Portman and Brown Urge Government to Crack Down on China's Aluminum Trade Violations

October 21, 2016 | Press Releases

15,000 American Aluminum Production Workers Have Lost Their Jobs in the Last Decade 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to bring a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against China in an effort to address aluminum overcapacity, which hurts American aluminum manufacturers and their workers. Fifteen thousand workers in U.S. aluminum production have lost their jobs in the last decade, including 1,500 this year alone.

“I firmly believe that when Ohio workers have a level playing field, they can compete and win against competition anywhere in the world,” said Portman. “Unfortunately, China’s persistent cheating has led to a situation where the playing field is not level in the aluminum industry, and Ohioans have suffered as a result.  We must protect Ohio jobs, and it is imperative that the Administration takes action before China’s cheating further harms Ohio workers.”

“China has unfairly subsidized its aluminum industry – it’s not competing, it’s cheating,” said Brown. “Enforcing our trade laws will ensure that U.S. aluminum manufacturers, the best in the world, have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. The Administration needs to stand up for American businesses and put an end to the massive layoffs that have devastated workers and their communities.”

“The AEC greatly appreciates Senator Brown and Portman’s leadership on this issue,” said Jeff Henderson, President of the Aluminum Extruders Council (AEC). “Massive expansion in Chinese excess aluminum capacity is adversely affecting producers up and down the value chain and must be addressed immediately, the U.S. industry cannot wait any longer.”

In violation of its WTO obligations, China’s government has subsidized its aluminum sector – allowing for a sharp increase in capacity and production and giving it an unfair advantage in the market. This has dropped global aluminum prices by 35 percent, causing massive layoffs in the U.S. aluminum sector. A reduction in U.S. production has also harmed U.S. aluminum extruders, forcing them to pay more to import primary aluminum. The following Ohio aluminum extruders would benefit from a successful WTO case:

  • City of Trenton (Butler County): Magnode Corporation
  • Village of Leetonia (Columbiana County): Pennex Aluminum Company LLC
  • City of Heath (Licking County): Kaiser Aluminum - Newark
  • City of Struthers (Mahoning County): Astro Shapes, Inc.  
  • City of Youngstown (Mahoning County): Aerolite Extrusion Company, General Extrusions Inc.
  • City of Sidney (Shelby County): Sapa Extrusions - Sydney

Portman and Brown have worked to give domestic industries the ability to fight unfair trade practices. In June 2015, the Leveling the Playing Field Act was signed into law, ushering in the most significant changes to trade remedy law since 2002.

Full text of the letter is below:

October, 21, 2016 

Ambassador Michael Froman

United States Trade Representative

Office of the United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20508

Dear Ambassador Froman:

We write to express our concern about China’s persistent unfair trade practices that have led to significant excess capacity in the global aluminum sector and are undermining the entire U.S. aluminum value chain, including producers of primary aluminum and extruded aluminum products.  We urge the Administration to bring swift and formal action against China’s unfair trade practices at the World Trade Organization (WTO) before U.S. manufacturers and their workers incur further irreparable harm.

Exponential growth in China’s aluminum sector, fueled by heavily subsidized, government-directed lending, has had significant implications for the U.S. aluminum industry.  China now produces more than half of the world’s aluminum, a significant increase since 2007 when it accounted for only 30 percent of production worldwide.  Each year since 2008, China has increased capacity and production beyond what its domestic market demands, leading to a 35 percent drop in global aluminum prices.  At the same time, these price declines have led U.S. producers to take nine aluminum smelters offline since 2008, leaving only five currently operating in the U.S. and causing massive layoffs.  Fifteen thousand workers in aluminum production have lost their jobs in the last decade, including 1,500 this year alone.

U.S. manufacturers of semi-finished aluminum products have also faced significant market distortions as a result of China’s excess capacity.   In 2010, aluminum extruders filed trade cases in response to the flood of Chinese imports.   Final determinations by the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission resulted in antidumping and countervailing duties levied against Chinese aluminum extrusion products as high as 374 percent.  While the trade cases helped domestic producers recover from China’s unfair trade practices, concerted circumvention efforts by Chinese producers continue to disadvantage and harm U.S. companies.   By collapsing the U.S. primary aluminum industry, China has also made downstream producers like the U.S. extruders less competitive by forcing them to pay more to import primary aluminum.

China’s extensive subsidization of its aluminum sector has contributed significantly to global excess capacity and export surges in its aluminum sector.   With significant government support, Chinese companies are allowed to operate at losses or otherwise independent from market considerations.  The Commerce Department identified more than 20 government programs that subsidize Chinese aluminum extruders.  News reports have identified government reductions of energy bills and tens of millions of dollars in cash infusions to help Chinese primary aluminum producers.   And despite continued price drops in the global market, Chinese capacity is expected to increase in the next several years. 

China’s subsidies appear to be in violation of China’s WTO obligations and threaten the entire U.S. aluminum sector.  They have caused significant price suppression worldwide and have adversely affected U.S. interests.   A strong aluminum sector is critical to U.S. manufacturing and to our national security.  We urge you to quickly bring a WTO case against these subsidies before they further harm U.S. companies and their workers.