Raising the stakes in an increasingly bitter trade spat, China threatened on Thursday to raise import duties on some U.S. products following a World Trade Organization ruling that Washington’s tariffs on steel are illegal.

Beijing also said it was delaying the departure of an official trade delegation bound for the United States — a trip that was to follow up last week’s $6 billion buying spree by a similar delegation.

And it summoned U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt for the second time in two days so it could express its “deep regret and firm opposition” to new U.S. import quotas on Chinese textiles, the government said through its Xinhua News Agency.

Vice Commerce Minister Ma Xiuhong called on the United States to lift its steel tariffs, imposed in March 2002 to protect U.S. steel manufacturers but declared unlawful by the WTO this month.

“If the United States did not observe the WTO ruling, China would raise the tariffs of some U.S. products and plans to do so were under discussion,” Xinhua reported, citing Ma. The agency’s Web site, Xinhuanet, used slightly stronger language, saying China “is going to raise tariffs on some U.S. imports, and plans are being studied.”

Neither report said which American imports would be affected.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans refused to comment Thursday on the Bush administration’s plans regarding steel, but said the United States would not tolerate unfair business and trade practices by China.

Speaking outside talks in Miami for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, Evans said the United States wouldn’t put up with a Chinese economy that had 50 percent of all businesses state-owned and high levels of counterfeit goods.

“We will fight very hard for a level playing field,” he said. “We are all going to play by the same rules.”

The United States estimates that its trade deficit with China will expand to more than $120 billion this year. Tensions between the nations have grown in recent months as Washington pushes Beijing to loosen controls on its currency and American businesses criticize the growing trade imbalance.

Beijing had been hoping to use the shopping expeditions to counter growing U.S. discontent with China’s trade surplus.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao didn’t elaborate on why China delayed a U.S.-bound trade delegation other than to say that it was for technical reasons. Last week’s trade delegation signed deals to purchase U.S. automobiles, jet engines and commercial aircraft worth more than $6 billion.

Evans said Chinese officials told the United States they were working to battle counterfeit goods and enforce trade rules across China, but that it was sometimes difficult to make sure that local officials complied.

On Monday, the U.S. Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements voted to invoke safeguard measures on articles from China, including knitted fabrics and bras. China decried the agreement and said it “reserved the right to lodge lawsuits” through the WTO.

On Wednesday, China summoned Randt “to express concerns over the U.S. decision on imposing quotas,” Xinhua said.

According to Xinhua, Vice Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong told Randt that “the Chinese government is shocked at and expresses dissatisfaction with the U.S. decision, which had been made despite strong opposition from the Chinese side.”

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said Randt had “assured Vice Minister Zhou that he would pass the Chinese concerns on to Washington.” It didn’t say whether Randt had indeed been summoned.

In a dispatch Thursday evening, Xinhua said Randt had been summoned again, this time by Ma, the vice commerce minister.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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