Some U.S. furniture makers seek trade sanctions on China

A coalition of U.S. furniture makers asked federal trade officials to impose antidumping duties against Chinese-made bedroom furniture -- furniture the coalition says is unfairly priced too low.

The domestic companies say imports from China are ravaging its industry. Over the last 2 1/2 years, the U.S. wood-furniture-making industry has shed approximately 34,000 jobs, or 28% of its work force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the same time, imports from China have grown significantly.

U.S. makers of sofa and upholstered furniture have been more insulated from imports, in part because those goods are often custom-ordered, although imports are growing in that sector also.

Friday's trade action centered on wood bedroom furniture -- beds and dressers, for example. Based on its own investigation, the 31-company coalition estimates that in order to "level the playing field," antidumping duties could begin at 158%. The coalition said it had found "detailed and extensive evidence of dumping."

The furniture makers filed their petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. International Trade Commission. Those agencies will investigate their claims.

John Bassett -- president and chief executive of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co., Galax, Va., and a spokesman for the group -- said, "The petition documents some of the most egregious examples of dumping by the Chinese, which require the highest antidumping duties."

Whether his group can prove that remains to be seen.

Thus far, several of the big American players in the business have stayed out of the coalition. The petition is expected to be fought vigorously be Chinese factory owners, American importers and perhaps some big furniture retailers. They will argue that low-priced furniture from China is simply a matter of a labor-intensive product moving to a nation with very cheap labor and an increasing number of modern factories.

Kevin O'Connor, president of Greensboro, N.C.-based importer Legacy Classic Furniture, said, "Without getting religious about the whole thing, is God an American? Did he decide that the only people who should have wealth and a good way a life are in the middle of the North American continent? ... In China, you ask these people to work 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week and they'll do it gladly because they're trying to improve their plight in life."

Imports from China of household wood furniture, a category that includes bedroom furniture, jumped 75% from $1.65 billion in 2000 to $2.89 billion last year, representing more than one-third of all such imports to the U.S., according to the Commerce Department. In stores, consumers are grabbing up the lower-priced Chinese furniture, which industry officials say is getting better in quality.

U.S. domestic production of all wood furniture fell to $10.67 billion last year from $12.12 billion in 2000, according to the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, an industry group. That includes production of furniture made of imported components.



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