration is very committed, once the recovery is fully assured, to bringing the fiscal deficit down to a sustainable level, he said, which may pinch Americans' ability to be the world's most voracious buyers.
The implication for China is that the U.S. consumer is going to play a different role in this recovery ... and it's more important than ever that China accelerate its efforts to accelerate home-grown consumption-based growth, he said.
Loevinger said the U.S. was concerned about Chinese industrial policies that some say favor China's companies over foreign competitors and interfere with trade.
We have no problem with China promoting innovation...but we want to make sure that they do it in a way that doesn't close off markets for U.S. goods and services, he said.
Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation of about 200 U.S. officials to the Beijing talks for the second round of meetings since the Obama administration took office.
The diplomatic side of the talks will cover a range of sensitive issues from cooperation on efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions to what measures countries can agree on to reduce pollution and deal with climate change.
The first meeting in Washington last summer made little impact, but U.S. officials appear to be aiming for a more significant outcome. Geithner arrives in Beijing on Sunday and will hold a working lunch with Zhou Xiaochuan. China's central bank governor, and a working dinner with Vice Premier Wang Qishan ahead of the May 24-25 sessions.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Paul Eckert and David Lawder; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)