A Quiet Revolution

If you are in any part of the curtainwall business, you know there has been a quiet revolution going on slowly for the past 15 years—and with lightning speed during the past five. It’s no secret that major Chinese companies have been manufacturing and exporting curtainwall systems into the United States since the late 1990s. The first efforts by these manufacturers were pretty poor; they generally lacked both the quality and design capabilities necessary to provide products in the United States. But in the last five years, most of the major Chinese companies have hired their own U.S.-based professional representatives and made great strides in quality. In short, they’ve gotten good at it.

So good, in fact, that architects, building owners and developers no longer look down their collective noses at Chinese curtainwall. They are beginning to shed the added expense of hiring consultants to be their eyes and ears in the factories in China. And with prices that can run significantly lower than domestic ones, they’ve embraced it.

Given all this, the Chinese were left with just one problem (or so they thought): how to install it. The recession took care of that as dozens of glazing contractors and erectors decided labor-only work was better than no work at all and signed on to provide quality installations.

Some argue that these changes are not revolution, but rather the logical result of an ever-expanding global economy. Others say that the Chinese government, in an effort to increase market share and reduce manufacturing capacity here in the States, subsidizes pricing and has little concern for many liability or intellectual property protections offered here. They say that the importation of such product into the U.S. is an unfair trade practice.

A number of domestic curtainwall manufacturers took the issue to the International Trade Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce and asked for help. This resulted  in the issuance of Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Dury Orders for Curtainwall Units and Other Parts of Curtainwall Systems from the People’s Republic of China.

I won’t rehash the whole opinion here; you can read it at (You can also read today’s follow-up USGNN story here.)

Suffice it to say it has revolved around two issues: who has standing to bring such a complaint (i.e., who is a domestic manufacturer of like product) and what exactly constitutes a curtainwall system and its components.

Chinese manufacturers are livid. “… it’s amazing that three glazing contractors from Northern California can pose as manufacturers and successfully mislead the government for the purpose of minimizing competition in their marketplace,” said John D’Amario sales manager of Yuanda USA Corporation.

U.S. manufacturers, understandably, had quite a different reaction. “This is a great day for our industry here in the United States,” said Edward Zaucha, CEO of APG International Inc. in New Jersey. “We have had these companies dumping their products (glass included) here in the United States for years.”

But the issue is far from settled. Watch for the Chinese manufacturers to regroup around the definitions of what can and cannot be imported into the United States as U.S. manufacturers continue to try and compete.