WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. Steelworkers union blasted U.S. automakers today for seeking to exempt some Chinese-made tires from proposed import restrictions being considered by President Barack Obama.
"I find that utterly disgusting. We saved them. But their objective is to put Chinese tires on the cars we saved," Leo Gerard, president of the U.S. Steelworkers union said at a hearing conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative's office to weigh the workers' request for import relief.
Obama must decide on the U.S. Steelworkers union's request for curbs on tire imports from China by Sept. 17, one week before he hosts Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders of the Group of 20 countries in Pittsburgh to discuss joint efforts to revive the international economy.
The U.S. Steelworkers union, which represents workers at major U.S. tire manufacturers, filed a petition earlier this year for import relief and won a favorable ruling from the U.S. International Trade Commission.
The panel recommended Obama impose a 55-percent tariff on the Chinese tire imports which would be reduced to 45-percent in the second year and 35-percent in the third before being removed. Gerard said a recent surge in imports from China to get ahead of any restrictions means Obama should consider an even higher tariff in the first relief.
The Automotive Trade Policy Council, which represents the Detroit 3 automakers, was scheduled to testify later today at the hearing.
Gerard said he expected the automakers to ask that original equipment tires be exempted from any import curbs. He estimated these account for about 5 percent of the imports, since most of the Chinese product are replacement tires for older vehicles.
"I would suspect that they're here speaking against us because should they win (on that issue) and we lose, they would want to grow that five percent," Gerard said.
The hearing is part of the information gathering process leading up to Obama's decision.
U.S. trade representative, in consultation with the U.S. Treasury Department, State Department, Commerce Department and other cabinet agencies, must forward its recommendations to Obama by September 2.
The steelworkers asked for protection under Section 421 of U.S. trade law, which only requires petitioners to show that imports from China have disrupted the U.S. market -- not that they have benefited from unfair trade practices.
China agreed to the safeguard mechanism for 12 years as one of the conditions for joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. Former President George W. Bush turned down a number of U.S. industry requests for relief under the provision, saying they were not in the overall U.S. interest.