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American Workers Hit by China’s Overcapacity: Industry LobbyWith concerns growing among the U.S. administration and its allies about the effects of Chinese overcapacity on manufacturing and local businesses, American policy groups are rallying as well for U.S. lawmakers to implement stronger trade barriers against Chinese imports.

In a hard-hitting report released on Friday, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) highlighted these concerns by warning that the surge of subsidized and cheap exports by China threatens U.S. jobs, urging immediate action to address the issue.

“Overcapacity is a feature, not a bug, of China’s model of state capitalism,” the report stated, adding that as the Chinese government maneuvers to maintain social stability, it is intensifying its state-led manufacturing efforts and sending “shockwaves through American manufacturing and factory workers.”

China aims to fuel its growth by creating export surpluses, even using other markets as indirect channels to funnel its excess capacity into the United States, according to the report. Moreover, nations like Vietnam and Mexico have become conduits for Chinese manufacturers to inundate the American market with products that face direct export challenges.

This tactic is heightening legitimate fears in the United States of a “China Shock 2.0”—a wave of low-cost imports that could once again shutter tens of thousands of American factories and put millions of U.S. manufacturing workers out of jobs.

According to the AAM, Chinese industrial sectors are swiftly capturing market share in strategic industries in the United States and have particularly impacted the paper, glass, steel, and tire industries, which have experienced significant job losses and plant closures due to Chinese imports.

The lobby also urged the enforcement of Section 421 (China Safeguard) of the Trade Act of 1974, which permits the United States to impose temporary tariffs to mitigate market disruptions caused by surges of low-cost imports from China’s manufacturing sector.

Global Backlash

The AAM report follows pushback from countries around the world against China’s overcapacity, especially in high-tech and clean energy sectors like electric vehicles (EVs), lithium batteries, and solar panels, due to concerns about unfair trade practices and economic impacts.

For example, on Wednesday, the European Union announced additional tariffs of up to 38.1 percent on EVs imported from China, effective next month. This move is in response to what the EU describes as unfair subsidies by the Chinese government that are flooding the region’s EV market.

Similarly, in mid-May, the United States quadrupled tariffs on Chinese EVs to 100 percent and imposed new levies on computer chips, solar cells, and lithium-ion batteries. This action aims to prevent a surge of low-cost Chinese products from undermining the resurgence of domestic manufacturing.

In April, during meetings with senior Chinese officials, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also highlighted the adverse effects of Chinese trade practices on American businesses and workers, emphasizing the global economic repercussions of China’s industrial overcapacity.

On Thursday, Ms. Yellen said that Chinese overcapacity threatens industries vital to the United States’s long-term growth.

“China’s overcapacity risks our supply chains being artificially overconcentrated, posing additional security and economic concerns. China also pursues a variety of unfair trade practices—from restrictive investment policies to economic coercion—that further undermine fair competition,” she said in her address to the Economic Club of New York.

In addition, major world powers, including Italy, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan, are working to slow the influx of cheap Chinese-made clean-tech products to protect their domestic industries.

Developing countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Chile have also begun resisting the surge of Chinese goods. These actions represent a growing global backlash against China’s heavily subsidized manufacturing sector, which produces more goods than its economy can absorb, leading to a surplus exported at low prices.

Exploiting Other Routes

“Recent research has shown that China has exploited several other countries in its mission to circumvent U.S. tariffs as it seeks to offload its excess industrial capacity into foreign markets,” noted, Scott Paul, president of AAM in a note on Tuesday.

For instance, according to the lobby, Chinese companies are investing in Mexican manufacturing plants, leveraging the favorable tariffs under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to access the U.S. market.

This strategy effectively provides a backdoor for Chinese products to reach American consumers, circumventing policies designed to keep Chinese products, like automobiles out of the U.S. market, the AAM said, adding that over the past year, China has increased its exports to Vietnam as well, where products can be reprocessed and then shipped to the United States or Europe with minimal or zero tariffs.

In May, the value of China’s exports surged by 7.6 percent, marking the fastest growth in over a year, despite falling prices for many of its manufactured goods.

The trade surplus—representing the gap between China’s export earnings and its import expenditures—also soared to $82.6 billion, a 25.6 percent increase from the previous year.

According to China’s customs statistics, this rise is the largest ever for May and one of the highest on record, excluding the pandemic period, when China exported vast amounts of medical supplies, exercise equipment, and other manufactured products.

Consequently, “China’s overcapacity is exporting deflation to the rest of the world,” said Lynn Song, chief economist at ING, in a note in May. “This argument is that China’s excess capacity ends up being exported at lower prices than similar goods in other markets, which in theory causes a deflationary impact.”

No Time to Lose

The lobby says that Chinese industrial overcapacity, deeply ingrained in the country’s state capitalism system that directs funds into its manufacturing sectors to maintain domestic economic stability, will continue to be a significant issue in 2024.

This poses a challenge for the United States, which has recently made substantial investments in federal infrastructure and clean energy manufacturing programs.

The U.S. policies, the AAM added, are designed to support domestic industries, but the glut of Chinese production threatens to undermine these U.S. industries before they can establish themselves. Despite substantial tariff barriers, heavily subsidized Chinese goods are still penetrating the U.S. market. Additional safeguards will help strengthen our trade system, further domestic growth and preserve good, community-sustaining jobs, Mr. McCall from the steel lobby, USW International, added.

“If U.S. policymakers sit idly by, this shock could be American manufacturing’s last stand,” the report said.

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