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AFL-CIO President Shuler Writes in Support of Shipbuilding Petition

Official Headshot of President Shuler as of 08/21

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler sent the following letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in support of the Section 301 shipbuilding petition that the MTD signed onto earlier this year. 

Dear Ambassador Tai:

On behalf of the 60 affiliates of the AFL-CIO, representing 12.5 million working people across our economy, I am writing today in support of the Section 301 petition filed on March 12, 2024, regarding the Chinese government’s policies in the maritime, logistics and shipbuilding sector. This petition was filed by the United Steelworkers (USW), Machinists (IAM), the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

For decades, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has had a comprehensive strategy to dominate global transportation and logistics networks—threatening both U.S. economic and national security. The PRC provided more than $130 billion in funding to support its shipbuilding between 2010 and 2018. China’s shipbuilding orders have grown to more than 50% of world production. In just the first half of 2023, Chinese shipyards received more than 72% of the world’s newly received orders for ships.

The PRC’s predatory trade and economic practices tilt the playing field against our shipbuilding industry, hurting workers not only at our shipyards but also throughout the domestic supply chains vital to this sector. In 1975, U.S. shipyards employed more than 180,000 workers and had orders for more than 70 commercial ships. Over the past several decades, the United States lost more than 70,000 shipyard jobs, and key upstream supply chains deteriorated. In 2022, the United States had only five large oceangoing vessels under construction, while the PRC had more than 1,700. The PRC has more than 5,500 flagged merchant vessels in oceangoing service; the United States has fewer than 80 United States–flagged vessels in international service.

Shipping is the lifeblood of global commerce. More than 90% of all goods traded globally and 70% of the weight of goods imported to and exported from the United States are carried by ship. The vast majority of military supplies transit on commercial shipping vessels. In times of crisis and conflict, commercial ships are critical to the movement of military personnel, supplies, food and fuel. 

A healthy commercial shipbuilding industry is also key to supporting the national network of upstream industries, their workers and the communities they support. Large oceangoing ships require an immense amount of steel, paint, glass, rubber, aluminum, electronics and countless other manufactured inputs. These vessels are an important driver for our economy and provide capacity critical to ensuring our emergency preparedness and national security.

The PRC’s unfair and illegal trade practices have had harmful effects on U.S. merchant marine and naval shipbuilding programs. The U.S. Navy’s fiscal year 2023 shipbuilding plan raised alarms, calling our shipbuilding industry base fragile and warning that it “may not recover from another ‘boom/bust’ cycle.” The U.S. government is already utilizing Chinese-made ships to meet the operational demands of the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Maritime and Tanker Security programs—ships that would be used to supply the military with supplies and fuel during times of conflict or national security. These ships should have been built in the United States, supporting good jobs and vibrant communities while safeguarding critical shipbuilding capacity and know-how that is essential to our national and economic security.

The deterioration of U.S. shipbuilding capabilities and upstream supply chains are of critical concern to American workers and our nation’s economic and national security. The commercial and military maritime sectors are deeply integrated in terms of supply, skills, technology and capacity; when the commercial shipbuilding industry suffers, it can affect the health of naval shipbuilding supply chains. We urge you to accept this petition and as quickly as practicable conduct a thorough investigation into China’s illegal and unfair trade practices and identify robust relief measures. It is essential that we move swiftly to counteract China’s destructive practices and restore a level playing field for our shipbuilding, maritime and logistics industries and American workers.


Elizabeth H. Shuler


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