New US unit to probe 'unfair trade practices' in China

US President Barack Obama, right, greeted by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at Capital International Airport in Beijing on 16 November 2009 President Obama (right) will meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping next month

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US President Barack Obama has announced a new body to investigate unfair trade practices in countries such as China.

''I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules,'' he said.

He was speaking in his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night in Washington DC.

During his presidency, he added, the US had ''brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate'' of the previous administration.

''Over 1,000 Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tyres,'' he said.

But he said more needed to be done to ensure that foreign companies did not get an unfair advantage over US manufacturers, and to stop piracy of US content and products.

"Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China," he said.

There would be more inspections to stop ''counterfeit or unsafe goods'' from entering the US, he added.

''Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you - America will always win,'' he said.

The annual, nationally televised State of the Union speech is one of the most watched events in US politics, in which the president lays out policies for the year.

Mr Obama will be seeking re-election in the upcoming presidential race in November.

US: 'Pacific power'

His announcement of the trade enforcement unit comes weeks before China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, is scheduled to visit the White House.

Delicate issues involving trade and security are expected to surface in the 14 February meeting.

Mr Xi is widely expected to to take over the Communist Party leadership role from President Hu Jintao at the end of this year, and become president when Mr Hu retires next year.

The two leaders will discuss "a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues", said an earlier statement from the White House.

Washington has been putting pressure on China over the value of its currency and observers expect Mr Obama to reiterate the call for Beijing to allow the yuan to appreciate.

China, on the other hand, has voiced concern over the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and displeasure over arms sales to Taiwan, which it still claims as a province.

''We have made it clear that America is a Pacific power,'' said Mr Obama in the part of his speech touching on foreign policy.

He was unequivocal about the position of the US as a global power.

''Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about,'' he said.

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