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Obama eyes more money for China trade enforcement

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, on the eve of a high-level Chinese visit to the United States, proposed $26 million in new funding to make sure China and other countries play by the rules of international trade.

"This is designed to increase our capacity to bring additional trade cases that will level the playing field against countries around the world, including China," White House economic advisor Gene Sperling told reporters on Monday.

The increased funding would be used to hire 50 to 60 new people and improve the coordination of U.S. government action against unfair foreign trade practices, he said.

The administration also proposed increasing funding for the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration by 14 percent to $517 million to help meet Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014.

Obama first outlined his plan for an interagency trade enforcement center last month in a speech to Congress.

He took particular aim at China, which he accused of lavishing subsidies on its companies and not doing enough to stop counterfeiting of American goods.

The budget proposal comes as China's likely next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, is headed to the United States for talks on Tuesday with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials.

The visit also comes on the heels of trade data on Friday, which showed the U.S. trade deficit with China widened again in 2011 to a record $295.5 billion.

'PRIMARY FORUM'

Acting Commerce Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank said $24 million of the new funding would go to the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration (ITA) and the remaining $2 million to the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

The ITA houses the Foreign Commercial Service, which gathers intelligence on foreign markets and promotes U.S. exports around the world, and the Import Administration, which handles anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases.

The new interagency unit "will serve as the primary forum within the federal government for executive department and agencies to coordinate their enforcement of international and domestic trade rules," Blank said.

Further details will follow in several weeks, including where the new workers will be assigned, but "the idea is that USTR and ITA together are going to help set this up," she said.

Republicans welcomed the emphasis on enforcement, but were waiting for more details about the new unit.

"In addition, enforcement is only one side of the trade equation. We must still push forward aggressively with opening new markets," said House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, expressing disappointment there was little in Obama's budget on that front.

The Obama administration has filed five cases against China at the World Trade Organization since taking office in January 2009. It also used for the first time a special "safeguard" measure to curb tire imports from China and has slapped countervailing and anti-dumping duties on a number of Chinese goods it says were subsidized or unfairly priced.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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