WASHINGTON - A Democratic senator Wednesday asked the Bush administration to investigate Chinese logging practices that he said have hurt U.S. producers of hardwood used in furniture.
In letters to the U.S. Trade Representative and other officials, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden urged the administration to investigate practices ranging from subsidies of China's timber industry to possible fraudulent labeling of Chinese hardwood plywood and illegal logging.
"Over the past few years, the U.S. hardwood plywood sector has experienced a dramatic downturn, which has put the entire U.S. industry in jeopardy," Wyden wrote, citing declines since 2003 in U.S. production, shipment volume and market share.
"At the same time, the Chinese hardwood plywood sector has been surging. This dramatic growth in the Chinese industry - at the apparent expense of U.S. industry - is extremely troubling because it may be based on a number of illegal trade practices," Wyden said.
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Wyden, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he would seek to hold a hearing on the issue next year after Democrats take control of Congress.
A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said her office will review the letter. A message left Wednesday with the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. was not immediately returned.
Schwab, the Bush administration's top trade negotiator, said in a speech Tuesday that President Bush hopes to achieve bipartisan support for an aggressive trade liberalization agenda in the next Congress, even with Democrats in control.
Schwab warned against any move to erect protectionist barriers against imports, which critics say are needed in the face of record trade deficits they contend are costing American jobs.
Many Democrats campaigned against Bush's trade policies this fall, saying the administration had failed to do enough to halt the loss of manufacturing jobs to low-wage foreign countries such as China. Since Bush took office in 2001, the United States has lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs.
Joseph Gonyea III, chief operating officer of Oregon-based Timber Products Co., said he and others in the U.S. support free trade - as long as it is fair.
"This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is about protecting good jobs in communities throughout our country, by ensuring that business is not only done in free trade but in fair trade," Gonyea said.
China is one of the world's fastest-growing producers of hardwood plywood, with total exports topping $13 billion last year.
A June report by the U.S. International Trade Commission said that "a relatively large portion of China's log imports may be from questionable sources." The report estimated that as much as half of China's hardwood log imports from Russia and West Africa are from suspicious or illegal sources.