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Investigation into China’s unfair trade practices supports Wisconsin shipbuilding

Tammy Baldwin, steelworkers say unfair practices have allowed China to dominate global shipbuilding

Tammy Baldwin tours a Green Bay shipbuilder
Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, left, tours Fincantieri Ace Marine in Green Bay on April 22, 2024. She visited the plant to highlight a federal investigation into China’s alleged unfair trade practices. Joe Schulz/WPR

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said a new federal investigation into China’s shipbuilding practices is the first step toward addressing the country’s alleged unfair trade practices and to protecting the industry in Wisconsin and across the country.

Baldwin held an event Monday at Fincantieri Ace Marine in Green Bay to highlight the investigation. The company builds vessels for the U.S. Navy and commercial customers at the Wisconsin shipyard. She was joined by officials from the United Steelworkers union and the nonprofit Alliance for American Manufacturing.

She said the United States Trade Representative is leading the investigation, which will collect data about trade practices that allow Chinese shipbuilders to undercut domestic manufacturers.

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“There’s a range of ways in which the U.S. Trade Representative could act to level the playing field for U.S. workers and U.S. shipbuilding operations,” Baldwin said.

The Wisconsin Democrat said unfair trade practices by China have allowed the country to surge ahead of the United States in shipbuilding over the last two decades. She said those practices include subsidizing shipbuilding to undercut U.S. prices, a lack of labor protections and writing off certain manufacturing costs. 

Last year, China built more than 1,000 commercial vessels, while the United States produced fewer than 10, Baldwin said.

That imbalance, she said, drove her to push the Biden Administration to take action to address the issue.

“For years, China has gotten away with tilting the playing field, and it’s American workers and our national security that are paying the price,” Baldwin said. “We cannot let China eat our lunch. That’s why I’ve been so proud to work alongside the steelworkers and other workers across the country to say enough is enough and call on the Biden administration to take action.”

Dennis Lauer of United Steelworkers District 7 speaks at an event in Green Bay highlighting a new federal investigation into China’s alleged unfair trade practices on April 22, 2024. Joe Schulz/WPR

It wasn’t the first time Wisconsin manufacturers and business groups raised awareness for the impact of China’s trade policies on domestic producers. In August, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, held a makeshift hearing of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party in Stoughton

At that event, manufacturing officials voiced concerns about China’s manufacturing subsidies, below-market-rate loans and intellectual property theft. 

While those policies affect companies, they also have negative consequences for American workers and communities, said Dennis Lauer of United Steelworkers District 7.

“Our nation lost more than 70,000 shipbuilding jobs, not to mention all the secondary jobs the industry supports,” Lauer said. “The People’s Republic of China’s policies have imposed grave economic consequences.”

Baldwin’s event came amid her reelection campaign against Republican challenger and businessman Eric Hovde. 

In a statement, Hovde’s campaign expressed concerns about the threat China poses to the American economy and national security, while criticizing Baldwin.

“China is a growing threat to America’s national security, economy, and way of life, and Sen. Baldwin’s support for skyrocketing debt and open borders has made our country weaker,” said Hovde spokesperson Zach Bannon. “Despite her election-year photo ops, Sen. Baldwin is nothing but a 38-year career politician who votes 95.5% of the time in support of the Biden administration’s failed policies.”

Meghan Hasse, Wisconsin field coordinator for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, speaks at a press conference on April 22, 2024, about China’s alleged unfair trade practices. Joe Schulz/WPR

Despite the criticism, Meghan Hasse, Wisconsin field coordinator for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said Baldwin has “led the charge” against China’s “unfair domination of the global shipbuilding sector.”

“China’s cheating has put up serious barriers towards revitalizing our own shipbuilding industry,” Hasse said. “And this investigation is the first step to tear down those barriers.”