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Opinion: Manchin’s fight to protect West Virginia jobs must continue

By Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties

When Senator Joe Manchin discovered that a rogue federal agency could kill more than 900 jobs in West Virginia, he knew that he had to take action. 

The fate of those 900 workers at the Cleveland-Cliffs tin mill facility in Weirton rested in the hands of a little-known agency with far too much power: the International Trade Commission (ITC). Despite its small size, the agency wields significant authority, issuing rulings on trade and patent disputes, imposing penalties on alleged violators, and overriding rulings from other state and federal government bodies. The unfortunate truth is that the agency has abandoned its original mission to protect American industry and jobs, which was particularly evident in its decision to rule against Cleveland-Cliffs and West Virginians.

In this case, the ITC investigated whether tin mill producers from China, Germany, and Canada violated anti-dumping rules. For context, tin mill products are used to make food and beverage cans. Dumping refers to when foreign producers heavily subsidize their own industry and export products to the US at artificially low prices, which is against the law. Instead of competing fairly with the US, foreign governments bend the rules to dump their products in our country. Their actions undermine US manufacturing and hurt American businesses and workers. In this case, Cleveland-Cliffs was another domestic producer suffering as a result of foreign countries dumping tin mill products in the United States at manipulated and artificially low prices.   

Senator Manchin took action to prevent dumping and save West Virginians’ jobs. He visited the Cleveland-Cliffs facility in Weirton and met with steelworkers who were suffering the consequences of foreign dumping. He testified on behalf of Cleveland-Cliffs and the United Steelworkers before the International Trade Commission in January. And a few days later, Manchin applauded the US Department of Commerce for determining that tin mill products from China and other countries were being unfairly priced, or dumped, and that additional tariffs on products from those countries were necessary. The Department of Commerce’s decision would have helped save Cleveland-Cliffs and West Virginia jobs. 

Then, the ITC ruled against Cleveland Cliffs and shot down the Department of Commerce’s tariffs, arguing that the illegal imports did not “sufficiently harm” the domestic steel industry. Apparently, losing more than 900 West Virginia jobs is not enough harm for the ITC. 

Despite Senator Machin’s determination to uphold the law and defend West Virginians, the ITC ruled against a good American business and its industry. As a result, Cleveland-Cliffs announced that it would shut down its facility in Weirton and lay off those 900 workers. Instead of fulfilling its mission to protect an American business from unfair trade practices, the ITC ruled in favor of foreign competitors and killed jobs for hard-working West Virginians.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only way the ITC is failing to fulfill its original mission to protect American industry. The ITC has also become one of the most accommodating venues for some foreign companies to attack their American competitors. The agency has authority under Section 337 of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act to ban imported goods that the agency believes violate patent law. Foreign patent trolls, who are not required to have any meaningful ties to American products or jobs, file meritless Section 337 claims with the ITC against American companies with the hope of extracting lucrative financial settlements. The ITC facilitates this practice, and it ultimately hurts American businesses and workers the most.

Senator Manchin understands the importance of fair trade for a prosperous economy, and it’s clear that the ITC is not working to stop bad foreign actors or facilitate fairness. West Virginia manufacturing can beat out foreign competitors, but they need to have a fair shot, and the ITC is only making it harder.

Is all hope lost? Absolutely not. Senator Manchin can protect West Virginia from the ITC by prioritizing meaningful oversight of the rogue agency and introducing a Senate version of the Advancing America’s Interests Act (AAIA). This legislation would require the ITC to prioritize existing domestic industries when making rulings. That way, the ITC will act to protect, not destroy, West Virginia’s economic well-being.  

Let’s hope Senator Manchin introduces the AAIA, reins in a rogue DC agency, and saves West Virginia jobs.

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