Bill Allen: Made in the USA still means something

United States Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer was on Capitol Hill last week to push for the Trump administration’s trade agenda, a policy which for the first time is fundamentally designed to protect and advance the interests of the American worker.

My home state of South Dakota, like many states in our union, has fallen victim to unfair Chinese trade practices that have decimated American manufacturing, including the American kitchen cabinet industry. Imports of Chinese kitchen cabinets have laid waste to thousands of American jobs, putting American cabinet manufacturing facilities across the U.S. heartland in jeopardy and even out of business.

In recent days, I testified before the International Trade Commission (ITC) to detail the impact that Chinese unfair trade practices have had on the kitchen cabinet industry and my employees. The American kitchen cabinet industry is responsible for billions of dollars in annual revenue — making our case against Chinese imports one of the largest trade cases filed at the ITC.

When given a level playing field and a fair shot, American manufacturing can stand up for itself and stand up for its workers. My company, Showplace Cabinetry, is a prime example of this as we are a 100 percent employee-owned company.

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Companies like mine employing multiple generations of American workers. Yet, with this threat from China, our generation may not be able to pass down their skills of American craftsmanship to their sons and daughters.

Should the U.S. government continue to allow Chinese imports to flood the American kitchen cabinet marketplace, more than 250,000 American workers employed across the industry could lose their jobs. In my state, the growth that South Dakota manufacturing has experienced over the past decade — a 14 percent rise in wages and the addition of nearly 4,000 jobs — could be wiped out unless we act now.

The decline of manufacturing in South Dakota is a bellwether for the rest of the country. Initial in-state manufacturing projections suggested the addition of 3,000 workers by 2024, but with Chinese cheating, the future is far less certain. Were it not for unfairly priced Chinese imports, many companies would drastically expand production and manufacturing output.

As I noted in my testimony at the ITC, the dumped and subsidized prices of Chinese kitchen cabinets and components have fundamentally changed the pricing expectations of kitchen cabinet customers. Our dealers used to be able to sell the value proposition of our American cabinets, but the Chinese kitchen cabinets we see in the market today are priced so low that it is difficult for domestic dealers to sell our products – American products which are priced fairly and are of high quality.

Ten years ago, very few of our dealers displayed or sold Chinese cabinets. However, as Chinese kitchen cabinets began entering the market in greater volumes and at strikingly low prices, our dealers felt that they had no choice but to display and sell Chinese cabinet lines. Nowadays, many of our dealers display and sell Chinese cabinets, and we are at risk of disappearing.

Now is the time for all our political leaders on Capitol Hill to stand strong against China’s cheating and to level the playing field for American workers.

As a senior executive of an American manufacturer that employs hundreds of workers in my state, I bear witness to how manufacturing in South Dakota responds to the same forces which have impacted manufacturing throughout America.

While kitchen cabinets may not be as notable as some of the great manufacturing wonders of America, like the Golden Gate Bridge or Empire State Building, they are the foundation for a much more personal element of American life.

As makers of kitchen cabinetry, our industry builds products that fill and organize the space where your life happens. It's the space in homes where families gather for every special moment and event — from children’s birthdays to high school graduations and date nights. We create the door you close to hide the cookies from your sweet-toothed toddler. We create the drawer you put the birthday candles in and the hutch where you keep the dishes on which you ate your wedding cake.

It is my belief that our historic case at the ITC will turn the tide and revitalize our fading industry before we suffer the same fate as American furniture and textile manufacturers. Unfair Chinese kitchen cabinet dumping will no longer be tolerated under this administration’s trade policy. Products from overseas should never replace the American goods that we make right here in South Dakota and throughout the country.

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I can’t emphasize enough that hardworking employee-owners are not afraid of nor against free trade. We are simply engaging in this action to fight for fair trade and insisting that the existing rules of international law are followed by the Chinese.

Now is the time for all our political leaders on Capitol Hill to stand strong against China’s cheating and to level the playing field for tens of thousands of American kitchen cabinet workers. "Made in the USA" still means something to me. I know my government feels the same.