LOS ANGELES — In this election year, both U.S. presidential candidates are making China, and trade, an issue. With the unemployment rate above 8 percent, some Americans blame China for the loss of factory jobs. But other Americans say trade with China benefits the U.S.
For more than 30 years, David Bibona and his brother have been building their parts production business. He says in recent years it hasn't been easy.
"We might have been able to grow our company maybe three or five fold," he says.
"Might have been" if he wasn't competing with China, where production is cheaper.
"It’s very difficult to assemble the partnerships it takes sometimes to produce thousands of parts near the price that China does," explains Bibona.
As President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, battle for the White House, trade with China has become a political issue. Obama says Romney shut factories as a businessman and shipped jobs to China.
Romney, on the other hand, counters that Obama has been soft on China, which he says uses unfair trade practices.
Business professor Peter Navarro, at the University of California-Irvine, wants to make China and trade laws an even bigger political issue. He says the U.S. cannot compete because of China's illegal production subsidies and accuses China of manipulating its currency.
"In 2001 we let China into our markets here in the United States and,since that time, we've shut down over 50,000 factories, lost 6 million manufacturing jobs," Novarro says, " we've got 25 million people in this country that can't find a decent job, and we now owe $3 trillion to the world's largest totalitarian nation."
Navarro is taking his message to the big screen by writing, directing and producing the documentary, Death by China.
The professor calls for trade reform with China, such as rules limiting trade with countries that do not follow international labor standards for wages and hours worked.
"Free trade by the rules, both countries can win. Free trade by China's rules, only China wins," he says.
Navarro also wants consumers to think about China's history of human rights abuses and the lack of quality control in Chinese products before buying them.
Some Americans, like Linda Paquette, boycott goods that are made in China.
"It’s about all of us as a people against anything that is repressive and unfair and dangerous and undemocratic," she says.
But not all Americans think doing business with China is a bad thing.
At the Port of Los Angeles, officials say jobs are being created, in large part as a result of increased trade with China. Electrician Jeremy Rosique says that is why he's been able to stay employed.
"Absolutely right. Here with what we're doing, yes it benefits us," Rosique says.
Port official Phillip Sanfield says there are 1.2 million port-related jobs in California. Sixty percent of the imports come from China, while a third of the exports go there.
"So all of these jobs we currently have here at the port, a lot of that has to do with the trade we do with China," Sanfield explains.
International economist Ferdinando Guerra says while there is still an imbalance between imports and exports, there is a shift, with growth in American exports such as agricultural products and wine.
"Fifteen percent to 20 percent increases over the last few years [in exports]. That will continue to be the trend as China's middle class grows," he notes.
Guerra also says Americans benefit from all the products made in China.
"We've been able to control inflation as a result of cheap Chinese goods coming into the United States," he says.
Guerra acknowledges that Chinese imports hurt some Americans, but he says declaring a trade war is not the solution. Rather, he says the way to help the U.S. economy is to increase trade with China.