Lawmaker Wants Limits On Chinese Tire Imports

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Oklahoma congressman believes jobs in his district will continue to be threatened unless existing trade rules are used to stem Chinese tire imports into the United States.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., testified Tuesday before the International Trade Commission, The Oklahoman reported from its Washington bureau.

Cole said he was a strong advocate for free trade but that China is obligated to follow rules established when it was made part of the World Trade Organization.

He blamed the 2006 closure of the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Oklahoma City and the loss of more than 1,400 jobs on the imports. If trade rules aren't enforced, 4,200 more jobs at the Goodyear plant in Lawton and the Michelin factory in Ardmore could be lost, Cole testified.

"During a deep recession, I think it both unfair and reckless to sit back and watch people lose their jobs when there are legitimate ways to prevent that," he said.

The United Steelworkers filed a petition in April asking the International Trade Commission to limit Chinese imports of passenger and light truck tires to 21 million, which eventually could be raised in small increments. In 2008, according to the union, there were 46 million tires worth $1.7 billion imported from China.

While imports grew by 215 percent in volume from 2004 to 2008, 5,100 domestic workers' jobs were eliminated at four tire plants, including the one in Oklahoma City, according to the union.

The union has argued that the imports have disrupted the domestic market.

If the International Trade Commission agrees and votes on a remedy, which may include a quota, President Barack Obama would have to approve it.

GITI Tire Investment Co., the largest producer of tires in China, argued in a brief to the commission that the closing of the Oklahoma City plant was the result of Bridgestone's "decision to stop production of low-cost tires."

GITI also argued that some current problems in the domestic industry are the result of the recession.

Cole said in an interview that "free trade doesn't mean a free-for-all" and that the federal government should be enforcing the rules on the books.

A decision from the trade commission is expected later this month.