West Virginia: Casualty of the U.S.-China Trade War

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – The United States and China have been locked in a bitter trade battle since July 2018, which has greatly impacted the Mountain State.

The state’s forestry industry is paying the price for this on-going international feud, costing businesses loss in jobs and money.

West Virginia is the second-largest state east of the Mississippi River to produce hardwood lumber and when the market crashed in 2008, production slowed and the industry never fully recovered.

“Everybody wants to talk about coal and nobody ever mentions the forest industry and it’s a tragedy.”

Justic Facemyer, Owner, Facemyer Lumber Co

Family-owned, Facemyer Lumber Co in Ripley, WV has been producing and exporting Appalachian hardwood lumber since 1964, and is just one out of hundreds of sawmills across the country greatly affected by the U.S.-China Trade War.

For years the U.S. has exported hardwood lumber to China, tariff-free, where it is turned into wood products and then sent back to American consumers.

“Our biggest problem here is that there is no manufacturing left, back in the 90s, we never exported anything,” said Justin.

Attempting to level the trading field, the U-S slapped a tariff on hardwood exports and the Chinese slapped one right back on hardwood product.

As a result, lumber exports to China are down by 40 percent in revenue, causing U.S. sawmills to close and West Virginians to lose their jobs. Justin has had to cut 3/4 of his staff.

“We kind of put all of our eggs in one basket with China and now I mean it’s kind of closed the door.”

Allegheny Wood Products is one of the largest Eastern U.S. hardwood producers based in West Virginia, operating nine sawmills and five dry kiln facilities.

Allegheny Wood Products Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Dean Alanko, has been working with state and congressional lawmakers to find a solution.

“This industry is always going to have its challenges, we’ve always had our challenges. Those will continue, but the ability to trade lumber worldwide without some artificial barrier, such as a tariff put on it, would help this industry greatly,” said Alanko.

Rep. Carol Miller, (R) West Virginia, has an interest in fair trade practices and international law and took the liberty to visit China and talk to their leadership.

She said the Chinese were pleasant and welcoming.

“There are ambassadors from other countries that have come through my office and I am always sharing with them what great people we have here, what wonderful natural resources we have, hardworking people that want to work, so hopefully they are willing to come in and invest with us as well,” said Rep. Miller.

In late-December 2019, the U.S. and China came to a Phase 1 deal where the Chinese agreed to do buy $200 billion more in American products and services.

Fifty billion will be used to solely purchase agricultural products. Lawmakers are hopeful for a Phase 2 deal, but the COVID-19 outbreak is making this more difficult.

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