Mercer County fights Chinese steel
The county wants federal help to prevent dumping of pipes on U.S. markets.
MERCER, Pa. -- Chinese tube and pipe imports are hurting Mercer County, and county commissioners added their voices Thursday to the chorus of those trying to help local manufacturers.
Mercer County has three tube and pipe operations: Wheatland Tube in Wheatland; the former Sawhill Tubular Division, Wheatland, which was bought by Wheatland Tube in 2002; and Sharon Tube Co., Sharon.
Commissioners passed a resolution at their meeting Thursday asking the president and Congress to utilize all available trade remedy laws to prevent dumping of steel pipes, tubes and fittings on U.S. markets.
They stated in their resolution that pipe and tube imports from China have increased from 9,800 tons to 267,000 tons from 2002 to 2004, and that the American steel tube, pipe and fitting industry could collapse without immediate action.
Wheatland Tube's vice president of operations, William Kerins, said that the company, a major county employer with a $750 million annual payroll, had major cutbacks in salaried and hourly work force as a result of "stiff competition" from abroad.
China, he pointed out, accounts in the most recent available figures, for 35 percent of imports of the size and product type of pipe manufactured here.
Kerins said almost 200 of the company's employees lost jobs last year due to a sharp decline in business. He said the loss of these jobs, which averaged $40,000 or $45,000 with benefits, was a significant blow to the local economy.
Kerins said his company has consolidated operations and invested in multimillion-dollar improvements and can compete on a level playing field.
However, he said they cannot compete against Chinese manufacturers who are subsidized by their government and can sell their finished product 30 percent to 40 percent cheaper.
He said government enforcement of trade laws would solve the problem. However, he said that China is considered a nonmarket economy, which puts it under special provisions in the trade laws. He said one other hurdle is that government enforcement also depends on proof that injury has been done to American industries.
Kerins said Mercer County is significant in the pipe and tubing industry because it has the only existing U.S. plants which use the continuous butt-weld process to make the pipe.
He said every expression of support helps and added the industry has received many such resolutions from local municipalities.
In addition, he said Congressman Phil English has been working hard to push the administration to support trade protection for the industry, and that state officials, including Sen. Bob Robbins and Mike Gruitza, have introduced bills as well.