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Wheatland Tube takes the hit for weak U.S. trade policy


Published: Mon, March 27, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


That it comes as no surprise makes the news that Wheatland Tube Co. is shutting down its pipe-making operations at its Sharon plant no easier to accept.
What is impossible to accept is the cavalier attitude of the Bush administration toward the livelihood of thousands of American pipe makers, hundreds of whom live in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
The unhappy fate of many of those workers and their families was sealed in the waning days of last year, when President Bush rejected a recommendation of the International Trade Commission that limits be placed on the import of Chinese standard pipe to the United States.
Wheatland Tube's announcement last week that it is closing the Sharon plant will affect 140 workers, including 15 salaried employees. About 60 will be transferred to the Wheatland mill; the others will be laid off.
Bill Kerins, Wheatland's vice president of operations, said: "This is a significant loss to the company, affected employees, their families and the local economy."
Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is booming, and hundreds of workers in that country will be working for pennies on the dollar, making pipe that could have been made in Wheatland.
Four years ago, China sent about 9,000 tons of standard pipe to U.S. markets. By the end of 2005, that amount had increased by a factor of almost 40, to about 360,000 tons.
Bush could have acted
Congress anticipated the possibility of China flooding specific U.S. markets, and so enacted legislation that allows the president to step in when import surges affect the U.S. economy. Evidence was presented to the ITC, which recommended that China be held to 160,000 tons of standard pipe exports to the United States. That is still 20 times what was being imported in 2001, but Bush rejected the recommendation.
In doing so, he sent a message to China that the U.S. pipe market is there for the taking, and China is taking all it can get.
This is the kind of trade police that wins plaudits from the laissez faire set. Just yesterday, columnist George Will, writing from the secure comfort of Washington, where government and media jobs remain safe from the effects of free trade or outsourcing, made a reference to "protectionism [that] operates under the dissimulating label of 'fair trade.'" We see nothing deceptive or dishonest about demanding a little fairness for American workers. And if a measure of protectionism will help protect the American standard of living, so be it.
What is dishonest is pretending that the United States can prosper by importing the largest amount of goods produced at the cheapest prices, while running up enormous trade deficits and amassing trillions of dollars in new national debt.
And, yes, there is a connection between trade deficits and the federal budget deficit, because China and other trading partners (now, there's a dissimulating label) that have huge trade surpluses with the United States are using those dollars to buy U.S. Treasury notes.
It's becoming fair to ask whether this administration is so addicted to running on borrowed money that it dare not take the action necessary to protect American workers from the rapacious trade policy of China, various oil exporting countries and others who are supporting our worst national habits.


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