business

Blog Trade Tackles U.S.-China Talks

Not much has leaked through the doors of the high-powered trade discussions, but that hasn't stopped bloggers from doing their thing

Since U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson began talks with Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi and much of the rest of the Beijing Cabinet in Washington Tuesday morning, there has been a notable lack of hard news from the front lines. Sure, there were the obligatory opening speeches, with Paulson warning that Americans are an impatient bunch and will want to see some real progress, and Wu responding that the negotiations should be carried out calmly. Then the doors were shut, and the real work started.

The news blackout, though, has hardly stopped the chatter online, since almost everyone in the U.S. has a stake in the outcome of the talks. The U.S., of course, hopes to achieve what it considers a leveling of the economic playing field, while China aims to avoid making significant changes in its policy, but risks further rankling Congress.

Just about every American company has skin in the game. Microsoft (MSFT) wants to see China crack down on counterfeit software, and studios such as Sony (SNE) and Disney (DIS) are seeking a clampdown on movie piracy. And while many small manufacturers would like to see China's currency strengthen, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Home Depot (HD) are more likely to benefit from a continued weak yuan since they import so many products from China. With so much on the line, the U.S.-China trade relationship is always sure to get the bloggers hot under the collar.

China's Upper Hand

At Tokatakiya, a layman-friendly assortment of politically themed posts, blogger "Robb" expresses mixed feelings about the talks. In Robb's estimation, "…the growth of the Chinese economy is a good thing, if you care about poverty." However, he recognizes the great loss China's economic growth represents to U.S. trade interests. In an engaging commentary, Robb gave advice to American officials to remember that "No matter what comes out of these trade talks… everything China does, it does for China—I'm not judging that as being right or wrong, it's just a fact."

All Roads Lead to China, an all-things-China market blog, is at once hopeful and skeptical about the talks. All Roads sees China as having a distinct advantage over the U.S. both in terms of its current position in the trade relationship and its chances for maintaining that position. The blog also offers advice and admonitions for both Chinese and American officials: "For the U.S. team, it is going to be imperative to find common ground quickly…. For the Chinese side…they will need to take some of their own medicine and take the long view on the relationship."

An Opening for Candidates

The finance-oriented BloggingBuyouts takes a wider view of the U.S.-China relationship, connecting the trade talks with China's recent investment in the Blackstone Group (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/21/07, "China's $3 Billion Bet on Blackstone") as well as the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections.

The blog contends that "China's $3 billion investment in The Blackstone Group is bound to cause ripples across the crowded field of Presidential contenders." While the post doesn't delve too deeply into the notion, blogger Jonathan Berr notes that given the unpopularity of both China and hedge funds these days, "combining these two political bogeymen creates a target that's too good for any Presidential candidate to pass up."

At The Huffington Post, union leader Scott Paul views the talks not so much as an opportunity for negotiation, but as one of many steps the U.S. must take to compel China to abide by international trade laws. Paul cites a litany of China's illegal trade practices: "subsidies, dumping, currency manipulation, violation of labor rights, and lax or nonexistent environmental enforcement."

Paul points out what he calls an "artificial" divide between Americans who are pro-China and Americans who are anti-China. That division is obsolete in the face of "cold, hard facts" indicating that China's trade practices are not only hurting the U.S., but are also illegal. Until Washington enforces the rules that would protect its citizens, Paul claims, the U.S. economy will continue to suffer.

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