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EU considers sacking China’s plastic bags

Scott Tong Jul 7, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: They had it pegged in the movie “The Graduate” more than 30 years ago. Plastics, the line went. There’s a great future in plastics. Today, plastics entered the trade wars. The European Union says China’s exporting its bags at artificially low prices. Dumping’s the word. Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports.

SCOTT TONG: The great plastic bag trade war has widened. Washington already applies tariffs on Chinese imports — up to 77 percent depending on the bag type — you know: trash, or freezer, or sandwich . . . whatever.

Europeans allege dumping too. EU trade minister Peter Mandelson says the Chinese are protecting their own markets, while dumping on the West.

PETER MANDELSON: This can’t be one way. And if you want to avoid a backlash, a resentment against Europe being open to China, then China has to be open to Europe.

In two weeks, European leaders will vote on a 15 percent import tax. Now, considering a plastic bag costs about half a penny for a grocery store to buy, sounds tiny. But Richard Dodd, who represents British retailers, says consider the volume.

RICHARD DODD: Supermarkets in the United Kingdom import 10 billion carrier bags a year. The cost of this duty could be 55 million pounds.

The Europeans have a long list of dumping complaints against China: leather shoes, aluminum furniture and ceramics. But why pick a fight over plastic bags?

Economist Robert Dunn of George Washington University:

ROBERT DUNN: Who screams the loudest? Who’s got the best political connections? Whose labor union will go in and pound on somebody’s desk?

He says the EU is following the American model: When domestic producers complain loud enough and long enough, chances are the outcome will be stacked in their favor.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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