WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States filed a complaint Tuesday with the World Trade Organization that says China violated international trade rules when it imposed tariffs last year on U.S. chicken exports.
The tariffs affect an industry that employs about 300,000 people, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said. They ranged from 50 to 100 percent, a U.S. trade official said. That means some Chinese importers paid as much as twice the price for U.S. chicken.
"We will not stand still if we believe that China has violated its commitments as a WTO member and is therefore threatening American jobs," Kirk said.
The case is one of several that U.S. trade officials have filed against China this year at the WTO. The United States has also filed complaints about Chinese tariffs on steel products and its subsidies of wind power equipment.
The Obama administration has faced pressure to take a tougher line with China. Democrats in the Senate are pushing legislation that would impose sanctions on China for keeping its currency artificially low. That makes China's exports to the United States cheaper and U.S. exports more expensive in China.
China imposed the poultry tariffs in September 2010. It said U.S. chicken producers benefited from subsidies and were exporting their goods to China at unfairly low prices. Countries are allowed to impose punitive tariffs to offset both practices, but U.S. officials said China didn't follow proper procedures when it imposed them.
The tariffs were imposed on Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim's Pride, Keystone Foods and many smaller companies, said Toby Moore, a spokesman for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, a trade group.
China was one of the top two markets for U.S. chicken exports before the tariffs were imposed. The other was Russia. Since then, exports have dropped 90 percent, trade officials said. That could cost more than $1 billion over two years.
The industry exported $647 million worth of chicken to China in 2009, Moore said.
Once a country files a trade complaint, the two nations negotiate for 60 days. If they are unable to reach agreement, the WTO launches its dispute settlement proceedings.
It generally takes about 18 to 24 months for the WTO to resolve a trade dispute.
Associated Press Writer Chi-Chi Zang contributed to this report.