Ohio’s two United States sena- tors — Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican — appear to have come up with a winning strategy in their battles against unfair trade practices.
About a month after the U.S. Department of Commerce, at the urging of Brown and Portman, ruled that anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese steel-pipe products were justified, the senators are relishing a victory on the world stage.
This week, the World Trade Organization ruled that China has violated international trade by hoarding rare earth materials, tungsten, and molybdenum, thereby hurting American manufacturers.
A couple of years ago, Brown and Portman urged the Office of the United States Trade Representative to initiate a WTO case against China. The Obama administration responded in March 2012 by challenging China’s practice of blocking exports of rare materials. The European Union and Japan joined the U.S. in its action.
“This is excellent news for Ohio and American manufacturers,” Brown said. “Manufacturing is the backbone of the American economy. But in order for our industry to compete, it needs a level playing field.”
“Manufacturing is an important part of Ohio’s economy, and I’m pleased that the trade court has ruled against China’s blatantly discriminatory behavior that hurts Ohio workers,” Portman said. “I will continue to strongly support efforts to ensure that Ohio workers are able to operate on a level playing field around the world.”
The WTO ruling is significant because rare earth elements and other metals that are mostly found in China are essential for high-technology manufacturing. By restricting their export, China not only has artificially boosted the cost, but also has given domestic manufacturers an unfair advantage.
The WTO rightly dismissed the argument from the Chinese that they’re restricting the mining of the elements to protect the environment. The smog ridden city of Beijing and other heavily populated, industrialized regions give lie to the contention that the Chinese are concerned about the environment.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. is almost totally dependent on China for the metals. The Obama administration, along with the European Union and Japan, challenged the export restrictions on 17 rare earths, as well as two metals used in steel alloys, molybdenum and tungsten.
In and of itself, the WTO ruling, which the Chinese can challenge before the Appellate Board, is significant; coupled with the Commerce Department’s ruling on Chinese steel-pipe products, it’s a free-trade bonanza.
For too long, America has been the dumping ground for products made abroad that have an unfair price advantage because of government support. The result has been the decline of manufacturing in regions like the Mahoning Valley.
RYAN’S TIRE CASE
These rulings should give U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, reason for optimism as he pushes the secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, to abandon the department’s contracting practices that penalize domestic tire manufacturers such as Goodyear Tire in Akron.
Existing contracts with the U.S. Navy allow foreign tire manufacturers to act as program managers for the Navy tire contract. As a result, Michelin, as a contractor, has selected its own tires 96 percent of the time. Many of the tires are imported.
Ryan wants the secretary to prohibit any tire manufacturer from acting as a prime contractor for the management of a contract.
As in other cases relating to foreign-made products, Ryan’s push is about leveling the playing field.