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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

First steel, now aluminum. Another industry is forced to fight back against import dumping.

We know you’ve heard the story before.

China heavily subsidizes this industrial sector, which in turn churns out far more product than the entire world can consume. But because China doesn’t want to scale back its own production, it prices those products far below fair market value – and then dumps them into the U.S. market. That leads to thousands of U.S. layoffs and facilities to shut down nationwide.

Normally when we tell this story here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), we’re talking about the ongoing steel imports crisis. But it is not just steel that has been impacted by China’s unfair trade – a bunch of industries have, including aluminum.

And now the American aluminum industry is fighting back.

Last week, The Aluminum Association filed its first-ever trade case against China, petitioning for antidumping and countervailing duties charging that unfairly traded imports of certain aluminum foil are harming U.S. producers, leading to layoffs and plant closures. 

The association, which filed claims concurrently with both the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission, alleges that Chinese aluminum producers benefit from 27 separate government subsidy programs and say antidumping margins ranging from 38 to 134 percent of the value of the imported aluminum foil.

The foil in question includes the household kind you probably use in your kitchen to wrap up leftovers, but also foil that is used in cookware, product packaging, automotive and HVAC heat exchangers and other uses, according to the association.

U.S. aluminum manufacturers produced 84 percent of the aluminum foil consumed in the United States just 12 years ago. Today, that number has dropped to 69 percent. Chinese imports, meanwhile, grew from 0 percent of the U.S. market in 2004 to 22 percent of the market today; imports from China have grown by nearly 40 percent since 2014 alone.

While the Aluminum Association filed the trade case, the United Steelworkers union – which represents aluminum workers across the country – also issued a statement of support.

“China has ravaged the entire aluminum sector with its unfair trade. Its rising overcapacity has depressed world prices, making it increasingly difficult for companies that abide by market economics to survive," they write.

“Even while [the] case is being field, China’s predatory practices are devastating manufacturers of aluminum, steel and other products across the globe. We shouldn’t have to fight for domestic production and jobs on a case-by-case basis. Workers deserve better.”

As is the case with steel and other commodities, U.S. aluminum manufacturers and workers must prove they have suffered injury as a result of unfair trade before they can file a trade case. As a result, even when manufacturers and workers win relief, they often do not return to where they once were. 

The steel industry, for example, has handily won a slew of its trade cases in recent years. But because so much damage had been done, the industry continues to struggle to bounce back – of 2,000 workers laid off at U.S. Steel’s Granite City facility because of the imports crisis, for example, just a couple hundred have been called back so far.

“This case should be coupled with a broader effort to eliminate unfair trade in aluminum products and across other industries,” the Steelworkers note. “However, until our government finds other avenues to stand up for workers, there is no choice but to use the tools we have.”