Opinion: China’s strategy is to destroy American cabinet industry
By Edwin Underwood
March 4, 2020 | 4:16 pm CST

Edwin Underwood is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Marsh Furniture Co., a member of the American Kitchen Cabinet Alliance (AKCA).

Recently, I traveled to Washington to testify in a final hearing at the International Trade Commission. In my testimony, I spoke to the tradition of American craftmanship in the $10 billion kitchen cabinet and vanities industry. More importantly, I spoke on behalf of the 250,000 American workers who directly rely on the industry.

China’s unfair trade practices are destroying American business and leading to unemployment in small-town America – devastating the backbone of small-town local economies. As the President and COO of Marsh Furniture I understand how crucial a fair and level playing field is for the viability of the cabinet industry.

Marsh Furniture has been in the kitchen cabinet business for generations. Julius Everett Marsh founded our company in 1906 in High Point, North Carolina. To this day, we are still family owned and proud to be an economic driver of our area, employing over 650 people. Sadly, as China floods the market with their products, it’s difficult for family-owned businesses like Marsh to survive.

The recent historic announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce that unfairly traded Chinese imports of wooden cabinets and vanities will face duties is a great win for the American kitchen cabinet industry and more than 250,000 American workers. The total antidumping and countervailing duties range from 269.91 percent and many Chinese manufacturers will now face a rate of about 59 percent.

While the final determinations out of the Department of Commerce are a major step forward, our fight is not yet over as we have a final vote at the International Trade Commission on the 24th of March.

The cabinet industry is under assault from unfair trading with countries like China. Since 2015, China has increased its imports of kitchen cabinets into the United States by more than 75 percent and now controls 40 percent of the American market. This happened because of large subsidies coming from the Chinese government as well as unfair trade practices.

For example, Chinese finished cabinets cost 20 to 60 percent less than comparable American product. The disparity in pricing cannot be explained by materials or labor efficiencies. It’s obvious that China’s actions are aimed at dominating the American kitchen cabinet market.

China is standing by, ready to do whatever is required to take over another historic American industry through unfair trade practices. Being from North Carolina, I witnessed the disintegration of the furniture and textile industry firsthand by the imports. I will fight to see that this does not happen to the cabinet industry as well.

In my testimony I said, “Marsh Furniture’s continued viability is being harmed by the severe unfair competition that we are facing from dumped and subsidized Chinese imports. We have lost sales to Chinese imports in multiple channels – to distributors, dealers, and builders – in the multi-family and kitchen-at-a-time markets, to small single-family home builders and to remodeling consumers. Across all channels, we lose sales to customers for the same reason our domestic competitors do… price.”

American kitchen cabinet workers make the best product in the world and we can compete with anyone on a level playing field. In my home state of North Carolina, there are over 8,000 jobs associated with the production of kitchen and bath cabinets.

In recent months, the flood of Chinese products has led to the loss of more than 1,000 jobs across the U.S., caused plant closures, as well as huge financial losses. Position this against the backdrop of robust building and remodeling activity, an environment in which domestic cabinet providers should be healthy and growing.

Every day when I get to the Marsh factory, I am reminded about how hard our employees work, not only to produce the best cabinets on the market, but to support their families and their communities. The Marsh Family has invested in the company in an effort to be positioned as a relevant competitor for the future.

Our employees forge relationships here, build community, and often encourage family members to come to work at Marsh. Sons and daughters work beside proud parents and wonderful memories are formed amid a culture of compassionate discipline. Like Marsh, the kitchen cabinet industry has a long and important history in small communities across the United States, and we want to support that legacy for future generations. All we are asking for is a level playing field.

Here at Marsh Furniture, we are encouraged to see Washington working to ensure American workers have a fair opportunity to compete. We are encouraged by the final determinations rendered by the Commerce Department that supports American workers.

As Americans – as free market competitors, we are not afraid to do what’s right and we must stand up to countries that don’t play by the rules. We need the International Trade Commission to stand with us to ensure fair trading practices with their final vote scheduled for 24th March 2020. As an industry, we will continue our advocacy for American workers and American jobs. Working together, we will create a level playing field for American kitchen cabinet workers.

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