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Alliances at Odds Over Duties on Ceramic Tile Imports

WASHINGTON, DC — A pair of industry coalitions are squarely at odds over whether U.S. trade officials should impose antidumping and countervailing duties on ceramic and porcelain tile products that are imported from China.

The sharply opposing viewpoints came to light this month, literally weeks after an alliance of eight U.S. ceramic tile producers filed antidumping and countervailing duty petitions with the Commerce Dept. and the U.S. International Trade Commission in an effort to impose unfair-trade penalties on virtually all ceramic and porcelain tile products imported from China. The petitions were filed by the “Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile,” a manufacturing alliance that includes American Wonder Porcelain, Florida Tile, Crossville, Florim USA, Dal-Tile Corp., Landmark Ceramics, Del Conca USA and StonePeak Ceramics.

In response to the April filing, a newly formed coalition, the “Ceramic Tile Alliance” (CTA) ” – a broad-based organization of North American importers, distributors, retailers and design professionals” – announced it was strongly opposed to the potential duties, charging that, if imposed, they would “jeopardize the long-term health and growth of the entire ceramic tile industry against other competing floor and wall products.”

The opposing viewpoints regarding antidumping and countervailing duties for Chinese tile imports mirrors the battle currently underway in the U.S. cabinet industry, where advocates and opponents of antidumping and countervailing duties – manufacturers versus distributors – have lined up on either side of the emotionally charged issue. Decisions in both cases are scheduled at various times throughout the year, with final determinations expected to be announced by the spring of 2020.

The unfair-trade petitions filed by the Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile seek the imposition of penalizing duties of more than 400% on virtually all Chinese imports of ceramic and porcelain floor tiles, mosaics and decorative wall tiles. The coalition claims the imports “are causing injury and damage to the domestic ceramic tile manufacturing industry.” Potentially impacted by the unfair-trade petitions is a wide range of Chinese ceramic tile imports that are commonly used for flooring, walls, paving and other kitchen and bath applications.

U.S. antidumping laws impose special tariffs to counteract imports that are sold in the U.S. at less than “normal value.” Countervailing duty laws impose special tariffs to counteract imports that are sold in the U.S. with the benefit of foreign government subsidies. For both duties to be imposed, trade officials must determine not only that dumping and/or Chinese-government subsidies are occurring, as charged, but also that there is material injury due to the imports. Importers are liable for any duties imposed.

According to the CTA, however, the duties, if imposed, would only serve to “jeopardize the long-term health and growth of our industry,” benefitting domestic ceramic tile manufacturers at the expense of ceramic tile distributors, retailers, installers and design professionals.

As in the case of cabinet-tariff opponents, the CTA argues that Chinese imports have not negatively affected the growth of domestic manufacturing and are not the lowest-cost products imported into the market.

“Our united focus is an attempt to save American businesses and the thousands of American jobs which will be at risk if this petition is allowed to move forward,” the CTA said. “A tariff on imports is a tax on the industry. With tariffs as high as 400%, American companies will be forced to end long-term relationships with Chinese suppliers who’ve provided hundreds of products not significantly produced domestically. Many specialty tile companies may be forced to close their doors, resulting in thousands of lost jobs.”

The CTA added that, in the event these products can no longer be imported, “significant financial losses for tile distributors and importers” would result.

“Investments made to sample and merchandise product collections will be lost,” the CTA said. “Distributors will also be faced with managing unproductive surplus inventory (and) the architectural-and-design community will lose entire product segments where labor-intensive, uniquely crafted designs are critical. Our greatest number of sales transactions (decorative tiles and mosaics), which are typically the most profitable, may suffer due to a lack of available assortment.

The impact of the potential duties, the CTA alleged, would also be felt throughout the product supply chain.

“Dealers, retail showrooms, kitchen and bath boutiques will need to retrofit costly displays, vignettes, floor and wall installations to remove products that will no longer be available,” the CTA charged, adding that “this will cause a significant disruption to the majority of businesses in the tile industry and will result in significant price increases for the American consumer.”

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