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Lawmaker vows look at China trade "abuses"

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican lawmaker Wednesday said he planned to turn up the pressure on China over a long list of trade "abuses" after Congress returns from its upcoming August recess.

"China ... flagrantly disregards its international obligations and seeks to impede fair commerce at every opportunity," House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp said in a speech.

Camp told reporters he was concerned about Beijing's currency practices, which many U.S. lawmakers and economists believe gives Chinese companies an unfair advantage.

But he said Congress had made a mistake in the past by focusing exclusively on that issue when there were "far larger" concerns. He promised a broad hearing on China trade concerns before deciding if legislation was needed.

"China blatantly steals the intellectual property of American businesses and grossly subsidizes domestic industries -- and its list of trade abuses goes on and on," he said.

Shortly after Camp's speech, the Senate unanimously approved outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Locke, a former Washington state governor, has pledged to press China to open its market to more U.S. goods and services, move to a more flexible currency exchange rate and increase action against counterfeiting of American products.

The U.S.-China Business Council, which represents roughly 240 American companies that do business in China, said it looked forward to working with Locke to increase sales to the fast-growing China market.

But the group, which fought efforts last year in the House to pass legislation aimed at Beijing's currency practice, also noted China is already the United States's third-largest export market, with sales projected to top $100 billion this year.

"Add in our exports to Hong Kong and sales of products and services made by American companies with operations on the ground, China is probably getting close to a $200 billion market for U.S. companies. Those are numbers that matter to American jobs and economic growth," the group said.

Camp also criticized the White House for delaying work on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with China because administration officials "can't decide how to treat labor issues" that would arise in the talks.

The administration of former President George W. Bush, a Republican, began negotiations with China on a BIT. But those have been on hold since shortly after Obama, a Democrat, took office in January 2009 to review concerns raised by the AFL-CIO labor federation and other groups that criticized Bush's approach.

As a result, "we are sitting on the sidelines while our trading partners are aggressively moving forward," Camp said.

Many have already signed investment agreements with China that give their investors more rights in China than U.S. investors have, while others like the European Union have announced plans to begin talks with Beijing, he said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh and Eric Walsh)

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