Cheap Chinese-made passenger and light truck tires have been a recurring issue in the Presidential election.
In last week's foreign policy debate, President Barack Obama said the Chinese were flooding the United States with cheap tires "and we put
a stop to it and as a consequence saved jobs throughout America."
Republican Mitt Romney has argued that defending American tire companies from foreign competition repays unions for their campaign support but is bad for the nation because tariffs raise prices and is bad for workers because protectionism stifles productivity.
Charleston native Charlotte Lane was serving on the U.S. International Trade Commission when the United Steelworkers brought the case against Chinese tires in 2009. Lane, who finished her eight-year term on the commission last year, now practices law in Charleston. She remembers the tire case well.
Most disputes like the China tire case are brought under the law that says tariffs can be imposed if products are being dumped at prices below cost. But the tire case was brought under a provision that says tariffs can be imposed if, for any reason, a product is coming into the country in such huge amounts it is disrupting industry.
Lane recalled that she voted in the majority when the U.S. International Trade Commission found, in a 4-2 decision, that Chinese tires were disrupting the U.S. market.
The commission's recommended remedy: impose a 55 percent tariff on Chinese-made passenger tires for the first year, a 45 percent tariff the second year and a 35 percent tariff the third year.
President Obama chose to impose a 35 percent tariff the first year, 30 percent the second year and 25 percent the third year.
Lane recalled that the tire case "was a really big deal" while she was on the commission. "Interestingly enough, the provision the tire case came under was added when China came into the World Trade Organization in 2001," she said.
"There have been several market-disruption cases," she said. "The others, (then-President) George Bush turned down. This is the only one where the President imposed tariffs.
"It was really interesting because most cases are brought by industry," she said. "This one was brought by the United Steelworkers." (The United Rubber Workers merged with the steelworkers union in 1995).