New World Trade Center's Chinese Glass Is Adding to Trade Furor

The base of the Freedom Tower is seen under construction at the World Trade Center site in New York on Sept. 11 of this year.
The base of the Freedom Tower is seen under construction at the World Trade Center site in New York on Sept. 11 of this year. (By Chip East -- Associated Press)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 10, 2009

The new World Trade Center, now under construction, is often considered a symbol of American enterprise. But to some union members and U.S. businesses, it represents what's wrong with the nation's economy.

The contract to manufacture the blast-resistant glass wrapping the main tower's first 20 stories was awarded earlier this year to a Chinese firm that underbid U.S. competitors.

Now the trade tensions between the United States and China that have arisen recently over tires, steel and paper are spreading to glass.

"This new tower is going to be made out of subsidized Chinese glass, putting factory workers out of their jobs in America," said Scott Paul, director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership of the United Steelworkers and some manufacturers.

On Thursday, the Alliance sent a letter to U.S. trade officials asking that they address what they see as unfair trade practices. Specifically, the group says that the Chinese government spends billions of dollars subsidizing the glass industry's energy costs.

"Our domestic glass industry is the most efficient in the world, but it cannot compete against production that is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government," according to the letter. "As a result, glass production in the U.S. has suffered in recent years, with plant closings and thousands of lost jobs throughout the country."

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are slated for trade meetings in Hangzhou, China, later this month.

A Chinese spokesman on trade issues did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. glass industry has lost more than 40,000 jobs since 2000, according to Department of Labor figures, even as the Chinese glass industry has experienced explosive growth. Between 2000 and 2008, U.S. imports of Chinese glass have tripled.

Trade relations between the United States and China were frayed last month when President Obama approved tariffs of 35 percent on Chinese tires, after the United Steelworkers, which includes workers from a number of industries, filed a complaint. Other complaints regarding steel and paper products are pending.

Some economists have warned that such measures could inflame broader economic tensions between the two countries and ultimately hurt consumers by raising prices.

"If foreign governments are subsidizing products, for whatever reason, we are benefiting by lower prices," said Daniel J. Ikenson, a trade specialist at the Cato Institute.

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