A major U.S. labor union is asking the Obama administration to crack down on various Chinese trade practices that it says are robbing American workers of jobs in the burgeoning field of clean energy such as solar and wind power the Associated Press reports.
The United Steelworkers on Thursday filed a 5,800-page petition with the administration contending that China’s central and provincial governments are giving Chinese companies unfair advantages over American firms through the use of government subsidies that are prohibited under global trade rules.
Those policies violate World Trade Organization rules, the union says, and it is asking the Obama administration to open talks with the Chinese and then pursue the matter with the WTO if those negotiations fail.
“These practices have enabled China to emerge as a dominant supplier of green technology,” with an estimated 50 percent share of world solar panel production, USW President Leo Gerard told the Associated Press in a conference call Thursday morning. “It’s a direct violation of the obligations China undertook when it joined the WTO.”
The complaint strikes a sensitive note for the White House heading into midterm elections that may turn in part on the sluggish nature of the economic recovery and sustained high unemployment.
The deadline for the administration to decide the case will occur just a little over a week before this year’s November congressional elections, a fact union officials hope will bring pressure on the administration to rule in its favor.
“We believe it is well beyond time that people started standing up to China’s illegal practices and started standing up for American workers,” Gerard told the Associated Press. “Green jobs are key to our future. Right now, China is taking every possible step, many of them illegal under international trade laws, to ensure that it will control that sector.”
At the same time, union and manufacturing groups have highlighted the resurgent U.S. trade deficit with China, and argued that Beijing’s support for its exporters robs the United States of factory jobs.
New trade data released Thursday emphasized the point. The overall U.S. trade deficit narrowed in July, and exports rebounded after a June decline. But the monthly trade shortfall with China remained near an all-time high.
While the global market for solar power, wind turbines and other renewable energy products remains small, the Obama administration has made them key to boosting U.S. exports and cited them as critical to the country’s long-term economic fortunes.
Gerard told the Washington Post that unionized steel, aluminum, glass and other plants have lost jobs to Chinese manufacturers in recent years. USW’s complaint cites five broad areas in which the union argues that China’s policies violate WTO rules – from export restriction on rare-earth elements that other countries need for renewable energy products, to unfair subsidies and financing arrangements for Chinese exporters. In some cases, Gerard said, U.S. firms establishing joint ventures with Chinese companies must surrender technologies and designs as a condition of doing business.
“As they steal the technology and force the companies to China, they are locking down” the research and development, Gerard said. “If we are not going to do solar panels and fluorescent bulbs and wind turbines here, the next generation of R and D will not be here.”