B y Donna Frischknecht

It’s been part of the Whitehall landscape since 1940. Back then, Commonwealth Plywood was supplying birch plywood for the Royal Air Force in the making of its mosquito bombers during World War II.
Today, 77 years later, the mill still stands off Route 4, providing those who pass by with a glimpse at Whitehall’s past, present and, hopefully, vibrant future as an employer for those in the area in desperate need of jobs.
Mayor Ken Bartholomew, in a letter to Nicolas Montero, executive assistant to the president of Commonwealth Plywood, headquartered in Quebec, said:
“Commonwealth Plywood has played and continues to play a vital role in the economic well-being of the town and village of Whitehall. The income generated from the jobs provided at this plant help support the needs of many families, countless numbers of service personnel and numerous small businesses in Whitehall as well as across our region.”
The letter is an example of just one small but important role villages like Whitehall are being asked to play in the battle to stop the illegal dumping of Chinese hardwood plywood into the U.S. market.
“Whitehall, as well as other communities where the production of hardwood plywood has a vital role for local economic well-being, can support this cause by demanding to the representatives to step forward for American industry and apply controls on China’s illegal practices,” Montero said.
The fight against the illegal dumping of Chinese plywood has been an on-going one, with trade groups like the Coalition for Fair Trade of Hardwood Plywood acting to raise awareness and curtailimports.
The coalition said illegal hardwood plywood imports have increased significantly from 2013 to 2106, accounting now for about 50 percent of the U.S. market.
“It is a hard time to begin with in trying to make a profit,” Bartholomew said. “They (China) are endangering jobs,” he said, adding “it will be a nail in the coffin” for Whitehall’s economy if the Commonwealth Plywood factory were to close.
“So when Mr. Montero asked for a letter stating the significance of the mill here in Whitehall, I got one to him right away,” Bartholomew said.
But is it too late?
In 2013, the Whitehall mill employed 130 people.
“Now we are only able to employ 80 people, as a result of the situation we are fighting against,” said Montero. Today, Commonwealth Plywood, as a group, is 60 percent the size it was 10 years ago, Montero added.
Montero, though, said he is hopeful, believing “our chances to stopping the Chinese illegal practices are better this time than they were in 2013.”
Montero is talking about the major step the U.S. International Trade Commission took at the end of 2016 when, on Dec. 30, it issued a preliminary ruling finding “sufficient” evidence pointing to unfair pricing of Chinese hardwood plywood imports causing “material injury to the domestic hardwood plywood industry,” according to a release sent by the Coalition for Fair Trade of Hardwood Plywood.
The coalition filed a petition last November with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission stating that imports of hardwood plywood products were being sold in the United States at “dumped prices.” The coalition also said that illegal Chinese subsidies have enabled China to dump. As a result, China has captured a large portion of the market. In 2015, $1.1 billion worth of Chinese hardwood and decorative plywood were imported.
Mayor Bartholomew shares Montero’s optimism and is hopeful that “our representatives will continue to recognize just how important industries like Commonwealth Plywood are to the citizens of small communities like Whitehall and to our nation as a whole.”

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