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USW praises rare earth trade ruling

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United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo Gerard praised the World Trade Organization’s decision today against “Chinese policies to restrict the export of rare earth minerals and other materials that are critical in countless industrial and high technology products involving family-supportive manufacturing jobs.”

Action on rare earths and tungsten originated in a complaint filed by the USW under Section 301 of U.S. trade law in 2010 against a broad range of Chinese policies “harming the U.S. alternative and renewable energy sector” and affecting products “critical to a number of defense components and systems.”

The global trade case was brought by President Obama in March 2012 and was later joined by both the European Union and Japan. China produces more than 95 percent of all rare earths, which go into electronic products such as flat-screen televisions, smart phones, hybrid car batteries, wind turbines, energy efficient lighting, and petroleum.

Gerard released this statement just before deadline:

“The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been aggressive and determined to confront China about its export limits on rare earth minerals and other materials. Those products are critical ingredients in a broad range of items across the manufacturing sector where workers’ jobs depend on fair trade practices and a steady market supply. China’s policies have had a direct impact on U.S. production and employment.

“Companies have had to locate production in China because of their protectionist policies. China has also tried to hold countries hostage to rare earth supplies.

“The industrial workers represented by the Steelworkers union know first-hand the negative impact of China’s practices. The USTR’s actions, now backed up by the WTO, are what trade enforcement is all about: Taking on the protectionist policies of our trading partners and fighting for U.S. jobs. China’s policies relating to rare earths first helped put our domestic industry on the chopping block--with a mine and refinery operated by USW-represented workers. Once the mine closed a few years back, China tightened the supply noose and strangled domestic manufacturers who rely on rare earths.

“Some industrial customers had to pay inflated prices for those products. Others relocated their plants to China that relied on supplies of rare earths for producing products like electrical lighting. China achieved its intended goal of moving production out of the United States and into China.”

“In Washington,” Gerard added “when you try to promote a new approach, one of the first questions policy makers often asks: ‘Is it WTO legal?’ Policy makers in China ask a different question: ‘How long can we get away with it?’”

According to the USW, the re-started mine called MolyCorp in Mountain Pass, Calif., is currently America’s only rare earths mine operation. The USW now represents more than 300 miners who are bringing the mine and refinery back on line. “Production of light rare earths at MolyCorp will help ensure that China can’t hold America and other nations hostage in the future,” the USW said.

The USW is the largest private-sector union in North America, representing workers employed in metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining and renewable energy products, chemicals, transportation, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments.

 

 

Posted 3/26/2014