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UPDATE: Antidumping duties to continue another five years

WASHINGTON — The U.S. International Trade Commission has voted unanimously to continue the imposition of antidumping duties on Chinese-made bedroom furniture for another five years, the ITC announced Tuesday.

The six commissioners will issue their opinions on the issue in a report expected to be completed around Dec. 14.

The vote marked the culmination of a year-long sunset review process to determine whether to keep the duties in effect. The U.S. government first imposed the duties in June 2004 because it determined that Chinese producers were selling wooden bedroom furniture at prices that were below normal market values, a violation of international trade laws.

The ITC's review technically began last December, but duty supporters and opponents began mobilizing before then to present their cases on why the duties should or should not continue.

By the end of last year, legal counsel for members of the American Furniture Manufacturers Committee for Legal Trade, which had urged the original imposition of the duties, had prepared a 150-page document arguing that the duties should continue. At about the same time, retailers began to revive the Furniture Retailers of America, a group opposing the import duties.

Based on the responses from both sides, the ITC decided on March 8 to perform a full review of the case, which has taken several months to complete.

While the original 2003 investigation focused largely on whether the domestic furniture manufacturing industry had suffered injury as a result of unfair pricing, the sunset review focused on whether there would likely be continued injury to the domestic industry without the duties in place for another five years.

By April, the U.S. Department of Commerce had endorsed the continuation of duties, saying that dumping at unfair prices would likely continue should the duties be revoked.

By early summer, the ITC had distributed questionnaires to domestic bedroom producers, importers, purchasers and Chinese manufacturers. The responses to those queries helped the ITC staff assess the effects of duties and the likely outcomes should they be continued or eliminated.

On Oct. 5, the ITC held a hearing in Washington at which both sides presented their views on the duties. The testimony, as well as follow up briefs from legal counsel representing both sides, gave the ITC staff and commissioners further information to consider.

The ITC staff later prepared a 300-plus page report that presented the data collected from the questionnaires and provided a comprehensive overview of the state of the domestic and Chinese bedroom production industry since duties were first imposed.

George Tsai, chairman of Fairmont Designs, which has case goods production plants in China, said while he was surprised that no commissioners voted for revoking the duties, he was not surprised at the decision.

"It's politically correct to vote this way," he said. "Given our high unemployment and all the China bashing that's going on, I wasn't expecting a revocation of the antidumping order - this was expected."

He added that he doesn't think the vote is a victory for either side of the issue, given that more bedroom will come out of Vietnam and perhaps Indonesia.

Many Taiwanese producers of bedroom, he said, are selling their bedroom production facilities in China to local Chinese producers, many of which are focusing on the domestic market rather than exports.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Jim Webb, D-Va., issued statements applauding the ruling and saying it will help combat unfair trade.

Schumer said in a press release that the ruling is crucial to the success of New York manufacturers L. & J.G. Stickley and Harden Furniture and helps level the playing field for U.S. furniture makers.

"Once again Chinese companies are attempting to use illegal trade practices to undermine U.S. manufacturers," he said, adding that New York can't afford to lose furniture manufacturing mobs "because China wants to flood the market with cheap exports."

Webb said in a statement the decision would help keep Virginia's furniture industry from disappearing and would combat China's unfair trade practices.

Staff writer Heath E. Combs contributed to this story.

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