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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

China trade challenge

As the nation's leaders and citizens focus on the need for more jobs, the United Steelworkers union is taking aim at China's trade policies, which it says threaten U.S. green-power industries and energy independence.

The union has filed a petition with the U.S. trade representative, alleging that China has used predatory practices and hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for its green-energy industry. These practices violate World Trade Organization free-trade rules that China has agreed to follow, the steelworkers say.

The 850,000-member union represents workers in energy-related industries. Union members make steel, glass, and aluminum components of wind turbine towers, solar panels, and nuclear reactors.

The development of options to fossil fuel should be a rich source of manufacturing jobs that provide a middle-class standard of living, while helping the nation achieve energy independence. That won't happen if China is allowed to dominate the market by engaging in illegal, protectionist trade practices.

The union petition says China produces more than 90 percent of the world's supply of raw minerals that are basic components of the green industry. It alleges that China uses quotas, tax policies, and licensing procedures improperly and illegally to restrict exports of raw materials, advancing its domination in the field and giving incentives to companies to move their production facilities to China.

At the same time China is subsidizing its domestic operations, it is curbing the flow of imports. Because of rules it improperly imposes, the union says, the Massachusetts firm Evergreen Solar shifted its production of solar panels to China.

The Obama Administration must make a careful examination of the filing. As it must eschew protectionist practices of its own, it also needs to stop U.S. jobs and investment from being lost to unfair trade practices.

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