WASHINGTON — It's a (multi) million-dollar dilemma.
Is the U.S. tire industry being threatened by rising consumer tire imports from South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam?
Or do tire producers from there service a portion of the U.S. tire aftermarket that essentially has been abandoned by U.S.-based tire makers?
Researchers from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) are poring through thousands of pages of testimony and supporting documents submitted in late May/early June from the opposing sides to try and determine who presents the better case.
All of the testimony in this case — which is based on a petition filed May 12 by the United Steelworkers (USW) union — was submitted electronically. Because of restrictions on in-person meetings related to COVID-19, the ITC opted to not hold in-person hearings.
The commission has until July 17 to make its ruling, according to the extended deadline released June 11 by the Commerce Department. The original deadline was June 29.
The ITC could, however, issue its ruling at anytime before then. The ruling will come from ITC commissioners, who base their decision on the commission's investigation of the submitted evidence. The staff investigative team includes an investigator, a supervisory investigator, an economist, an attorney, a statistician, an industry analyst and an accountant/auditor.
The opposing sides have outlined their positions clearly in documents filed with the ITC.
The USW said in its opening statement it believes the record will show that subject imports used "pervasive underselling" to gain market share and also "suppressed and depressed domestic prices."
"Our petition demonstrates that the average unit value of subject imports is far below the unit value of other major trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and Japan," said Elizabeth Drake, a partner with Schagrin Associates, the Washington-based law firm representing the USW.
"In addition, domestic producers' own statements to investors confirm that low-priced Asian imports pose a risk to their operations."
The USW alleges companies in these four Asian locales are dumping products in the U.S. at margins ranging from 33% (Vietnam) to 217% (Thailand), and it provided the ITC with nearly 2,000 pages of information supporting its position.
The USW also provided statements on the impact of rising imports from the four Asian entities on U.S. factories producing passenger and/or light truck tires from the presidents of USW locals at those facilities: Goodyear plants in Fayetteville, N.C., and Gadsden, Ala.; a Michelin North America plant in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. plants in Findlay, Ohio, and Texarkana, Ark.; and Yokohama Tire Corp.'s plant in Salem, Va.
Combined these factories employ nearly 8,000 hourly workers and represent about 46 million units of annual P/LT tire capacity. Goodyear's Gadsden plant, where production had been dwindling over the past couple of years, has now been closed permanently, although officials at the USW local there earlier had blamed Goodyear's decision to build a plant in Mexico as the key reason for that plant's troubles.
Each of the union reps testified that the plants where they work ramped up output in 2015-16 after the imposition of elevated duties in imports of P/LT tires from China, but in the intervening years, the plants' production tickets have ebbed as the subject imports started to rise.
In some cases, the daily production ticket in 2019-20 had fallen to below levels prevalent in the 2013-15 at the peak of Chinese imports.