Sanders says trade threatens Vermont granite industry

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(Host) An official with the Barre Granite Association says the industry has lost jobs and market share because of low-cost imports from China and India. The industry official met on Monday with Congressman Bernie Sanders, who has sponsored legislation to roll back a recent trade deal with China.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Host) The quarries and stone sheds in Central Vermont once employed 3,000 people. Now the granite industry has about 1,000 workers.

John Castaldo of the Barre Granite Association says cheap imports from China and India are partly to blame.

(Castaldo) “So when the manufacturer loses that sale, they have lost the opportunity to pay an employee and the opportunity for manufacturing the product domestically. The value-added is lost, and the dollar that would have come into the manufacturer and would have passed through our local economy five times is no longer there.”

(Dillon) According to Castaldo, the cut and polished pieces for a graveyard monument made from Vermont granite cost about $1,100. The same finished product from China costs just $390. That includes the cost of shipping the heavy stone from China to the U.S. Castaldo says Vermont companies just can’t compete against those prices.

(Castaldo) “It is going to be a constant struggle for manufacturers to produce granite and to keep at this point a 1 percent to 2 percent margin. Because it just gets harder and harder. They’re looking for more innovative ways to circumvent this problem. But it is a problem and if it continues, there very well could be some manufacturers who could just not make it.”

(Dillon) Castaldo and the granite industry want to impose tariffs on Chinese granite imports. He met on Monday with Congressman Bernie Sanders, a fierce critic of trade deals with China and other countries. Sanders says unfettered free trade has hurt middle class workers like the stone cutters in Barre.

(Sanders) “Throughout our history, what has the American dream been about? My father was very poor, came to this country and wanted to see his kids do better than he had done. And that’s the dream of everybody in America. And now what we’re looking at when we see the new jobs being created, is we see jobs that pay people lower wages, less health care, less opportunity in the economy. And that is a very, very sad day for America, when we’re seeing the middle class shrink, the rich become richer, poverty increasing.”

(Dillon) Sanders has co-sponsored legislation that would repeal most-favored nation trading status with China. He also will introduce a bill to block federal loans and loan guarantees for companies that move jobs overseas.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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