Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Save our Soda Ash

You can't fault the American Chemical Industry when it comes to looking at the world and spotting things it doesn't like, such as competition from overseas.

This last week we've seen a congresswoman from Wyoming (Barbara Cubin, a Republican) and a senator from the same state (Craig Thomas, also a Republican) pressing for the kind of protectionist advantages in their home-state that would be ruled illegal in the European Union. Cubin and Thomas are asking for tax breaks for corporations that mine Trona, an ore that helps make Soda Ash (Sodium carbonate if you're interested and it helps make glasses glassy and in detergents, which help keep them clean).

Wyoming produces around 12m tonne/year of the world's total 34m tonne/year production. China overtook the US as the world's largest producer in 2003.

The trouble is for the possibly inefficient and possibly uneconomic Trona miners of the great wilds of Wyoming is that their Trona is more expensive than Chinese Trona. Its a simple story of supply, demand and price. I guess the guys (and I'll bet a pound to a penny that they're almost all men) who run these companies know this.

But for the Senator and Congresswoman, here we go. If there is more of something than the market wants, the price will fall until it reaches the level that the market begins to find the product attractive. You can try selling at the lower price, or players can leave the market when they decide the returns are not good enough. How would you react if the Chinese started trying to tip the paying field in their direction?

Take the hard message back to your constituents and approach this positively. Get government help for retraining and accept the possibility that the 3000 people working in the Trona mines of Southern Wyoming, could possibly be happier doing something else. 800 of them have been given that opportunity recently. I bet they're not all lining the highway looking for Wily Coyote.

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