The U.S. International Trade Commission decided Aug. 4 that there is enough evidence of harm to the U.S. plastic bag industry to proceed with an unfair trade investigation against bag makers and importers from China, Malaysia and Thailand.
The anti-dumping complaint brought by a coalition of U.S. bag manufacturers, however, would have to pass several other governmental reviews before any import restrictions would be put in place.
All four commissioners voted to proceed with the investigation, but did not offer any explanation in a brief meeting. ITC Chairwoman Deanna Tanner Okun said in a short interview afterward that the commission will wait until it delivers its formal statement to the Commerce Department, due by Aug. 11.
It was not clear whether ITC will recommend limiting the scope of the investigation to T-shirt bags, as the Chinese industry and importers would like, or more broadly define the review to include more labor-intensive bags with separately applied handles.
A lawyer for the U.S. companies that brought the complaint, Stephen Jones with King & Spalding LLP in Washington, said he is pleased with the vote. The companies look forward to ``establishing that the imports are being sold at less than fair value,'' he added.
Lawyers for the Chinese firms could not be reached after the decision, but one, William Perry, a Seattle lawyer with Garvey Schubert Barer, had predicted July 31 that U.S. industry would prevail at this point. That is because the complaint only has to meet a ``low standard'' of evidence of harm or the possibility of harm to proceed, he said.
Only about 10 percent of ITC petitions are turned down at this stage, Perry said.
The Department of Commerce now will conduct a more thorough investigation to determine if dumping is occurring and whether penalties should be imposed.
After that, the case goes back to the ITC to determine if the dumping has harmed the U.S. industry.
Both of the agencies must concur before anti-dumping tariffs are imposed.
An ITC spokesman said the process takes about a year, but provisional tariffs could be imposed as early as November.