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Chinese tire makers criticized by United Steelworkers union

By LOU WILIN
STAFF WRITER

The union representing Findlay’s Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. factory workers has accused Chinese tire makers of unfairly stealing customers and asked the federal government to impose tariffs.

United Steelworkers on Tuesday filed petitions with the International Trade Commission and Commerce Department, accusing Chinese companies of charging less than market value for car, light truck and sport utility vehicle tires in the U.S. The Chinese companies charge market value for the same tires in their own country, the union alleges.

It also alleges the Chinese government gives its companies export subsidies so they can afford the predatory practice, said Gary Hubbard, public affairs director for United Steelworkers, Washington, D.C.

Cooper Tire’s Findlay and Texarkana, Arkansas, factories make tires for light trucks and sport utility vehicles, said Rod Nelson, president of Local 207L, United Steelworkers. Cooper Tire’s Tupelo, Mississippi, factory makes car tires, he said.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is reviewing the United Steelworkers case, but said it would be premature to comment yet.

For 2013, Cooper sold 13 percent fewer car, light truck and sport utility vehicle tires in the United States.

It rebounded somewhat in this year’s January-March quarter, selling 6.8 percent more car, light truck and sport utility vehicle tires in the United States than a year earlier. But it had to cut prices to do that. So profit in North America declined by 4 percent last quarter.

“We’ve got some of the most highly-skilled, highly-productive workers at the Findlay plant,” Nelson said. “China has to play by our rules if they want to compete in our market.”

“We just want China to play by the rules they agreed to when they joined the World Trade Organization,” Hubbard said.

If Chinese companies are allowed to continue as they are, “they will destroy our economy one sector at a time,” Hubbard said.

Resolving the case could take over a year. The Commerce Department will decide later this month if it will investigate whether the Chinese companies are selling tires below market value and whether the Chinese government is enabling it.

If the Commerce Department proceeds, then the International Trade Commission will probe whether the Chinese tire imports injure or threaten tire makers in the U.S.

If both agencies find in the affirmative, then it would be up to the Commerce Department to impose a tariff, said Peg O’Laughlin, public affairs officer for the U.S. International Trade Commission.

United Steelworkers prevailed on federal officials to impose tariffs from fall 2009 to fall 2012. But since the tariffs expired, unfairly priced Chinese tire imports have flooded the U.S. market, said Leo W. Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International. “Domestic tire producers have been rapidly losing market share over the last two years,” he said. “Simply put, China is stealing American jobs and the Steelworkers intend to fight for every one of those jobs.”

Chinese tire imports have more than doubled to 50.8 million tires last year, United Steelworkers said. In the first quarter of 2014, imported tires from China surged an additional 24.6 percent.

“China is expanding its industry and has targeted the U.S. market as the place to dump product and subsidize sales,” said Tim Conway, vice president of United Steelworkers International. “As China expands production and increases employment in this sector, it is our workers who pay the price with job losses.”

Wilin: 419-427-8413
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