China & Trade

Working to Ensure a Level Playing Field

The domestic aluminum industry is growing and has the potential to be an even bigger bright spot for U.S. manufacturing. But subsidized production in China, which is leading to unfair and illegal trade practices, threatens the industry’s continued health.   

Demand for lightweight, strong, recyclable aluminum continues to rise -- up more than 36 percent since 2009. And over the past 3 years, jobs supported by the U.S. industry are up 3 percent while aluminum’s impact on the economy is up 15 percent – this during a time when many commodities industries are struggling.

Why?

Because customers are turning to engineered aluminum solutions to make good products great and great products even better – from more fuel efficient vehicles to sustainable packaging to green buildings. And more growth is on the horizon – with more than $2.6 billion in U.S.-based plant expansions committed or invested by the industry since 2013. In fact, the United States is the world’s single biggest market for aluminum outside of China.

And yet much of this future growth potential is threatened for one key reason – the persistent and dramatic overproduction of aluminum in China which is distorting the market and hurting global producers.

The Trouble with Overproduction

Over the past decade, Chinese aluminum production has grown at an alarming rate. . In 2000, China produced about 11 percent of the world’s primary aluminum – today, it produces more than half.

Much of this expansion is being driven by artificial incentives, subsidies and central planning by the Chinese government. This behavior led to smelters being built even when doing so made little economic or environmental sense.

Coal-reliant Chinese aluminum is the most carbon-intensive in the world, responsible for around 54 percent of global aluminum production but 68 percent of global aluminum industry emissions.

If Chinese smelters were a standalone country, they would be the 16th highest contributor to global carbon emissions in the world. This during a time when carbon emissions from North American primary aluminum production have declined nearly 40 percent.

This oversupply, paired with Chinese export tax policy, is creating perverse incentives for producers to engage in a number of questionable and possibly illegal trade activities.

All of this is driving a dramatic increase of imported Chinese aluminum into the United States.

According to Aluminum Association data, U.S. imports of semi-fabricated aluminum products from China grew 183 percent between 2012 through 2015. And this trend is continuing.

The current situation is bad for China and bad for the rest of the world.

While Chinese primary aluminum production has continued to grow, U.S. producers are going out of business. Eight U.S. based smelters have either closed or curtailed since 2015 meaning only 2 smelters remain fully operational in the United States today – the lowest level of production since World War II. And while overall employment in the U.S. aluminum business is up, employment in the upstream segment has dropped dramatically – from more than 12,000 primary production and alumina refining jobs in 2013 to around 5,000 today – a near 60 percent drop in 3 short years.

What Can We Do About It?

So what can we do to fix the problem? The Aluminum Association and its members are calling for a negotiated agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments to address the overcapacity issue and the unfair trade practices that have resulted. Check out Aluminum Association President & CEO Heidi Brock’s testimony on this topic below or read her remarks here. For the Aluminum Association’s full action plan for the U.S. government click here.

 

 

Specific calls to actions include:

  • End Subsidies and Other Market-Distorting Behavior: The Chinese national government should pursue policies that align with its own stated sustainable development goals. China should work to minimize subsidies, lending and other incentives that artificially prop up primary aluminum production and also allow inefficient and antiquated facilities to close.
     
  • Crack Down on Misclassification and Transshipment: There’s growing evidence that some Chinese producers are deliberately misclassifying aluminum or shipping the metal through third-party countries to avoid relevant trade duties, unconstrained by government enforcement. China’s current tax policies provide a significant stimulus for this type of behavior and should be reexamined. This illegal behavior distorts the market and violates Chinese and U.S. law. 
     
  • Maintain Non-Market Economy Status for China: The aluminum industry, along with the steel, textile, chemical and other industries have formed a coalition – Manufacturers for Trade Enforcement – opposing China’s call for the automatic granting of market economy status (MES) at the end of 2016. China has not proven that it operates as a market economy.  Granting MES prematurely would remove a key tool for industries seeking government relief from unfair trade practices, which are evaluated more stringently when engaged in by a country that does not have a market economy.
  • Increase Market Transparency: China should work to be more transparent, providing credible, real-time data on aluminum production including shipments and emissions. Specifically, China should disclose information about state-owned enterprises (SOEs) operating in the aluminum industry.

A Competitive Global Industry

The aluminum industry will push these initiatives through a variety of channels including this year’s U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and by participating fully in the U.S. International Trade Commission’s ongoing investigation into global aluminum production, due for release in June of 2017.

Domestic aluminum producers are among the best in the world and can compete in a marketplace that is free and fair. There is strong global demand for the metal and all aluminum producers and consumers should be able to benefit from this growth. We remain committed as an Association and industry to working toward a sustainable global aluminum market. Working together, China and the United States can achieve this mutually beneficial objective.   

The aluminum industry directly employs more than 161,000 workers.

161,000 workers are directly employed in the aluminum industry. For each aluminum industry job, an additional 3.4 employment positions are created elsewhere in the economy. In total, nearly 713,000 U.S. jobs are supported by the production, processing and use of aluminum.

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