The Treasury Department declined to label China a currency manipulator in a new report issued Wednesday, undercutting President Trump's own repeated claims to the contrary.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that China's policies did merit concern, however. The report noted that China has used "widespread non-market mechanisms," improper subsidies, and other unfair practices, indicating the administration had come close to labeling it a manipulator.
"While the currency practices of six countries were found to require close attention, no major U.S. trading partner met the relevant 2015 legislative criteria for enhanced analysis during the period covered by the Report," the department announced Wednesday. "Further, no trading partner was found to have met the 1988 legislative standards during the current reporting period."
Trump has long accused China of manipulating its currency and otherwise violating international rules on trade and commerce, and called for tougher U.S. policies to counter the nation. However, his administration has not officially defined China as a currency manipulator. The Treasury Department also said in a report last year that none of the U.S.' major trading partners were artificially manipulating their currency.
Mnuchin did say that China’s lack of currency transparency was of "particular concern" and that"we will continue to monitor and review China’s currency practices, including through ongoing discussions with the People’s Bank of China."
The report said that the department remains "deeply concerned by this excessive trade imbalance which is exacerbated by persistent non-tariff barriers, widespread non-market mechanisms, the pervasive use of subsidies, and other unfair practices which increasingly distort China’s economic relationship with its trading partners."
Viraj Patel, foreign exchange strategist for ING, tweeted that while the report's suggests the administration came close to breaking with policy and labeling China a manipulator. "[They] have basically given Beijing a yellow card for #FX manipulation. Looks like a final warning!" he tweeted.
Mnuchin implied last week that addressing currency manipulation by China would be part of any deal that they would strike to resolve the ongoing trade war between the countries.
“The renminbi has depreciated significantly during the year," Mnuchin told the Financial Times, referring to China's currency. "There are various factors for that which we look forward to discussing with them."
Those and other comments by the administration had many business groups and activists organizations think that that the latest report might be different. Liberal groups expressed disappointment over the result.
"One of Trump’s most emphatic campaign promises was to declare China a currency manipulator on Day One and crack down on any country misaligning its currency to cheat on trade, but Trump’s Treasury Secretary has chosen to rely on criteria created by the previous administration that ensure no action is taken,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
The administration has engaged in an escalating trade war with China, placing tariffs of between 10 to 25 percent on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, imposing broad-based tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum ones, a policy mainly directed at China, and negotiating a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that limits their ability to negotiate trade deals with Beijing. China has responded with tariffs on $120 billion for of U.S. imports.
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House announced that it intended to pull out of the Universal Postal Union, a United Nations entity that sets rates for international mail, claiming that its rules amount to an effective subsidy to China and other countries that undercut domestic manufacturers.