updated 1/12/2005 9:08:49 AM ET 2005-01-12T14:08:49

China's commerce minister told Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans on Wednesday that the American's four-year tenure has been only 70 percent successful. The minister also said he regrets that Washington hasn't granted China a trade status that would lessen scrutiny of Chinese export prices.

The pointed comments came as Evans, who is due to leave office shortly, began a three-day visit aimed at pressing China to do more to stop rampant product piracy.

"Judging from the view of friends and judging from the achievements of your work, I should say that 70 percent of what you have done has been pretty good," said Commerce Minister Bo Xilai.

A visibly uncomfortable Evans responded with surprise.

"Oh, hey, that's almost flunking," he said. "That's almost failure."

Later, Evans told The Associated Press that Bo meant the comment as praise.

"You know, his answer to me was that Deng Xiaoping only gave himself a grade of 70 percent, so he said he was complimenting me on a job well done," Evans said. Deng was considered China's paramount leader until his death in 1997.

Bo also expressed regret at Washington's decision not to grant China market economy status during Evans' term in office. Such a designation would make it harder for American companies to win claims that Chinese competitors are setting unfairly low prices on goods sold in U.S. market.

Bo said the designation would show that the United States is "willing to promote its trade with China on a free and fair footing."

"I say it's regrettable too," Evans said. "But it's his problem, it's not my problem. ... I wish they were a market economy, but they haven't done enough of the reforms yet that would qualify them for market economy status."

Evans said in a speech to business leaders at the American Chamber of Commerce that countries seeking such the designation "must end government intervention and allow market forces to drive their economies."

He also said China needed to do more overall to push the bilateral relationship forward.

"When Chinese leaders fail to produce results on points of friction and our trading relationship, their failure only empowers those critics within the U.S. political system who seek to roll back the level of economic engagement," Evans said.

Evans was also to attend an intellectual property rights round-table.

The administration of President Bush wants stiff prison sentences for property rights offenders and other "tough criminal actions against those responsible for the thefts," he said.

U.S. officials say such piracy costs companies worldwide as much as $50 billion a year in lost sales and have threatened China with possible sanctions.

Despite recent crackdowns, knockoffs of everything from medicines to DVDs are still readily available at a fraction of the original prices in China.

Carlos Gutierrez, head of U.S. cereal giant Kellogg Co., is the president's nominee to replace Evans. He is awaiting Senate approval to take over the office.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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