The US tonight imposed steep tariffs on tires, a move directed against Chinese imports. From the Wall Street Journal:
The Obama administration will put steep import duties on Chinese passenger and light truck tires, responding to what the U.S. International Trade Commission determined to be a surge of Chinese tire exports that has rocked the domestic U.S. tire industry and displaced thousands of jobs, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced Friday night.
The announcement of 35% import tariffs, which would decline to 30% in the second year and 25% in the third, comes at a sensitive time. The heads of state of the 20 largest economies arrive in Pittsburgh in less than two weeks for a summit of the Group of 20, amid rising trade tensions and looming economic disputes. The United States needs China to help float a U.S. deficit expected to reach $1.56 trillion this year. President Barack Obama is also likely to seek new sanctions against Iran to combat its nuclear program, and China’s vote on the United Nations Security Council is pivotal….
Between 2004 and 2008, China’s tire production capacity surged by 152% and is projected to jump an additional 16% by 2010. At 235.2 million tires, China’s production capacity in 2008 was more than three times greater than its shipments to its home market. U.S. imports of tires from 2004 to 2008 jumped from 14.6 million to 46 million. China’s share of the U.S. tire market surged 255% in that time, to 16.7% from 4.7%.
Meanwhile, four U.S. tire plants closed in 2006 and 2007. Three more are planned for closure this year. There were 5,168 fewer workers in the U.S. tire industry in 2008 than there were in 2004.
The New York Times stresses that this is the first time the US has invoked a specific safeguard included as a condition of China’s entry to the WTO:
Under that safeguard provision, American companies or workers harmed by imports from China can ask the government for protection simply by demonstrating that American producers have suffered a “market disruption” or a “surge” in imports from China.
Readers are welcome to correct me, but it looks as if Team Obama has chosen to take a stand on a pretty narrow matter. Given this Administration’s history of brave talk combined with cautious to no real action, this is more likely to be meant to be a concession to labor than a shot across China’s bow.
But it is easy to see that the Chinese may view this differently, particularly since given the precedent set by relying on a heretofore unused mechanism.
And it is hard to know what the Chinese will do. On the one hand, China is clearly wedded to mercantilist trade policies and it is hard to see them making serious changes when their economy is flagging. So they could see this as a frontal challenge at a time not of their choosing. The rhetoric from the Chinese, at least as reported in China Daily, says the Chinese regard this move as an affront, but the Chinese so frequently go into high dudgeon mode, it is hard to tell when they are merely posturing and when they are quite serious:
Experts have called the proposal “unreasonable and unfair” and said that Chinese tire manufactures “largely do not compete against their American counterparts in the US.
Chinese tires have been “targeting the budget and no-brand replacement tire market for US consumers with severe budget constraints,” a sector that the US tire makers
gave up long ago and are unwilling to enter again, said China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters in a letter to President Obama….
But the Chinese government will not turn away from issues that will harm the interests of Chinese industries. Officials from the Bureau of Fair Trade for Imports & Exports with the Ministry of Commerce said China has prepared an assortment of plans for countering different possible results from the Obama administration.
“We will surely protect local tire manufacturers from being hurt when needed,” they said.
China will likely take retaliatory measures against the US industries. The Tire Industry Association has petitioned China to launch restrictive measures.
Moreover, experts suggested the Chinese government clamp down on US auto imports. During the first half, China imported more than $1 billion worth of automobiles from the US, up by 9.1 percent year-on-year.
“It’s unfair for Chinese laborers, after we made the American automakers happy, if the US launches sanctions against Chinese tire imports,” said He Weiwen, a council member of the China Society for American Economy Studies.
Stay tuned. This could get interesting in a bad way.