Senators want more China Harley-Davidson sales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four U.S. senators urged the Bush administration on Tuesday to raise pressure on China to open its market to U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc, which has struggled with sluggish sales this year.

A Harley-Davidson motorcycle's customized fuel tank is pictured in Hamburg July 15, 2007. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

“The Chinese market should be a hog heaven for U.S. motorcycle companies, but China’s unfair trade practices are slamming the brakes on Harley sales,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement ahead of high-level U.S.-China talks next week in Beijing.

“Fair trade must be a two-way street,” said Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat. “China’s roadblock to Harley- Davidson is unacceptable. There will always be a demand for a classic like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but artificial barriers are threatening U.S. jobs.”

Fellow Democratic Sens. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri joined Schumer and Casey in urging U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to press China on municipal regulations that limit or even ban heavy-duty motorcycle use in urban areas.

Harley-Davidson has been in China for two years, but has made almost no sales because of those rules, the senators said.

The iconic American motorcycle manufacturer contributes to employment in each of the four senators’ states.

The company employs 8,500 workers in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Missouri and supports another 1,300 tire manufacturing jobs at the Goodyear Dunlop tire plant in Buffalo, New York.

In October, the company said its third-quarter earnings fell more than 15 percent from last year because of sluggish sales.

Chief executive Jim Ziemer said the company had to cut production because of the difficult U.S. business environment.

Opening the Chinese market to Harley-Davidson motorcycles “would create growth opportunities and help secure American jobs,” the senators said.

Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Andre Grenon