Senator pushes for stronger furniture antidumping enforcement

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) says he is pushing the Obama administration for stronger enforcement of trade laws in response to concerns from Virginia furniture companies about uncollected duties on Chinese-made wooden bedrooms.

Webb raised the issue in an Oct. 5 letter to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"I am writing on behalf of furniture producers in Virginia to urge stronger enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws," he wrote. "These critical employers in my state, including Vaughan-Bassett Furniture and Stanley Furniture, are concerned that duties are not being paid on imports of wooden bedroom furniture from China."

He said that data from his constituents and US. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that collects the duties, shows that an estimated $82 million in duties was uncollected in 2011 and that $236 million was uncollected from 2005 through 2011.

Webb cites the 2003 petition that Vaughan-Bassett, Stanley and other U.S. furniture manufacturers filed requesting an investigation into unfair pricing tactics of Chinese bedroom manufacturers. A resulting U.S. International Trade Commission investigation found goods were priced below normal market values, a violation of international trade laws.

In response, the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration imposed duties on Chinese made wooden bedrooms. The duties are assigned to various factories, but paid by importers of record of those goods.

This is not the first time that the industry has voiced concerns about non-collection of duties. Leggett & Platt, a lead petitioner on a similar antidumping case for uncovered innerspring units, has researched the issue and also has related its concerns to elected officials. In May, company Chief Operating Officer Karl Glassman testified before Congress for similar enforcement of trade laws.

A big concern among Leggett and other producers is that Chinese factories are transshipping goods to other countries in order to make it look like the goods are not being shipped from China. They also alleged that goods produced by high duty factories are being shipped through low duty factories for a fee, which limits the amount the U.S. government can collect.

In his letter to Napolitano, Webb wrote that because the duties are not being paid, "U.S. furniture producers and their workers are not receiving the intended benefits of the antidumping law."

The letter does not state that U.S. furniture companies have already have received nearly $300 million in duties under the Byrd Amendment, which allowed U.S. furniture companies to receive duties collected up until Oct. 1, 2007. Congress later repealed the Byrd Amendment, and now the majority of duties now go directly to the U.S. government. Only a small portion on duties collected before Oct. 1, 2007 and not yet liquidated are available to the petitioners.

But domestic producers have said that even though their companies no longer can receive duties liquidated after Oct. 1, 2007, the government needs to continue its duty collection efforts in order to help them remain competitive against unfairly priced imports.

In his letter to Napolitano, Webb said that he understands U.S. Customs does not have a comprehensive summary of the current status of uncollected duties. He asks for a detailed analysis of the uncollected bedroom duties and the names of the companies that owe the money. He also requests a detailed explanation of what Customs is doing to collect this money.

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