President Biden Pledges He “Will Take Action” If Investigation Finds China is Committing Unfair Practices in Shipbuilding

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Apr 17 2024 |
Screenshot of President Biden speaking at United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday afternoon.

During a trip to United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh, President Biden also called on the U.S. Trade Representative to triple tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum imports.

The Biden administration is ramping up efforts to counter China’s predatory trade practices, announcing on Wednesday that it will launch “an investigation of acts, policies, and practices of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) targeting the maritime, logistics, and shipbuilding sectors for dominance.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said it decided to move ahead with the probe after an official review of a trade petition filed by the United Steelworkers (USW) and four other unions. Speaking at United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh, President Biden pledged his administration will take “a real hard look at the Chinese government’s industrial practices” and take action if necessary.

“We depend on a fleet of commercial shipping vessels to carry American products around the world. Shipbuilding is critical to our national security, including the strength of the United States Navy. That’s why my administration takes very seriously that U.S. Steelworkers along with four other unions have asked us to investigate whether the Chinese government is using anti-competitive practices to artificially lower prices in the shipbuilding industry,” Biden said. “We’ve heard you, and if the Chinese government is doing that… I will take action.”

In addition to the shipbuilding announcement, Biden also said he will encourage the U.S. Trade Representative to triple tariffs on imports of Chinese steel and aluminum, and reaffirmed his pledge to apply Buy America laws to the building of U.S. infrastructure so that “everything we build, we build with American products, American workers.”

The Biden administration’s decision to move ahead with the shipbuilding investigation earned widespread praise, including among the five unions who filed the case.

United Steelworkers President Dave McCall said in a statement that his union “is grateful that the president is taking this threat seriously and pursuing a full investigation.” International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) President Brian Bryant said in his own statement that the “Biden Administration rightfully knows that the decline of American shipyards and steel manufacturing is about more than just jobs – it weakens our national defense.”

The USW and IAM filed the trade petition alongside the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Maritime Trades Department at the AFL-CIO.

Unions who were not filers on the petition also offered support. The Teamsters tweeted that its members “applaud USTR and @AmbassadorTai for responding to labor concerns around Chinese trade policies by investigating practices that harm American workers in the maritime, logistics and shipbuilding sectors.” The Teamsters also backed Biden’s plan to raise tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum imports.

Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) President Scott Paul said the Biden team made the right call in deciding to move ahead with the investigation, “because whether it is steel and aluminum or shipbuilding or any other industry, we know China’s government will do whatever it takes to dominate. It’s time to fight back.”

The AAM team will visit shipbuilding communities across the country in the coming months to learn more about the damage caused by China’s unfair practices and examine ways to get things back on track, Paul added.

Polling finds that Americans are overwhelming supportive of efforts to rebuild American shipbuilding and level the playing field for American workers and industry. A poll conducted by Morning Consult for AAM found that 82% of adults agreed that China’s dominance of the global shipbuilding industry is concerning, with 32% saying it’s “very concerning.” Meanwhile, the vast majority (76%) of poll respondents said the use of Chinese-built drydocks to repair, maintain and retrofit U.S. Navy vessels is a threat to U.S. national security, while a decisive majority (81%) agreed that it is important for the president to act to strengthen U.S. shipbuilding capabilities.

The U.S. Trade Representative will likely unveil the findings of the investigation by the end of the year. A public hearing is scheduled to take place on May 29, and the agency will accept public comments until June 5.

Watch the video below for more on the history of U.S. shipbuilding, how China dominated the sector, and what the trade investigation may ultimately yield.