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US imposes punitive duties on China furniture
( 2004-01-10 11:26) (Agencies)

A U.S. panel gave preliminary approval on Friday to import duties on more than US$1 billion of wooden bedroom furniture from China in the largest U.S. anti-dumping case yet against Chinese goods.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, on a 6-0 vote, said there was a reasonable indication that low-priced imports from China were harming domestic furniture makers.

Twenty-seven U.S. companies and four unions in Virginia, North Carolina and 12 other states have asked for duties from 158 percent to 441 percent to offset what they say is "dumping" by Chinese competitors.

Beijing has warned that approval of the steep duties would have "negative effects on normal-U.S.-Sino trade."

However, the Bush administration has pledged to aggressively use U.S. trade protection laws against imports it determines are unfairly priced.

It is under pressure to take action against China, viewed by many in Congress as an unfair trader because of an estimated $125 billion trade surplus with the United Sates. A coalition of more than 60 U.S. furniture retailers -- including chains such as Rooms To Go, Haverty's, JC Penney and Crate & Barrel -- said the proposed duties would not keep furniture-making jobs in the United States.


"There is no benefit that will come from it. U.S. jobs will not be saved or returned. Instead, U.S. retailer jobs may be lost and U.S. consumers will face major disruptions with price, choices and quality in the short term," Mike Veitenheimer, vice president of The Bombay Company, said in a statement.

The coalition accused U.S. furniture makers of helping create the Chinese industry as a source of low-cost, high-quality furniture they could resell to retailers.

"This is one of the most cynical trade cases brought before the ITC in recent memory," coalition attorney William Silverman said. "Once retailers went to China directly ... domestic producers responded by filing this dumping case."

The ITC vote paves the way for the US Commerce Department to set preliminary anti-dumping duties sometime between late April and early June, an attorney for the furniture makers said.

A negative ITC vote would have ended the investigation.

U.S. imports from China of wooden bedroom furniture -- including beds, headboards, footboards, night tables, dressers, chests and other items -- rose to an estimated $1.2 billion last year from $169 million in 1999.

While the case is the largest one yet against China, "it's important to look at this in the larger scheme of things," US Commerce Department spokeswoman Mary-Brown Brewer said.

The requested duties would cover less than 1 percent of total U.S. imports from China, she said.

Chinese officials protested the Bush administration's decision last month to launch an import probe, saying the case brought by U.S. producers was without merit.

Brewer said the Commerce Department was bound by law to accept the petition because it met necessary criteria.

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