A Buffalo manufacturer who's seen his company's products pirated in China took his complaints to Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Robert L. Stevenson, chief executive officer of Eastman Machine Co., told the House Ways and Means Committee that Chinese manufacturers stole the design of some of his company's cutting machines. Some even sell the products under the name "Westman" rather than "Eastman."
With Eastman's workers in the fourth week of a strike, Stevenson told the committee: "As much as I appreciate their loyalty, skill and everyday hard work, I simply cannot guarantee that their jobs will be there tomorrow because of the uncertainty that China poses."
Brought to the hearing by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, Stevenson spoke at a hearing on the trade issue along with representatives of the Bush administration, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But Stevenson's story seemed to strike a chord with members of the committee, who questioned him repeatedly about his company's plight.
"Who stole your technology?" asked Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo.
"There are about 10 different manufacturers of what I consider (our product) made in China," Stevenson replied.
The problem, Stevenson said, is that it is impossible to enforce patent and trademark protections in a country as vast as China.
"We are truly afraid that our research and development efforts all the hard work and effort to bring these machines to market will shortly be pirated as well as we start to sell these machines in the Chinese market," Stevenson said.
Moreover, such problems plague small manufacturers from coast to coast, he added.
"I believe that the very foundation of the U.S. economy and the continued existence of the American middle class is at stake," Stevenson said.
Trade barriers won't solve the problem, he added. Instead, he said the federal government needs to use existing trade laws to protect the innovations of American manufacturers.
Reynolds agreed. After the hearing, he said the U.S. trade representative and other American officials have to work harder to make sure existing trade laws are enforced.
"What I saw when I went to Eastman really bothered me," Reynolds said.
Reynolds' 2004 campaign opponent and potential 2006 rival, Akron businessman Jack Davis, has also cited the Eastman situation as an example of unfair trade practices. Unlike Reynolds, Davis has said the situation is proof that the U.S. needs to place tariffs on Chinese products.
Witnesses at Thursday's hearings didn't stress tariffs.
But when Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., asked the panelists to raise their hands if they thought enough was being done to protect American manufacturers, not one witness raised their hand.