In reaction to North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, President Donald Trump tweeted: “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.” Trump hit the nail on the head, and rather than waiting for a compromise with China that’s never going materialize, the administration should act quickly to protect fledgling American industries.
As industry leaders within the hardwood plywood industry, an industry that is being crushed by China’s unfair trade practices, we have welcomed the uptick in tough talk. But talk is no match for China’s blatant, often illegal attempts to take over markets, including the U.S. market. In the case of the hardwood plywood industry, we cannot afford to be sidelined in these debates. Thousands of American jobs that depend on the industry’s survival are at risk.
The U.S. industry producing hardwood plywood, used for everyday products such as wall panels, kitchen cabinets, tabletops and flooring, has been under fire from China for over a decade. In the past, dozens of mills lined the United States from coast to coast, employing tens of thousands of workers, fueling middle-class economies, and supporting communities. Forty-two mills have been forced to close their doors or cut jobs as a result of China’s illegal subsidization of its own hardwood plywood producers and its dumping of hardwood plywood into the United States at below market value. When presented with surges of dumped and subsidized product, many manufacturers have been forced to make decisions to use foreign products. U.S. hardwood plywood is fully competitive and top quality, but the market is rigged.
Chinese hardwood plywood imports have increased by 35-40 percent over the last two years alone. In 2016, the value of hardwood plywood imports from China was more than half of the $2.5 billion U.S. hardwood plywood industry.
The Coalition for Fair Trade of Hardwood Plywood is seeking aid from the Trump administration and the trade laws. We were proud to file the first anti-dumping/countervailing duty trade complaint against China in the wake of Trump’s victory. For the first time in years, our workers had a hope of job security.
U.S. mills are just as competitive as Chinese mills but shouldn’t be forced to compete with the Chinese government, which provides multiple forms of illegal subsidies, including tax breaks, below-market loans and discounted land and raw materials. These unfair tactics are an assault on one of the United States’ most important industries, and the jobs of thousands of workers are in danger.
One of those workers is 24-year-old veteran Shayna Hargett. She has worked at the States Industries Mill in Eugene, Ore., since 2015, following in the footsteps of her dad and uncle. Before then, her grandfather was there for 40 years. “It’s a tradition,” said Shayna. “I’m proud to be a third-generation States Industries employee.”
The multi-generational employee is incredibly common in the hardwood plywood industry. Our employees work tirelessly to make a high-quality product that they can be proud of while also supporting their families. China’s cheating is a grievous threat to the livelihood that they have built across generations.
Over the past few months, Department of Commerce preliminary determinations in the cases reaffirmed what we have known all along — that China is selling hardwood plywood below fair market value and that these Chinese companies are being illegally subsidized. As a result, the Department of Commerce has announced preliminary dumping and countervailing duties on hardwood plywood imports from China.
This is a hopeful sign for American hardwood plywood workers — but lasting relief has yet to follow. The Department of Commerce is set to announce its final verdict in October, and the International Trade Commission’s decision will follow shortly after.
In the face of China’s unwillingness to compromise, we urge the president to stay the course and to fulfill the promises he made to the American people. We are not looking for handouts; we are looking for an equal playing field. It’s up to the Trump administration to ensure that China gets the message that the United States won’t idly stand by while Chinese producers manipulate markets at the expense of American workers.
Mike Taylor is president of States Industries, a hardwood plywood manufacturer in Eugene, Ore. Bill Caine is the president of Commonwealth Plywood, a hardwood plywood manufacturer in Whitehall, N.Y.
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