Speak Up to Stop Unfair Trade

Leo W. Gerard, the president of the United Steelworkers International has a piece on the HuffPo:

In this struggle, it is crucial to understand that so-called free trade isn’t some lofty capitalist ideal. The U.S. engages in “free trade” with the Chinese because they hold $1 trillion in debt over our heads, an obligation they know we can’t pay. We shrink in fear of them. They’re world class bullies. They can do whatever they please. And they do. They violate international trade laws by which we abide. That’s why their stuff is so cheap. The one factor on which the price difference always is blamed — labor costs — is only the tiniest fraction of it.

Labor violations are part of the cheating. The National Labor Committee and others, including reporters from the New York Times, have documented exploitation of Chinese workers that can only be described as modern slavery. We stand in solidarity with these workers and condemn these atrocities that include very young teenagers kept in locked buildings with caged windows where they are forced to labor 14-hour shifts under grueling conditions, but find it impossible to make money or to amass the “exit fee” required to leave. They include children, women, and occasionally men kidnapped and forced to work in brick kilns, coal mines, and sweatshops in the Chinese hinterlands, with no payment other than gruel and a sleeping mat. When Chinese companies treat humans this way, they realize a competitive advantage over American firms that routinely obey humanitarian laws.

China is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to work and live because corporations fail to provide safety equipment for workers, such as dust control devices, and refuse to protect the environment with pollution control equipment. Both practices are profitable for Chinese corporations, particularly when competing with U.S. firms, which must abide by environmental and worker health and safety regulations.

Much more significant, however, are other deliberate Chinese interventions in the market, such as the undervaluation of its currency, subsidization of its manufacturing, counterfeiting, forced transfer of American technology, and refusal to give American companies access to Chinese markets with licensing restrictions, complex regulations and local content rules.

China gives breaks to manufacturers on land, rent, energy and water. Manufacturers may receive bank “loans” they know they’re not required to repay. China also exempts certain industries from income taxes and gives tax rebates on exports.

China’s deliberate currency undervaluation works as a subsidy as well. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission explains it this way: “China’s undervalued currency encourages undervalued Chinese exports to the U.S. and discourages U.S. exports because U.S. exports are artificially overvalued. As a result, undervalued Chinese exports have been highly disruptive to the U.S.”

China cheats. Free trade is a myth. The American worker doesn’t need special treatment. We’re the most productive in the world. We just seek fair competition. We want fair trade. The USW wants trade rules enforced.

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