USW Applauds Long-Awaited WTO Decision Calling on China to End Controls of Rare Earth Exports

Contacts: Gary Hubbard, 202-256-8125,
               Wayne Ranick, 412-562-2444,

Pittsburgh (Mar. 26) – Leo W. Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers (USW) issued a statement today after the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced a decision against China’s 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 emanated from a complaint filed by the USW under Section 301 of U.S. trade law in 2010 against a broad range of Chinese predatory and protectionist policies harming the U.S. alternative and renewable energy sector. The products are also 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.

The statement posted by USW President Gerard said:  

“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.”

According to the USW President, 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 USTR’s action, now backed up by the WTO, can make a difference, Gerard said. He adds the sector is critical to achieve WTO enforcement of fair trade rules by member states. But, from currency manipulation to subsidies, export performance requirements, intellectual property theft and countless other predatory practices, China is not playing by the rules. Four years is too long to have to wait for relief.

“In Washington,” Gerard said, “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?”

Gerard explained the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC) created by President Obama has helped to model and monitor the impact of China’s actions in the issues acted upon by the WTO. “Their continuing efforts on this case, and in other areas, will be critical to success.”  

“The Trade Enforcement Center and the USTR need more resources to engage in the fight for U.S. jobs,” he said. “Those resources need to be coupled with mandatory implementation requirements in trade agreements, an enhanced early warning system to identify trade violations, and new enforcement tools to make sure that if you break the rules, there will be swift and certain consequences.”

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Click Here for the USTR comment on today’s WTO decision. For archival documents "USW Files Trade Case to Preserve Clean, Green Manufacturing Jobs in America" and "United Steelworkers’ Section 301 Petition Demonstrates China’s Green Technology Practices Violate WTO Rules."

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.

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