We were all primed for the release of the Treasury’s global currency report this afternoon, which would have included a ruling on whether China was a currency manipulator. But a decision was taken to delay the report until after the Group of 20 summit in Seoul in mid-November.
Pressure from lawmakers and business had been mounting on President Barack Obama to act, but the delay shouldn’t come as a big surprise. After all, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress last month he wanted to rally the G20 around the issue and take a multilateral approach. Perhaps more importantly, the administration is conveniently ducking the issue until after the Nov. 2 congressional elections.
Some Democrats, who have made China’s currency practices an issue in their campaigns, are disappointed today. Our Breakingviews columnist James Pethokoukis says Obama should be given credit for resisting populist pressures for the second time this week, after also declining to heed appeals to impose a national moratorium on home foreclosures.
That may be true but Obama also knows no amount of populism is going to help his party in the midterms, and he is already looking ahead.
It is safe to assume the president wants to avoid starting the second half of his term embroiled in a damaging trade war with China, which also happens to be the largest holder of U.S. government debt. The administration clearly thinks a direct confrontation would be counterproductive, make the Chinese dig in their heels and, if they stop buying U.S. debt, potentially push up long-term interest rates. There are also big issues to address around market access and intellectual property rights, which confrontation would have obscured.