Retailers Fight Quotas On Chinese Tires

Tire retailers say U.S. manufacturers are not making the less-expensive tires that are popular with today's cash-strapped motorists.

BEND, Ore. (AP) -- Les Schwab Tire Centers is fighting an effort to reduce the number of tires imported into the U.S. from China.

Les Schwab and other retailers say U.S. manufacturers are not making the less-expensive tires that are popular with today's cash-strapped motorists. "If we don't have that product to provide to customers, then that's going to impact them and that's going to impact us," Jodie Hueske, Les Schwab's vice president for legal services, told The Bend Bulletin newspaper.

Hueske, according to the paper, declined to say what percentage of the tire seller's product comes from China.

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. Last year, according to the union, there were 46 million tires imported from China. The steelworkers says the deluge of tires cost at least 5,000 U.S. jobs.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the petition June 18.

Les Schwab, based in Central Oregon, has gained support from some members of the state's Congressional delegation.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, has sent a letter to the commission opposing a Chinese tire quota. Spokeswomen for Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said their offices are drafting their own letters on behalf of Les Schwab.

The vast majority of Les Schwab's $1.6 billion in annual tire sales comes from private-brand tires, as opposed to name brands like Goodyear or Michelin, the company wrote in its brief to the ITC. Those brands are more likely to come from China, Mexico and other foreign plants.

"Consumer tire preferences during these difficult economic times show a strong move towards value rather than brand, mileage or performance, as a primary factor in purchasing decisions involving replacement tires," the company wrote.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, has thus far been the only member of the delegation to come out in strong support of the unions. "If you pay people a dollar a day, it's cheaper; if you poison people, it's cheaper," DeFazio said. "We do not want to drag our standards down to that level."

In response to the argument that U.S. tire manufacturers are not producing low-cost tires, DeFazio said: "If there is substantial demand out there, they can convince either an existing U.S. manufacturer or perhaps someone else to reopen one of the closed tire factories."

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