Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Strengthening trade enforcement is key to strengthening American manufacturing.

Washington Mills, a maker of abrasive and fused minerals used by a wide range of industries, had to reduce its prices to “unprofitable levels.”

Verso Corporation, which makes a variety of paper products, was forced to reduce its operations across the country and even closed facilities, leading to hundreds of layoffs.

Vaughan-Bassett, a furniture manufacturer in Virginia, struggled to hang on as Chinese manufacturers dumped products into the United States, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of furniture industry layoffs nationwide.  

All of these companies are victims of unfair trade — and all were forced to file expensive trade cases to merely have a chance to fairly compete.

Representatives from the three companies were among those who shared their stories at a special Congressional briefing on Thursday sponsored by the Committee to Support U.S. Trade Laws. The briefing focused on the critical importance of enforcing America’s trade laws, which help level the playing field for American manufacturers dealing with the real world impact of unfair trade.

The common thread throughout the briefing was that American manufacturers aren’t looking to use the trade laws to gain a tactical advantage. Rather, they found themselves forced to file trade cases because their foreign competition had received unfair and illegal advantages, like being heavily subsidized by foreign governments.

“The trade laws are not an alternative to doing our job,” said Wyatt Bassett, the chief executive officer of Vaughan-Bassett. The laws “just give us the chance to do our job.”

It’s not just industrial manufacturers that depend on trade enforcement to survive. Danny Walker, the chief executive officer of Heartland Catfish Company, shared how unfair imports of frozen catfish from Vietnam nearly decimated the U.S. industry, which employs thousands of workers in states like Mississippi and Louisiana.  

Catfish producers filed trade cases seeking relief. After conducting an investigation, the Commerce Department issued anti-dumping duties to level the playing field for U.S. catfish farmers. But it now appears the Vietnamese are “rigging the system,” including by misreporting facts and diverting exports to get around the duties (such as sending product through another nation before it arrives in the United States).

“There will be no U.S. industry if cheating is unabated,” Walker warned.

Perhaps no organization is more familiar with the trade fight than the United Steelworkers (USW), who have filed 50 trade cases (and counting) in the past six years on behalf of workers in a variety of industries. Holly Hart, the USW’s legislative director and assistant to the International President, noted that the union’s motivation isn’t to protect profit margins but to stand up for workers, who often work in communities that depend on manufacturing to survive. 

When a paper factory closes, for example, the laid-off workers often find themselves stuck. “Where the heck do these people go to get jobs? They’ve lived there for generations,” Hart said.

Notably, the USW has worked alongside several American steel companies for years to file trade cases to fight China’s unfair dumping of steel products into the U.S. market. Tens of thousands of American steelworkers have been laid off since 2015 because of China’s massive steel overcapacity, which has caused a global crisis. 

The union and steel companies filed several trade cases seeking relief, and the Commerce Department levied appropriate duties, Hart said. That trade enforcement has allowed companies to begin to re-open facilities and bring back some laid-off workers, including at U.S. Steel's facility in Granite City and on Minnesota’s famed Iron Range, which closed because of the steel crisis.

“Those mines are starting to open,” Hart said. “It’s just a trickle — but it’s starting.”