BEIJING: The United States should “use every arrow” in its quiver to ensure a level commercial playing field in China, a US business lobby said on Tuesday, warning that 2017 could be the toughest year in decades for American firms in the country.

China’s policies designed to support domestic companies and create national champions have narrowed the space for foreign companies, the American Chamber of Commerce in China said in its annual business climate report.

The White House has said US and Chinese officials are fleshing out a pledge by leaders Donald Trump and Xi Jinping for a 100-day plan to cut the US trade deficit with China, which reached $347 billion last year.

But the chamber said it hoped more attention would be paid to market access for American firms in China.

“Right now basically we are recommending everything you have in your quiver — please use every arrow possible, with the understanding that some of these points of leverage could be counterproductive to us,” chamber chairman William Zarit said, referring to possible backlash from Beijing.

He was speaking at a briefing on the report.

US business groups want US officials to act against Beijing on market imbalances, but not push the world’s two largest economies toward a trade war.

Nonetheless, more vociferous complaints by American businesses mark a shift from years past, when many companies eschewed the idea of forceful action by Washington for fear of retribution by China.

Foreign technology companies fear what they see as Beijing’s plans for subsidies of billions of dollars to domestic competitors and regulations that could force the surrender of key technology or hit competitiveness.

“With uncertainty stemming from political and economic transitions in both the US and China, perceptions of a deteriorating investment environment for foreign companies in China, and a slowing economy, 2017 will likely be one of the most challenging years in decades for US companies in China,” the chamber said.

China is committed to further opening its economy, in a process whose speed is “quite visible,” the foreign ministry said.

“China is already one of the most open developing nations,” spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

US business leaders also worry that Trump’s focus on reining in North Korea could undercut US commercial interests in China. Last week, Trump tweeted that Beijing would get a better trade deal if it helped resolve the issue.

“I’m sorry to see there is a possibility we may lose some momentum on helping to level the playing field with China in our economic relationship, due to the situation in North Korea, if there is some kind of trade-off,” Zarit said.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2017

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