When China steals American jobs, who will come to our defense?

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Presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle share at least one thing in common: they all agree that China is flouting trade rules and killing American jobs. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, polling leaders in their respective races, have called for the U.S. to stand up to China’s unfair trade practices to protect U.S. workers. I agree and we must start now.

Thousands of U.S. aluminum workers are losing their jobs as a result of China not playing by the rules. My company, Century Aluminum, one of the largest aluminum producers in the United States, is one of the victims.

{mosads}In 2015 alone, illegal Chinese subsidies have forced us to begin dismantling a smelter in West Virginia – which supported 650 jobs – and partially shutter another in Kentucky at the cost of an additional 400 jobs.

If China is not forced to eliminate these illegal subsidies, we will have no choice but to close a major portion of a second smelter in Kentucky and potentially completely close yet another smelter in South Carolina, resulting in an additional 750 Americans losing their jobs.

This year, illegal Chinese aluminum subsidies will cost 3300 American workers their livelihoods.  Through a number of handouts from the Chinese government – including interest-free loans, debt erasure, subsidized energy and other political favors – China is illegally subsidizing its aluminum industry and destroying American jobs. 

Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the U.S. along with the leadership in Beijing, need to realize that U.S. aluminum producers will not stand idly by as thousands of American aluminum workers lose everything.

Chinese aluminum producers have increased production and capacity by over 70 percent in the last four years alone.  This capacity expansion has come at the same time that China’s own economy has slowed significantly, leading China to increase its net aluminum exports by at least 43 percent in each of the last three years. 

The price of aluminum has collapsed. Rather than rationalizing its capacity, China has responded to this price collapse by offering even greater subsidies and announcing even more capacity expansions. Such actions have been devastating to American workers.

In recent months, U.S. producers have had to announce the closure of half of the remaining smelters in the United States—75 percent of the remaining operating smelters have announced significant production cutbacks. Altogether, more than 3300 U.S. aluminum jobs will be taken from the U.S. by China in 2015.

The U.S. aluminum industry will simply cease to exist in short order unless President Obama and Congress intervene.

This would have disastrous consequences for U.S. aluminum workers as well as the automotive, aerospace and national defense industries that rely on American aluminum.  Have our political leaders contemplated that the aluminum that forms the skins of our fighter jets or the armor of our military personnel carriers may soon be coming from China or the Middle East?

Unfortunately, China’s manipulation of the global aluminum market is only the latest in a lengthy history of Chinese subsidization being carried out at the expense of U.S. industry.  We have seen this same story told in steel, in solar and in textiles.

In fact, the list goes on. China appears to be either incapable of, or unwilling to, play by the rules. But despite this troubling history– the true scope of which may well remain unknown – few American policymakers appear to grasp the enormity of the problem at hand. Fewer still seem moved to action. The time has come for the Obama Administration to initiate a dispute settlement proceeding before the World Trade Organization to force the Chinese government to end these illegal subsidies.

China’s illegal subsidies are killing American jobs. The implications of China’s foul play are plain enough for even the most neutral observer. Though aluminum is the target of this most recent assault on American workers, there can be no telling what industry will be next to find itself in China’s sights.

I spend a great deal of time at our plants, with our people.  I can say, with sincerity and pride, that it is these folks who make our company, our industry and our country great.  They work hard each and every day to keep each other safe.  They are skilled in their jobs, which are very difficult.  They are proud of their product and intent on satisfying their customers.  They do what they do for all these reasons, and most importantly to support their families and bolster their communities.  It would be a tragedy if, through no fault of their own, all this was lost to them.  It should not happen, and it does not have to.

The time to act is now. Now is the time for Obama to initiate a dispute settlement proceeding before the World Trade Organization against the Chinese government to force communist China to eliminate these illegal aluminum subsidies and help save tens of thousands of American jobs.

Bless is president and chief executive officer of Century Aluminum.

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