Originally created 08/31/02

China rattles granite market



ELBERTON, Ga. - The granite industry in this Northeast Georgia city may join with other U.S. producers to file a formal "dumping" complaint against China with the Federal Trade Commission, an industry executive said.

"We can deal with fair competition. What we've got is anything but fair competition," said Tom Robinson, the executive vice president of the Elberton Granite Association.

Almost all of Elberton's granite production is turned into tombstones, or monuments, as the industry calls them, Mr. Robinson said.

But tombstones manufactured in China and shipped to the United States are beginning to making serious inroads into the American market. Wholesale prices for Chinese tombstones can be 40 to 50 percent lower than U.S. prices, although they are not necessarily cheaper at the retail level, Mr. Robinson said.

Elberton granite producers have questioned the fairness of that competition, arguing that much lower wages and less strict environmental regulation in China give the Asian nation an unfair advantage.

"Dumping," however, means the nation is selling a product on the export market at a lower price than in its home market. U.S. industry officials are researching the question to see whether they can make a dumping case, he said.

Competition from China isn't the only problem facing the granite monument industry, Mr. Robinson said.

About 30 percent of Americans choose cremation instead of burial now, and many of them also decide not to get a monument.

"It's not just a fad, I think it's a trend," Mr. Robinson said.

But there is good news in the world of granite. New products, such as granite countertops, are taking up some of the slack.

And, increasingly, Elberton is a center for the manufacture of the most technologically advanced equipment used in mining and manufacturing granite monuments, Mr. Robinson said.