As President Obama began a two-day bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania on Thursday, the White House announced that the U.S. will file a complaint against China over new duties it has levied on American cars and trucks.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the dispute, to be filed with the World Trade Organization, involves $3 billion worth of auto exports. China began imposing the duties following the Obama-led bailout of the auto industry.
“As we have made clear, the Obama administration will continue to fight to ensure that China does not misuse its trade laws and violate its international trade commitments to block exports of American-made products,” Kirk said in a statement. “American auto workers and manufacturers deserve a level playing field and we are taking every step necessary to stand up for them.”
In March, the Obama administration filed a complaint against China for allegedly hoarding rare earth minerals.
The campaign of Republican rival Mitt Romney was quick to respond. "Governor Romney supports this effort to confront China at the WTO over its unfair trade practices. But President Obama's election-year conversion on China is just the latest in a long string of disappointments and broken promises that he is trying to hide from the American people," said policy director Lanhee Chen.
Maintaining that Obama has not addressed China's theft of American intellectual property, or opening Chinese markets for American goods and services, Chen added: "The American people are looking for a leader who will stand up to China and demand that they play by the rules, not one who will carefully time his actions to coincide with bus tours through swing states in the last months of his term."
Obama campaigned later in Maumee, Ohio. White House spokesman Jay Carney denied the announcement was timed for the event near Toledo, where the Jeep Wrangler is made.
"The fact is this is an action that has been in development for quite a long time," he told reporters. "It simply can’t suddenly be a political action because it happens during the campaign."