Thursday February 10, 2011 | 03:29 PM

Two Maine lawmakers are in the forefront of a congressional drive to punish China for allegedly manipulating its currency to artificially lower the price of its exports.

The result, say lawmakers such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, is to keep Chinese-produced products too cheap and make it tough for American-made products to compete on a level playing field.

Snowe and Michaud are among a host of lawmakers from the House and Senate and from both parties who today unveiled legislation that would give the Obama administration the power to levy tariffs on Chinese products if the products are judged to be overly cheap because of government manipulation of the Chinese currency, the renminbi. The House last year passed a similar bill, but the bill failed to pass the Senate.

“One significant contributing factor to the withering of our country’s once-unparalleled manufacturing base is the fact that China’s government deliberately suppresses the renminbi’s value, making Chinese imports artificially cheaper when competing against U.S. products,” Snowe said in a statement.
 
Snowe and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio last month told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that they believe China’s handling of its currency should be considered an improper government subsidy under international trade law.
 
The Obama administration has acknowledged it thinks there is a problem with how China deals with its currency, but the treasury department last week said it doesn’t believe the Chinese government is guilty of formal currency manipulation.
 
Michaud charged that the Obama administration, like GOP White Houses in prior years, has done too little to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation. He says the bill would “give us the tools to make China play by the rules. It will defend our manufacturing sector from China’s illegal trade practices, and it will put Americans back to work,” Michaud said.
 
It is unclear how much support the bill will get from House GOP leaders or from Senate Democratic leaders, and given the recent Treasury report the Obama administration clearly will oppose the bill as going, in its view, going too far rather than trying to settle the issue with China through negotiations.
 
Michaud, who chairs the House trade working group, urged congressional leaders to let the legislation reach a floor vote in both chambers.
“For too long we’ve watched Democratic and Republican administrations talk tough about addressing currency manipulation but do little to nothing about it,” Michaud said.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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