My top priority in the Senate is to help create more and better Ohio jobs, with higher wages and benefits. Fair and balanced trade with more exports, while cracking down on unfair imports, will help keep good jobs here—and create new ones.
Part of the answer is to level the playing field on exports and to sell more Made in Ohio products and services overseas. Ohio is already a major exporting state, with about 25 percent of factory workers now making something that gets exported, and one in every 3 acres planted by Ohio farmers being exported. With about 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside of the United States, and with America exporting a lot less per capita than most countries, there is a great opportunity to add more and better jobs by opening up more foreign markets for Ohio workers, farmers, and service providers. More people buying products made in Ohio means better wages and more jobs.
And it’s not just more jobs for us — it’s better jobs. Experts say export jobs pay, on average, up to 18 percent more and have better benefits. It’s an important way to address the problem of stagnant, even declining wages we’ve experienced over the past eight years.
But as we fight to expand exports, we also need to level the playing field by cracking down on unfair trade, including foreign currency manipulation. Some of our foreign competitors tilt the playing field by manipulating their currencies, making the products they send to us cheaper, and making Ohio products we want to send to them more expensive. That’s not fair.
I have taken the lead on this issue, going against my own Republican leadership and the Obama Administration.
Ohio workers and companies get it. Last year, I received a letter signed by thousands of Ohio auto workers that called currency manipulation “the most critical barrier in the 21st century.” One reason why I don’t support the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its current form is that it does nothing to address currency manipulation, despite my insistence.
In addition to stopping currency manipulation, we need to crack down on countries that cheat by sending us unfairly traded imports. With Senator Sherrod Brown, I co-authored the Leveling the Playing Field Act, which President Obama signed into law last year. This new law does what it says: it levels the playing field by making it easier for workers and businesses to win cases with the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission when foreign companies send us goods that are illegally dumped (sold below their costs) or that receive illegal subsidies. This law ensures that workers don’t have to lose their jobs before they can get relief from countries that cheat.
Last year, the United Steel Workers Local 207-L at the Cooper Tire Plant in Findlay reached out to me asking for help because Chinese passenger and light truck tires were being illegally subsidized and undersold in the United States. After months of working with the USW and supporting their case, we were able to win this important trade enforcement case and protect the workers in Findlay, Ohio. And although it had just passed, we were told that the Leveling the Playing Field Act made the difference in our victory.
We gave the Commerce Department the tools to use against cheaters; now they just have to use them. Senator Brown and I have supported more than a dozen of similar trade cases over the past five years to protect Ohio workers making steel, paper products, and tires.
Just last month, President Obama signed another bill I coauthored to help level the playing field in trade, called the ENFORCE Act. This bill ensures that once workers win a trade enforcement case, the new duties on foreign imports are actually enforced. This law addresses a specific problem where countries get around our trade laws through a practice called customs evasion, where they avoid the tariffs on them by shipping the product through another country. Customs evaders often use falsified country of origin markings, undervalued invoices, and deliberate misclassification of goods to avoid paying customs tariffs.
Just as was the case with the Level the Playing Field Act, the ENFORCE Act was supported by the USW, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Iron and Steel Institute. In fact, during our efforts to pass the bill, I received an email from Pennex Aluminum in Leetonia, Ohio. They have 78 workers at their facility and won an important case against unfairly traded aluminum extrusions from China. The email said that “this relief enabled our company to compete once again on a fair and level playing field. As a result, we recently completed an investment of $38 million to expand our facility in Leetonia and create significant new jobs.” Pennex’s great concern is now that Chinese producers will avoid paying the duties by shipping their products under a different name. The ENFORCE Act ensures Pennex and other companies can fight back against these unfair practices.
Everyone is affected by trade: that’s why we have to get it right. I believe in Ohio workers and believe that they can compete with anyone if the playing field is level. That is why I’m going to continue to knock down foreign barriers for Ohio workers, farmers, and service providers, why I’m going to keep fighting to stop currency manipulation, and why I will continue to fight against unfair imports. That’s how we keep the jobs we have, raise wages and add more, better paying jobs right here in Ohio.
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.