04/17/2008 01:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Keystone Concerns on China, Key to the Election?

Monday, manufacturing jobs took center stage at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Alliance for American Manufacturing in Pittsburgh featuring Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Some pundits deride any candidate who stands up for manufacturing or who questions America's failed trade policies. They put labels like "protectionist," "isolationist" and "panderer" on those who dare to speak out. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The forum will show that manufacturing is essential to America's future, not a relic of its past. It is part of a larger effort by AAM to highlight the impact that China's unfair trade practices -- and our unwillingness to hold them accountable -- have on American workers and manufacturers. We've launched a statewide advertisement and grassroots campaign entitled, "China Cheats. Pennsylvania Loses."

In Pennsylvania, this issue is critical. Pennsylvania has shed 78,000 jobs due to our trade deficit with China. More than 207,000 manufacturing jobs have left the Keystone State since 2001.

So how do we get out of this mess?

We can start by lowering our record $256 billion trade deficit with China by addressing currency, subsidy, and dumping issues. China should stop manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage. It promised to end the practice when it joined the World Trade Organization. At a time when the dollar has plunged against other major currencies, it has adjusted only nominally against the Chinese yuan. The administration could name China as a currency manipulator, triggering a serious negotiation and revaluation, or bring a WTO case against China. It has done neither. The Congress could pass strong anti-manipulation legislation, but it has refused to act.

China must also stop its subsidies, which gives its industries an unfair advantage over American firms. In the steel industry alone, we estimate that Chinese firms have collected nearly $27 billion in energy subsidies since 2001. These subsidies distort the market, cause harm to American workers and businesses, and are violations of China's trade obligations. We can all benefit from trade, but only if there is a level playing field. Until China stops its subsidies, we'll never get there.

China cheats in other ways, as well. It dumps some of its products into our market, causing harm to Americans who make everything from paint brushes to hammers, paper clips to industrial bearings, and tissue paper to steel. China has been cited repeatedly for theft of intellectual property and for producing counterfeit goods. All too often, China merely receives a verbal chiding for this scandalous behavior.

The Democratic Congress and Republican administration have the power to stand up for American workers and businesses, but so far they have refused to act. China would never risk access to our market if we were willing to make such access conditional on an end to cheating.

But Washington is not willing to get tough, at least not yet.

Manufacturing in Pennsylvania can be internationally competitive; it is still the largest contributor to Pennsylvania's economy. But if we continue to allow China to cheat, more good jobs, hopes, and dreams will be leaving the Keystone State. Here's hoping that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton find their voices on China today.