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By: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democratics, are Virginia's senators  

(photo credit: Roanoke Times)

In 2012, Virginia exported nearly $38 billion of goods and services. With dramatic growth in advanced industries across the commonwealth — from cybersecurity and big data, to energy and manufacturing — Virginia is well-positioned to succeed in the coming decades.

Trade is an important part of that equation. Various international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, state as a principle foundation of trade that competition must be fair and rules should be enforced. We play by the rules. It’s only right to ask our counterparts to do the same.

“Made in China” labels have become prominent in the goods we buy in this country. China is the U.S.’s second largest trading partner after Canada and our geopolitical strategy for the future includes an increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region. In other words — China’s not going anywhere. Now more than ever we need to put in place and enforce a set of rules to ensure that our ability to compete isn’t diminished down the line.

From 2004 to 2008, imports of Chinese tires soared. The market share of Chinese imports grew to unreasonably large numbers. At the same time, U.S. production decreased, the market share for domestic producers fell, plants closed and thousands of workers lost their jobs. If not for the three-year safeguard relief signed by President Obama in 2009, Chinese imports would have continued to hurt the domestic industry. Recent records show similar patterns. Since 2012, when the safeguard relief expired, China has again been flooding the U.S. market with “dumped” and subsidized tires — tires exported below their fair price. Tire imports from China increased by 84 percent between 2012 and 2014.

While this surge in Chinese imports occurred during a time of economic recovery and increased domestic consumption in the U.S., U.S. tire production and shipments declined. The market share for Chinese imports increased from 11.5 percent of the U.S market in 2012 to 19.3 percent in 2014. This increase came at the direct expense of domestic producers, whose market share fell from 46.6 percent to 41.9 percent in that period, and resulted in additional job losses.

Some of those jobs were lost at the Yokohama plant in Salem. Today, following cuts in production, hours and jobs, the plant has only about 900 employees, the majority of them United Steelworker members. In 2012 when the safeguard duty was in place, the Salem plant was producing 18,000 tires a day. By the end of 2014, that number went down to 11,000. So in a period of strong growth in demand for tires, the Yokohama plant reduced production by nearly 40 percent — the direct result of surging imports from China.

That’s why we asked the U.S. International Trade Commission — the primary federal agency in charge of enforcing trade rules – to recognize the damage massive Chinese dumping has done to Salem and other communities across the country. Soon after we did, the U.S. Department of Commerce agreed that Chinese tire manufacturers have been, in fact, sending tires to the U.S. below their fair price. This is welcome progress, and soon the ITC will have a chance to vote in favor of U.S. manufacturers. The workers in Salem know there’s been wrongdoing. We know it too. We are calling on the ITC to recognize it as well and put our domestic manufacturers on equal footing with foreign competitors.

When fairer trade conditions are restored, and U.S. producers are on a level playing field, we can out-compete anyone. China shouldn’t be allowed to play by its own rules. We owe it to our workers in Salem to ensure we keep making tires here. We hope the workers in the Salem plant will prevail and the level playing field will be restored