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Taking our Case to Washington

AEC Past Chairman Duncan Crowdis

Fair trade cases like ours (AEC’s) generally do not involve a political process. The rules are relatively clear and the process is driven by various statutes. However, we were not naïve enough to believe that politics would not play some sort of role. After all, the support the Chinese industry receives is VERY politically charged. And here in the US, the fight is all about people, employment and jobs, clearly areas that our elected officials hold dear to the heart (or should!). While the two sides of the isle see the path to job creation somewhat differently, publically all of them claim this to be their primary focus.

Therefore, as part of the trade case process, we have worked hard to reinforce and expand our political reach. We knew at the outset that there may be times when we would want or perhaps even need, to call on “our friends” to lend a little elbow-nudging weight from time to time. As it turns out, we have leveraged our political connections several times over the past three years.

One of our industry’s strengths is our diverse geographic foot print. This plays in well to leveraging the political card with industry representation in over 100 congressional districts.

The first time was during the original case, when we were preparing the case to prove and demonstrate to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that the domestic industry was being injured as a result of the illegally imported Chinese extrusions. We tried to rally political support through letters sent to many members of congress, both in the House and Senate and on both sides of the isle. In addition, prior to the ITC hearing in 2011, a number of us went to Washington to personally meet and discuss the case with several dozen members of Congress and their staff. In the end, we got several to testify at the ITC hearing to help lend some weight to our cause all leading to the successful ruling two months later.

The next political intervention was at the beginning of 2012 when a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals at the end of December 2011 on a GPX tire case was to eliminate the countervailing duties side of our orders. The Court claimed that the Department of Commerce does not have the authority to levy countervailing subsidy duties on “non-market” economies such as China – baloney.  Of all countries where these types of duties are legitimate and needed, it is China. While this ruling was going to affect all 24 active subsidy cases, we decided the extrusion industry simply couldn’t afford to rely on anyone else to come to the rescue. Our only avenue was to rally Congress to pass legislation that authorized Commerce to levy these types of duties on non-market economies such as China (assuming that subsidies were proven). Sounds simple? Think back to what was going on in Congress in January 2012. What were the odds that anyone could rally Congress to take bi-partisan action behind any common goal at that time??? On top of that, we required legislation that would make the reversal retroactive to ensure it covered existing cases such as ours. And to make it even more interesting, we had just over a month to make this happen before the Court orders went into effect!

Our passion pushed these speed bumps aside. We flooded numerous members of Congress with letters and a number of us visited Washington and personally met key congressional members and their staff. At the end of the process, legislation was created, several members “championed” the legislation first through the Senate and then the House, and it passed through an expedited process at the last moment. Whew!!  After this successful conclusion, I recall us reflecting back as an industry team and realizing that the U.S. extrusion industry just played a key role in getting Congress to actually agree on something and pass a potentially sensitive piece of legislation in less than a month – go figure!!  Maybe we should now tackle easier issues like debt reduction, job creation, the U.S. debt ceiling, world hunger….who knows?!

Recently, we once again requested help from our members of Congress. Over the past 6 months, the Department of Commerce has ruled on several scope challenges, highlighting a potentially dangerous trend toward watering down our orders. Scope challenges are when a company requests Commerce to rule on whether the products they are buying from China fall within the scope of the orders (and therefore subject to the duties or not).  Commerce’s rulings were becoming inconsistent compared to their earlier rulings and were starting to go against the spirit of the original scope and orders. Ease of administering the orders was starting to outweigh the spirit of the original scope.  We have worked too hard to get to this point to just let it slowly slip away from us!

In addition to meeting several times with officials at the Department of Commerce in Washington over our concerns, a month ago we decided to ask our members of Congress (particularly those on the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees) to apply pressure to Commerce to simply encourage them to apply the spirit of the original scope to these scope review challenges. Again letters were sent and 6 of us travelled once again to Washington at the end of July and had about 20 meetings with offices and staff of key congressional members of the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans. The reception we got was welcoming and sympathetic and we are now working through a process to have several of these members of Congress champion letters to send to Commerce requesting that they simply apply the scope as it was written. We are not asking for “special” treatment. We just request that Commerce frankly enforce the law that they wrote!

So the Aluminum Extruders Council remains focused on ensuring that our hard-fought orders, orders that we strongly believe are required to save the industry from illegal Chinese trade practices, continue to be applied fairly to allow us to compete on a level playing field. We are putting in a great deal of time and money to make this happen and are using all the tools available to us – legal, legislative and even political. Fair Trade –It Matters!

For more information, please visit www.AECfairtrade.org.

This post was written by AEC Past Chairman Duncan Crowdis

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