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October 25, 2013

Chinese Curtain Wall: A Worldwide War

I have seen lots of differing opinions, some disagreements and a few heated arguments in my 32 years in the glass industry. But I have to say the 90.1 brawl, the battle for the wall, and even the repair vs. replacement feud, pale in comparison to this one. This one is a full blitzkrieg with all the hallmarks—ideology, politics, money and some personal attacks—of a great war. The subject of this great quarrel is the fight surrounding the importation of foreign curtainwall into this country.To briefly recap, the Commerce Department ruled affirmatively when asked last summer by a group of domestic glazing contractors if its ruling on anti-dumping and countervailing duties of Chinese imports included curtainwall units. This, in turn, made it much more expensive for said Chinese manufacturers to import their products.

But the victory was short-lived, as a group of Chinese manufacturers, led by Yuanda, challenged that decision in the Court of International Trade. Their chief contention is that the Commerce Department’s decision around the scope of the decision is in error. And the fight has turned a bit personal. A hearing was held late last month, but the judge’s ruling may take months.

“Regardless of the outcome, Chinese curtainwall firms already have alternative plans to endure that their supply of fabricated curtainwall modules to the USA will proceed with little or no interruptions, which is funny when you consider how much time and money protectionists, such as the Curtainwall Coalition, continue to spend fighting it. It’s like trying to put water back in a bucket that has holes in it,” says John D’Amario, northwest USA sales manager for Yuanda USA Corp.

“Folks should be really careful,” opines David Spooner, a noted international trade attorney with the D.C.-based law firm Squire Sanders and the attorney for the contract glaziers. “It’s important to remember that under U.S. law there’s a presumption that the importer of record is liable for anything that’s gone wrong, and so folks have to be a little careful when they are the importer of record and not just buy the assurances of their suppliers,” he says.

And just because the country of origin may not say China does not alleviate the risk. “In all trade remedy cases, including this one, importers try to ship product through a third country,” Spooner says. “Either it’s outright fraud, where they are taking curtainwall through another country and taking it out of the Chinese boxes and putting it in … ‘made in Malaysia’ [boxes] instead or maybe doing some minor processing in a third country such as Mexico and saying it’s ‘made in Mexico’ when in truth not enough processing was done to make it ‘made in Mexico.’”

D’Amario concurs on the means but not the ends. “Not only are these groups losing their fight, they are wasting tons of money doing it and looking like absolute fools in the process,” he said in an email to me last month. “Shenyang Yuanda Aluminum Industry Engineering Company just opened a 500,000-square foot fabrication facility in Tijuana, Mexico, which should be operational in spring of 2014. Regardless of any subsequent rulings by the United States Department of Commerce on the pending scope request/ruling, IT’S ALL OVER and, in their fight to keep the Chinese out of the U.S., all they accomplished is bringing them much closer to the homeland.”

Wow. What began as a game of chess has become an all-out war and at stake are millions of dollars in business and the total value of a market. The victor, along with his spoils, remains to be seen.

Source: DEBlog: On the Road with USGlass Magazine