Congressman Brown, Ryan Push China Currency Vote

NEWTON FALLS, Ohio — Two lawmakers and a businessman here say the time has come to hold China accountable for intentionally devaluing its currency, a practice they say cheats American manufacturers out of billions of dollars and cost this country millions of jobs.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio, visited Venture Plastics Inc. and met with its president, Steve Trapp, Monday. They used the event to promote legislation before the House that, if passed, would impose trade sanctions against Chinese companies that ship finished goods to this country at artificially low prices caused by currency manipulation.

“It’s clear that China is involved in a unilateral trade war that they have begun,” Brown told reporters at a press event inside Venture Plastic’s plant here. “As long as we allow them to keep their currency at an artificially low value, it means that American manufacturers have difficulty competing.”

A report from Economic Policy Institute found that over the last 10 years the United States has lost 2.8 million jobs to China, two-thirds of them in manufacturing. About 100,000 of those jobs were in Ohio, Brown said.

“If we could pass this legislation, and negotiate with the Chinese to bring their currency up to a competitive free-market level, it could mean as much as two and a quarter million American jobs,” Brown said.

The bill, introduced as the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, passed the Senate Oct. 11, but Republican leaders in the House have balked about bringing it to the floor for a vote. A similar bill Ryan sponsored passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support, but Congress adjourned before the Senate could take it up.

The new Senate bill is a combination of one initially sponsored by Sens. Brown and Olympia Snow, R-Maine, and another Senate measure sponsored by Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham.

Both Brown and Ryan called for the bill to be brought to a vote immediately in the House. “We know if it were brought to a vote, it would pass,” Brown said.

The Republican leadership is stalling, Ryan said, because of the huge financial stakes “special interests” hold.

“The cynic in me says that there’s a lot of money on the other side that doesn’t want this to happen,” Ryan elaborated. “So, I think what we need to do is to have grassroots support from small and medium-size manufactures all across the industrial Midwest.”

Venture Plastic’s Trapp said his company looks at the bill as an element of an overall manufacturing strategy that the Congress and White House must implement together.

“It will probably have more effect on some of our suppliers,” Trapp said. “Our toolmakers have been hurt more than we have,” he added, noting tooling costs are 30% to 40% lower in China than the United States.

Venture Plastic’s suppliers would see a “huge impact” should the bill pass and be signed into law by the president, Trapp said. “That, in turn, will help us because obviously we would prefer to have as much tooling as we could procure in the States rather than to go overseas.”

Trapp said Venture Plastic’s produces injection-molded components for the transportation, medical, appliance, consumer and industrial markets. The company is fortunate — it’s bucked the economic downturn by investing into its plant here, meeting the needs of a strong customer base and adding business in a very precarious market.

“We’re seeing about 20% growth this year,” Trapp reported, “and we’re forecasting the same for next year.”

Copyright 2011 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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