China Move Too Little, Too Late for Cary-Based Manufacturer

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Byline: Liz Hester Medill News Service

Some Washington politicians offered lukewarm praise for China's first step toward revaluing its currency Thursday. But a Cary-based manufacturer said the 2 percent change in a currency some argue is undervalued by 40 percent would have little effect on his import- sensitive bottom line.

"Two percent - that's a joke," said Doug Bartlett, owner of circuit board maker Bartlett Manufacturing Inc. "It's terribly inadequate."

Bartlett said a true way to equalize competition would be a 16 percent shift in the yuan's value, which had been set at a fixed rate since 1994.

Bartlett has watched his sales drop 59 percent over the last five years. He's had to cut the work force from 250 employees in 1997 to 87 today.

Bartlett is fighting back.

Working with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a lobbying group in Washington, Bartlett testified in April before Congress in support of a bill calling for China to curb "currency manipulation."

Under-valuation gives Chinese exporters a leg up in selling to the United States, while creating an immense burden on U.S. exporters who'd like to sell to China. There are several bills proposed in Congress to address the problem.

"Viewed as the beginning of a process toward a fully market- determined yuan, this development is promising," said Pennsylvania Republican Representative Phil English, who introduced one of the bills. "If this is a last, best offer, however, it is unacceptable."

In the 1980s, there were 3,500 companies making circuit boards in the United States. Now, there are only 450, said Bartlett, whose company was founded 53 years ago by his father.

The U.S. trade deficit with China increased nearly 31 percent to $162 billion in 2004, according to the U.S. trade representative's office.

"People notice that in manufacturing ... the U.S. has become less competitive, especially on price," said Hong Chen, director of the U.S.-Asia executive development program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bartlett's customers agree it's often advantageous to buy lower cost goods from China. …