By LOU WILIN
Federal officials are investigating a complaint by unionized Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. workers that Chinese tire makers have unfairly stolen U.S. customers.
The case could take a year to resolve. It could result in the Commerce Department imposing a tariff on imports of Chinese tires.
Doing nothing will mean job losses at U.S. tire plants, said Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International, which represents Cooper Tire’s Findlay and Texarkana, Arkansas, factory workers.
“Domestic tire producers have been rapidly losing market share over the last two years,” Gerard said.
“Simply put, China is stealing American jobs and the Steelworkers intend to fight for every one of those jobs.”
Chinese companies have charged less than market value for car, light truck and sport utility vehicle tires in the U.S., the United Steelworkers alleged. The Chinese companies have charged market value for the same tires in their own country, the union alleged.
It also alleged the Chinese government gives its companies export subsidies so they can afford the predatory practice, said Gary Hubbard, public affairs director for United Steelworkers in 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. said it would be premature to comment on the union complaint.
The union’s allegations were filed six weeks ago. The Commerce Department this week reported it will investigate whether Chinese companies are selling tires below market value and whether the Chinese government is enabling it. Simultaneously, the International Trade Commission will probe whether the Chinese tire imports injure or threaten U.S. tire makers.
If both agencies find in the affirmative, then the Commerce Department will impose a tariff, said Tim Truman, supervisory public affairs specialist for the International Trade Administration of the Commerce Department.
United Steelworkers prevailed on federal officials to impose tariffs from fall 2009 to fall 2012. But since those tariffs expired, unfairly priced Chinese tire imports have flooded the U.S. market, Gerard said.
For 2013, Cooper sold 13 percent fewer car, light truck and sport utility 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 that quarter.
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