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US creates new trade unit, targets China
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 28, 2012

The US took direct aim at China Tuesday with the establishment of a new agency to crack down on what Washington judges unfair practices by its major trade partners.

President Barack Obama ordered the creation of the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center charged with "robust monitoring and enforcement of US rights under international trade agreements."

The agency will come under the office of the US Trade Representative and intensify coordination between multiple agencies, including US intelligence, to enforce US trade rights.

Obama, who faces an economy struggling to gain footing and election-year pressure to be tough on Beijing, said Tuesday that the new office "will bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to investigate and counter unfair trade practices around the world, including by countries like China."

"American workers are the best workers on Earth, and when the playing field is level, I promise you -- America will always win," he said in a Washington speech to auto workers.

The center will gather expertise from across the administration, including trade litigators, researchers fluent in foreign languages, representatives from various intelligence agencies, economic analysts and personnel based abroad, according to Obama's assistant for international economic affairs Michael Froman.

The US Trade Representative Ron Kirk will select the director of the body while the secretary of commerce will choose a deputy.

Kirk said the office is to examine the practice of all US trade partners, but in numerous examples administration officials only cited China, which last year racked up a massive $295.5 billion advantage in bilateral trade with the US.

Imports from China accounted for 40 percent of the total US deficit.

"The president made clear that we will not stand by when our foreign trade partners do not play by international rules" said Froman.

The agency will bring "a more dedicated whole-of-government approach" to trade complaints.

While appearing to double up on the efforts of several government agencies already pursuing trade complains, USTR general counsel Tim Reif said the new move will "enhance our ability to address these problems more fully and more quickly."

"This entity is ready to hit the ground running," Reif said.

The agency already has cases to deal with, he said, but would not specify which cases.

The ITEC is being created as Obama's Republican rivals step up their accusations ahead of November's presidential election that he has been soft on Beijing.

But US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Tuesday that the administration has been more aggressive than any before it.

Since Obama came to office in January 2009, he said, "We brought cases on China at essentially twice the rate of the previous seven years."

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China signs deal for mega mosque in Algeria
Algiers (AFP) Feb 28, 2012
Algeria signed a deal with a Chinese construction giant on Tuesday for the building of a vast new one billion euro mosque that is expected to be the third largest in the world. Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah declared that the grand mosque which will overlook the seafront in the east of Algiers would be a "one-of-a-kind". "There will be nothing like it in the world - ... read more

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