US anger mounts over Chinese exchange rate

US lawmakers tore into China for what they said was the country's manipulation of its currency, which they said has been kept artificially low against the dollar to boost its manufacturing sector at the expense of American jobs.

A belligerent hearing of the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee yesterday was part of a renewed drive for new laws that could put duties on Chinese imports. Politicians on Capitol Hill signalled they are increasingly frustrated at the White House's refusal officially to declare China a "currency manipulator", a move that would trigger sanctions.

Under pressure, the Obama administration said last night it was referring two new disputes with China to the World Trade Organisation. One case covers barriers to American credit-card companies that want to participate in China's electronic payments market, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said. The other case challenges duties China imposed on a steel product from the US.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is due to testify on the currency issue before Congress today. Last week, he accused the Chinese of doing "very, very little" to address the level of the renminbi.

Sander Levin, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he wants to enlist other countries to pressure China, but he also endorsed the use of duties against Beijing's currency practices. "I believe a multilateral approach would be the most likely to yield the broadest results. Many nations are harmed by mercantilist exchange rate policies, not only the US," he said.