WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Commerce ruled in favor of a Virginia firm that charged that English molders were dumping plastic picture frames in North America. However, Marley Mouldings Inc. has decided to end the International Trade Commission investigation into the allegations. The firm decided the Commerce Department ruling is sufficient, and that the cost to Marley is too great for further ITC investigation.
The Commerce Department agreed Sept. 26 with Marion, Va.-based Marley's charge that three frame makers priced their products sold in North America as much as 85 percent below their North American competitors.
The companies named were Robobond plc, a division of D&J Simons plc of London; Magnolia Group plc, of Leicestershire; and Eco-Frame plc, of Worcestershire.
With the Commerce ruling, North American producers will now be able to police the market and continue their fight against unfairly priced imports themselves, said a Marley spokesman.
A formal Marley statement read ``We hope that the [U.S.] government's finding in this investigation will deter foreign producers from engaging in similar conduct in the future.''
Marley asked the ITC to ``cease any further investigation based on its judgment that there is an insufficient casual connection between the dumping practices and injury to a U.S. industry.''
Marley believes the additional cost of an ITC investigation was not warranted, said Art Ramey, executive vice president of sales, marketing and distribution.
The Commerce Department ruling ``helped to compose changes in the industry,'' he said. Although wood and aluminum constructions make up the majority of the $1.6 billion picture frame market in North America, plastic frames account for $100 million or more in sales, with the majority of that made of extruded foam, Ramey said. He estimated growth at 15-20 percent per year.
Plastic ``is a substitute for wood and aluminum frames,'' at a lesser cost than wood and similar in cost to aluminum.
The Commerce investigation and subsequent ruling was triggered by an Oct. 23, 1995, ITC ruling that supported Marley's original dumping complaint.
A year ago, Marley had contended its share of the extruded foam polystyrene and PVC picture frame market was shrinking due to the rapid rise in the number of British-made frames sold in the United States. At that hearing, lawyers for Robobond said its products are for a high-fashion artistic market that defies comparison in North America on the basis of price.
Marley, Robobond and National Picture Frame Inc. of Greenwood, Miss., control about 80 percent of the extruded foam picture frame market in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Ramey said. Robobond at one point controlled 70 percent of that, he said.
At a hearing before the ITC in September 1995, lawyers for Robobond said Marley's offerings in the market were old-fashioned and not winning buyers' approval in large discount retail stores.
In its latest statement, released Oct. 3, Marley noted, ``Over the past two years Marley Mouldings has upgraded its entire picture framing product line and today is in position to meet the needs of our customers with new designs and manufacturing techniques, such as our patent-pending deep embossing process.
``Going forward, it is our intention to stay at the forefront of new product development and concentrate our sales efforts on our unique designs and finishes to frame manufacturers and the custom frame market.''