Monday 10 August 2009
A Chinese rubber company worker inspects tires at a factory. China is flooding the US market with tire imports. (Photo: Mark Ralston / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)
As the International Trade Commission considers comments on its recommendation to impose tariffs on Chinese tire imports, President Obama stands at a crossroads in the fight to rebuild the American economy.
President Obama has made a commitment in the past to uphold previously signed trade agreements. China, however, is violating these agreements by flooding the market with a massive 300 percent increase in tire imports in an attempt to wipe out American tire manufacturers. In 2004, China sent 14 million tires to the U.S. valued at $453 million. By last year, that had increased to 46 million tires valued at $1.7 billion.
The Chinese are shipping cheaply made tires in an effort that isn't just killing American manufacturing, but also killing people. So far, two people have died as a result of the low quality of some of these Chinese import tires. The U.S. Government has launched a massive of recall of the tire in question, but so far the Chinese manufacturer has refused to cooperate fully with the recall.
So far over 8,000 people have lost their jobs, and over 20,000 more jobs are at risk if the Chinese are allowed to continue with this strategy of not obeying trade laws.
Next month Obama will be challenged to uphold his campaign pledge to enforce current trade laws when a decision on illegal Chinese tire imports came to his desk. Last month, a majority of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found that tariff relief was needed to urgently reduce tire imports because of market disruption. According to the United Steelworkers, between 2004 and the end of this year, more than 8,100 workers in the tire industry have lost or will lose their jobs and another 20,000 jobs are threatened.
Speaking last week, USW President Leo Gerard said that this will "prove to be a test of enforcement of trade laws that China agreed to." A ruling to enforce current U.S. trade laws would mark a clear break with Bush era economic policy. During the Bush Administration the United State International Trade Commission ruled four separate times that China had violated trade law and recommended measures to stop the flow. However, each time Bush refused to obey these recommendations.
If President Obama follows the commission recommendations, it would send a stern message to China that the Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, intends to enforce U.S. trade law. He is expected to decide on September 17, one week before the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. If Obama chooses to enforce tariffs on illegal Chinese competition, that would send a message throughout the world that U.S. intends to enforce trade law.
Unfortunately, corporate lobbyists paid for by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, like former Bush official and Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Robert Portman, are running an aggressive misinformation campaign in attempt to thwart U.S. trade law. These groups have been claiming that limiting tire imports would cost Americans jobs and raise the costs of tires for consumers. However, the United States Commission on Trade found that the total benefits exceed the costs by $884 million.
Chinese importers, in conjunction with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, have ironically formed a lobbying front group ironically named American Coalition for Free Trade in Tires. The coalition is run by Jochum, Shore & Trossevin, a Washington D.C. lobby firm run by former Bush trade officials who are cashing in on their years of U.S. government service to advise foreign competitors. The law firm has used its ties to power to advise Chinese manufacturers on how to get around loopholes in the law. As a result, eight members of Congress wrote a letter this past June calling on the Government Accountability Office to investigate.
Congressman Michael Michaud of Maine said " "Many of these individuals appear to be repaying the investment that the American taxpayers made in them with their hard-earned tax dollars by using the knowledge, expertise and contacts they gained while on the federal payroll in ways that are adverse to the interests of our workers and our producers."
Speaking last week at a factory in Indiana, President Obama said that rebuilding American manufacturing was the key to build a vibrant economy. As President Obama has said previously many times we can't go back to an economy, where 45 percent of our profits come from the financial sector. As Dave Johnson pointed out last week we in his piece "Manufacture or Borrow (Until We Can't)":
"When it comes down to it you can't have a healthy service sector unless you are manufacturing items to sell and trade because you can't pay for the restaurant bill or insurance or hotel room or lawyer or even the doctor if you don't make something to sell and trade. And mostly you can't keep buying the things made elsewhere. You can only borrow for so long."
President Obama has announced bold new initiatives to invest billions of dollars into new green energy initiatives. However, if we don't have to even enforce the current trade laws that we have, American manufacturing will be wiped out by low-wage Chinese manufacturing. As I highlighted previously, companies such as GE have already begun to move so-called green jobs to China already.
The fight over whether to enforce trade laws against illegal Chinese tire imports will set a precedent that the U.S. will enforce previous trade agreements. President Obama has a choice of whether he will side with American workers or corporate lobbyists paid off by China.