U.S.-China Frictions Escalate Over Tire Tariff
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN: Deng Yali is secretary general of the Chinese Rubber Industry Association, which has lobbied Washington not to raise the tire tariffs.
DENG YALI: (Through Translator) These restrictions could affect $2 billion worth of our tire exports and 100,000 workers in Chinese tire industries. I'm not saying they'll all be laid off, but it will have an effect on their livelihoods.
KUHN: The Obama administration decided to raise import duties on Chinese tires by 35 percent from a current 4 percent in response to a petition from the United Steelworkers Union. The petition said that Chinese tire exports to the U.S. surged 215 percent between 2004 and 2008, while the U.S. tire industry shed 4,400 jobs. Deng Yali insists that this is not China's fault.
YALI: (Through Translator) It's the U.S. that's being unfair here. Our companies do business according to World Trade Organization rules. Our products are good quality and reasonably priced. The real reason for this is that the American economy is in decline, and the unions are looking for an excuse.
KUHN: Roy Littlefield is president of the Maryland-based Tire Industry Association, which has also fought the tariffs. He says they would be of little help, because if tire companies can't source low-cost products from China, they'll just get more from Brazil or India instead.
ROY LITTLEFIELD: Now, we're very sympathetic to the concerns of the union. I just think that in this particular issue, it wouldn't bring back any union jobs, unfortunately.
KUHN: Supporters of the tire tariffs say that China gives its exporters an unfair advantage through subsidies and an artificially low currency, and so the U.S. must level the playing field for its companies. Russell Moses, Dean of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, says that China's leaders are mainly thinking about domestic political considerations.
RUSSELL MOSES: They're concerned about unemployment here, productivity here, and they're less concerned with the international consequence of the way in which they've structured industry and trading.
KUHN: Many Chinese are aware of President Obama's domestic considerations, as well. They know that the steelworkers union strongly supported President Obama's candidacy, and that he needs their backing for his health care reforms. Robert Kapp, a consultant and former president of the U.S.-China Business Council, notes that President Obama also needs congressional support for pending free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia.
ROBERT KAPP: What's really at stake here is the president's credibility with the Congress any time he wants to do anything of a pro-trade or positive nature on U.S. trade policy.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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