- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

Chinese furniture-makers are dumping wooden bedroom sets in the United States at unfairly low costs, the Commerce Department said yesterday.

The preliminary decision by the department means that Chinese exporters will face duties ranging from 4.9 percent to almost 200 percent, a measure that would raise prices paid for the products, hurting retailers but helping manufacturers in the United States and other nations.

“The illegal dumping by the Chinese has devastated the U.S. bedroom industry,” said John D. Bassett III, president and chief executive of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture in Galax, Va.

Mr. Bassett, also speaking on behalf of the companies that petitioned the government for trade relief, welcomed the preliminary decision.

The furniture fight is only one front of a wider trade battle between the two nations. While trade has grown rapidly in the past three years — for both American and Chinese exporters — so have disputes, including complaints about Chinese clothing, shrimp and color TVs, as well as American fiber-optic cable.

U.S. goods exports to China jumped by 28.4 percent to $28.4 billion in 2003, making it the fastest growing market for American firms.

At the same time, U.S. imports from China increased by 21.7 percent to $152.4 billion last year, a volume that has threatened some domestic producers.

The furniture dispute is the largest between the United States and China. The Asian nation sold $1.16 billion worth of the product to the United States last year — almost half of all furniture imports, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data.

The United States has found willing buyers: retailers and their customers who have benefited from the boom in lower cost Chinese goods.

Retailers objected to yesterday’s decision, but admitted it could have been worse — U.S. companies asked for duties as high as 440 percent.

“However, we do not believe that a duty of any size is justified and will only hurt retailers, retail workers and consumers. Duties are just another tax that could raise prices and limit the choices for millions of people …,” said Mike Veitenheimer, vice president of the Bombay Company and a spokesman for the Furniture Retailers of America, an industry group.

While Chinese manufacturers will be hurt, American companies won’t necessarily be helped, he said. Some production already is moving from China to Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia and other nations.

Yesterday’s decision was a preliminary ruling. There are two more steps in the process, which is expected to last until late December.

In the meantime, importers have to pay a bond or cash deposit to cover the potential duties which eventually will be reflected in the cost of the furniture.

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