They still don't get it. Every four years, presidential candidates pledge allegiance to American manufacturing and profess a love for "Made in America." But when the going gets tough, no presidential candidate can match this rhetoric with action. In a state where manufacturing still provides good jobs, that's just unacceptable, especially since we now know that more than 9,000 jobs in the Maryland auto parts sector are at risk due toChina'scheating.
Maryland is an important part of the motor vehicle industry supply chain. And because auto parts are such a key segment of the state's economy, Maryland voters need to know some facts before they head to the polls. The truth is, the auto sector is just getting back on its feet after a near-death experience. We now see auto assembly factories humming again, including GM's transmission plant in White Marsh.
But the real auto employment — where 75 percent of the jobs exist — is in the auto parts sector. These are the factories large and small that produce aluminum wheels, brake pads and the thousands of other parts that go into making an automobile. This sector is under attack from China. We've seen imports of Chinese auto parts surge by 25 percent in each of the past two years. We've seen our trade deficit in auto parts with China grow nearly 900 percent in just 10 years. Yet no other major auto-producing nation (Germany, Japan, South Korea) has such a trade imbalance; in fact, they export more to China than they import.
China is not penetrating our market the old-fashioned way, by out-competing us. Instead, Beijing has pumped $27 billion of subsidies into its auto parts sector, with an additional $10 billion planned. And, through policies that have been documented in great detail by our own government and outside investigators, China blocks our exports of autos and auto parts while favoring its own industry, in direct violation of the commitments it made to free markets when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Auto parts jobs traditionally grow at a faster pace than assembly jobs, but since 2009, the opposite has been true. And that's because Chinese imports have begun surging into our market.
The threat to auto parts jobs has become so alarming that a bipartisan group of 188 senators and House members, including both of Maryland's senators and five of its representatives (Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Donna Edwards, Elijah Cummings, and Chris Van Hollen), recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing "serious concern" about China's massive subsidies. Their letter urges the president to "use all existing authority under the law to preserve and protect U.S. production and jobs."
These members of Congress are right to press the president for action. Our trade laws exist for a reason: to ensure a level playing field for American workers and businesses. But who can we count on to act?
While Mitt Romney talks a tough game against China on its undervalued currency, he opposed relief for tire workers in America when the industry faced surges of Chinese imports. Rick Santorum thinks Mr. Romney's position on China is too strong, and he believes tax cuts alone will keep industry here. Even President Obama, who has approved some trade sanctions on China in tires and other sectors, hasn't fully delivered on his promises to get tough, refusing six times to designate China as a currency manipulator (which it most certainly is).
Yet this issue can transcend politics. Last fall, a strongly bipartisan majority, including Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, supported Senate legislation to deter China from manipulating its currency.
I hope each of the candidates will stand up and say they will defend America's auto parts workers and businesses. A president has the power to initiate a trade action against China to stop its auto parts subsidies, open its market, and grow jobs in Maryland. Workers across the country, including more than 9,000 in Maryland, are counting on it.