April 18,2016

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Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Chinese Aluminum Market Manipulation

As Prepared for Delivery

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., delivered the following statement on the Senate floor today calling on the administration to stand up to China’s market-distorting trade policies and support a new case by the United Steelworkers to defend U.S. aluminum producers:

Over the past few decades, China has used market-distorting subsidies and industrial policies to prop up their own industries and rip off American jobs. Steel, tires, solar panels – the same story plays out over and over again. Too often, China’s economy is not run by the markets -- it’s run by government committee. So even though its own State Council has called out the problem of “severe excess capacities,” China clings to the same old, destructive policies. And today I want to address what’s happening now with China’s huge overcapacity of aluminum.

The amount of aluminum Chinese smelters are churning out has gone up by more than 1,200 percent in a decade and a half. In 2000 they produced 2.5 million metric tons. In 2015, China produced 32 million metric tons. When you create a glut of aluminum production the way China has, you send the markets into turmoil and do enormous harm to workers in the U.S.

I spoke last week at a public hearing held by the U.S. Trade Representative and the International Trade Commission about how the overproduction of steel in China is an urgent threat to steel jobs here in America. While China’s steel mills are churning out more steel than ever, American steel towns are suffering or worse. Thousands of jobs nationwide have been lost just in the last year. Even though one third of all steel produced today has no buyer, China continues adding to the glut by producing more steel.

The same story is playing out in the case of primary aluminum:  there’s a huge overcapacity in China driven by market distorting government policies. And it unleashes a chain of events that ends in economic devastation across this country. Global aluminum prices have plummeted, undercutting American firms. Between the start of 2011 and this upcoming June, the lights will have gone out at nearly two thirds of the aluminum smelters in the U.S. More than 6,500 jobs will have been lost. And you can bet that sooner or later, the damage will ripple downstream through the entire aluminum industry, which employs nearly three quarters of a million Americans either directly or indirectly.

In my judgement, the U.S. is badly in need of a safeguard against this economic tidal wave. That’s why I’m standing in lockstep with my friend Leo Gerard and the United Steelworkers, who today filed a petition for relief under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Without an immediate economic balm, the U.S. is in danger of losing thousands of good, family-wage jobs across the country.

It’s my view that the administration should act in this case as soon as possible to defend our workers and businesses from economic ruin. The U.S. and our trading partners must ramp up the pressure on China to stop overproduction. And our trade enforcers must take on the trade cheats using every tool in the box – including the ENFORCE Act, the Leveling the Playing Field Act, and the other measures my colleagues and I on the Finance Committee fought to get signed into law over the last year. 

I firmly believe workers in Oregon and across this country can compete with anybody in the world. But the U.S. cannot afford to sit idly by and watch China’s destructive policies cause our aluminum industry to be wiped out. Enough is enough. The Steelworkers are standing up and fighting back, and I’m committed to standing with them.