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Time to get tough with China, save New York's auto jobs

They still don't get it. Every four years, presidential candidates pledge allegiance to American manufacturing and profess a love for "Made in America." But when the going gets tough, no presidential candidate can match this rhetoric with action. In a state where manufacturing still provides good jobs, that's just unacceptable, especially since we now know that more than 58,000 jobs in the New York auto parts sector are at risk due to China's cheating.

New York is an important part of the motor vehicle industry supply chain. And because auto parts are such a key segment of the state's economy, New York voters need to know some facts before they head to the polls. The truth is, the auto sector is just getting back on its feet after a near-death experience. We now see auto assembly factories humming again.

But the real auto employment -- where 75 percent of the jobs exist -- is in the auto parts sector. These are the factories large and small that produce aluminum wheels, brake pads and the thousands of other parts that go into making an automobile. This sector is under attack from China. We've seen imports of Chinese auto parts surge by 25 percent in each of the past two years. We've seen our trade deficit in auto parts with China grow nearly 900 percent in just 10 years. Yet no other major auto-producing nation -- Germany, Japan or South Korea -- has such a trade imbalance; in fact, those nations export more to China than they import.

China is not penetrating our market the old-fashioned way, by outcompeting us. Instead, Beijing has pumped $27 billion of subsidies into its auto parts sector, with an additional $10 billion planned. And, through policies that have been documented in great detail by our own government and outside investigators, China blocks our exports of autos and auto parts while favoring its own industry, in direct violation of the commitments it made to free markets when it joined the World Trade Organization.

Auto parts jobs traditionally grow at a faster pace than assembly jobs, but since 2009, the opposite has been true. And that's because Chinese imports have begun surging into our market.

The threat to auto parts jobs has become so alarming that a bipartisan group of 188 U.S. senators and representatives, including, from New York, 20 representatives and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, recently sent a letter to President Obama expressing "serious concern" about China's massive subsidies. Their letter urges the president to "use all existing authority under the law to preserve and protect U.S. production and jobs."

These senators and representatives are right to press the president for action. Our trade laws exist for a reason -- to ensure a level playing field for American workers and businesses. But who can we count on to act?

While Mitt Romney talks a tough game against China on its undervalued currency, he opposed relief for tire workers in America when the industry faced surges of Chinese imports. Even Obama, who has approved some trade sanctions on China in tires and other sectors, hasn't fully delivered on his promises to get tough, refusing six times to designate China as a currency manipulator, which it most certainly is.

Yet this issue can transcend politics. Last fall, a strongly bipartisan majority, including Schumer and Gillibrand, supported Senate legislation to deter China from manipulating its currency.

I hope each of the candidates will stand up and say he will defend America's auto parts workers and businesses. As president, he can initiate a trade action against China to stop its auto parts subsidies, open its market and grow jobs in New York. More than 58,000 jobs in New York depend on it.


Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.