Guest Post: We Need A Level Playing Field With China

cargo ship heading into port loaded with containers

Today we’re sharing our space with our friend, customer and colleague, Bob Brammer of Stromberg Carlson Products Inc.  Also a Michigan manufacturer, Bob discusses how we are literally cheating ourselves by allowing unfair trade into our country.  Visit Stromberg Carlson Products’ website to see American-made RV products that will stand the test of time!

Bob Brammer

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest opinion was written by Bob Brammer Jr., the president of Stromberg Carlson Products Inc. Brammer, who with his brother represent the third generation to run the Traverse City, Mich.-based company, has also been on the RV Industry Association’s Show Committee and the board of directors for the RV Aftermarket Association, which is now the RVIA Aftermarket Committee.

Millions of packages flood into the U.S. from China tariff-free and with little or no scrutiny under a category dubbed ‘de minimis’.

There’s a big problem with the U.S. effort to stop imports from China of products made with forced labor. Or, rather, there are 446 million little problems.

That’s the number of packages that entered the country from China in fiscal year 2021 that were valued at less than $800 a shipment and, under a category known as “de minimis,” pay no tariffs and require little paperwork, according to a May 26, 2023, article by Josh Zumbrun of the Wall Street Journal (“How a Trade Loophole May Be Letting in Chinese Imports Made With Forced Labor”).

That is unfair to domestic companies, such as mine and hundreds of others in the RV aftermarket space, which are required to pay over $100 million annually.

As it is, most imports enter the U.S. in giant container ships, then go through a formal U.S. Customs Dept. entry process where content and country of origin are recorded, a 10-digit classification code is assigned, and tariffs are determined. Either a U.S.-based importer of record or a customs broker is responsible for the shipment, and are held liable if rules are broken.

But under “de minimis” — from Latin, and meaning too minimal to be trifled with — there’s none of this.

Here’s the problem. Go to Amazon and do a search for “RV Aluminum Platform Step.” Do you recognize any of the brands in the results? Probably not, and that is because most, if not all, of those brands ship from China directly to U.S. consumers and thus pay no tariff or duty on their sale.

More and more, this is the case for RV aftermarket parts and accessories, as 80% or more of those products fall under the $800 value.

There are additional layers of negative impact, too. When a Chinese factory sells something X amount of money is removed from our economy with zero benefit to any of us. But, if that same product is sold through a U.S. supplier, distributor and dealer, the multiplier effect is huge — property taxes, wages, benefits, investments and community giving.

Is anything being done about this? A few bills have been introduced in Congress, but nothing is moving at any speed to remedy the advantage we have allowed China.

Previously, the minimum import duty was $200 on any shipment of product into the U.S. from China. We could revert back to this figure, but that still doesn’t help the majority of RV aftermarket products that would still fall below this threshold.

So, again, what can we do?

One option is to contact your federal representatives to make them aware of this problem. I spoke with my local Congressman, Jack Bergman, who spent 45 minutes on a Zoom call with me to become more familiar with this issue. In fact, one of his staff members suggested that what is needed is a fee – anywhere from $69 up to $200, for example – to increase costs and offset the handling of these individual packages. Is this the answer? Maybe?

Another option is to offer our support and assistance to the RV Industry Association’s (RVIA) Government Affairs team, which is aware of this issue and working on legislative options to address this problem. Chances are they might call on us to contact our federal representatives when a solution has been developed and is ready to be implemented.

By the way, any solution should somehow address the fact Chinese factories are moving to Vietnam and Mexico to avoid paying any tariffs or duty on their products.

In case you were wondering, the import value of anything going into China that is allowed with no duty or tariff is $7.00. This is not a level playing field.

Re-printed with permission from Bob Brammer Jr., from RVBusiness

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