China's trading range for its currency fell slightly against the dollar Thursday, after U.S. lawmakers passed a bill that would open the way for punitive tariffs on Chinese products sold in the United States.
The Chinese central bank set the yuan's daily reference rate at 6.7011 from Wednesday's 6.6936. The move came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at pressing Beijing to boost the value of the yuan.
It has risen about 2 percent since Beijing ended its peg to the dollar in June. China now allows the yuan to move modestly within a tight reference range set daily.
But Thursday there was muted market reaction to the bill, which, if passed by the Senate, would allow the U.S. Commerce Department to impose punitive tariffs on products from countries that manipulate their exchange rates. U.S. officials say those countries include China.
Stephen Schwartz, an economist at the bank BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) in Hong Kong, expects limited economic effect in China should the bill become law.
"If this thing were to go through and as I said I view this as unlikely," Schwartz noted, "but if it were, it will probably cover a small range of products and a small percentage of China's trade with the U.S. I wouldn't expect, at least in the initial stage, that there to be a large meaningful economic impact. Its impact would be more symbolic I think in that it changes the nature and tone of the debate on trade and the currency issue."
The bill is expected to be debated in the Senate after the November mid-term elections.
The U.S. and China this week slapped higher tariffs on goods that they say the other is dumping onto their markets. China raised tariffs on U.S. poultry products, while the U.S. did the same for Chinese-made copper pipes and tubes. Schwartz at BBVA says protectionism would be damaging to both economies.
U.S. officials are worried about the country's large trade deficit with China - which means the U.S. buys more than it sells to China. In July the deficit stood at $25.9 billion, the second highest monthly figure this year. This has allowed China to become the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries, estimated at some $850 billion.
To correct the imbalance, U.S. officials have called on China to hasten the appreciation of the yuan, which Washington says has been set too low and thus kept Chinese exports unfairly cheap.
But Beijing says it will allow the yuan to rise only gradually. In October, the U.S. Treasury Department will release a report that may label China as a currency manipulator.
Stocks in Shanghai rose Thursday, but market analysts say it was because of expectations that the government will take new measures to curb property prices.