Posts Tagged ‘outsourcing to China’

How Trade Policies Led to the Decline of American Manufacturing

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Many people think that the decline in American manufacturing started with American manufacturers sourcing manufacturing offshore in order to achieve lower labor costs, avoid regulations, and pay lower taxes. While the decline accelerated after China was granted the status of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) and was allowed to join the World Trade Organization, it actually began decades earlier.

PNTR is a legal designation in the U. S. for free trade with a foreign nation and was called Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) until the name was changed in 1998. defines it as “A method of establishing equality of trading opportunity among states by guaranteeing that if one country is given better trade terms by another, then all other states must get the same terms.

Thus, it is a method to prevent discriminatory treatment among members of an international trading organization. It provides trade equality among trading partners by ensuring that an importing country will not discriminate against another country’s goods in favor of those from a third. Once a country grants any type of concession to a third-party country, this concession must be given to all other countries.

At the end of World War II, the United States was the dominant manufacturing country of the world.  The American manufacturing base had enabled the U. S. to win the war with Germany and Japan by outproducing these two countries in implements of war from ships to tanks to weapons.

Over the next 20 years, American manufacturing became synonymous with quality and inventiveness.  Companies like Ford, General Motors, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, and Levi Straus became household names.

One of the main reasons why the United States became the dominant manufacturing country in the world was that for over 150 years, our government protected and fostered the growth of American industry through tariffs. The first tariff law passed by the Congress, was the Tariff of 1789.  The purpose was to generate revenue to fund the federal government, pay down the debt of the government, and also act as a protective barrier for domestic industries from imports from England and France in particular.

Tariffs played a key role in our country’s foreign trade policy and were the main source of revenue for the federal government from 1789 to 1914, the year after income taxes went into effect in 1913.  During this long period of time, tariffs averaged about 20% on foreign imports, and at times, tariff revenue approached 95% of federal revenue.

During the Truman Administration (1945-52), foreign trade policies began to focus on liberalizing trade through moving from protective tariffs to free trade. The instructions given from Congress to the U. S. Trade Representative were:  Remove barriers to trade. A key concept of the liberalization of trade was reciprocal tariffs and low tariff rates. Two of the main reasons for this change in trade policy were to help Europe and Japan rebuild after the war and engender closer relations with the U. S. as a deterrent to the spread of communism. This ended the use of tariffs as a significant source of Federal revenue and began the increase of corporate and personal income taxes.

In 1948, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty “was signed by 23 nations in Geneva on October 30, 1947, and took effect on January 1, 1948. It remained in effect until the signature by 123 nations in Marrakesh on April 14, 1994, of the Uruguay Round Agreements, which established the World Trade Organization (WTO) on January 1, 1995. The WTO is in some ways a successor to GATT, and the original GATT text (GATT 1947) is still in effect under the WTO framework, subject to the modifications of GATT 1994. GATT, and its successor WTO, have successfully reduced tariffs. The average tariff levels for the major GATT participants were about 22% in 1947, but were 5% after the Uruguay Round in 1999.”

GATT requires that exports of all countries that are party to the treaty should be treated alike by other countries that are party to the treaty, and each member is granted Most Favored Nation status. Since GATT was first signed, MFN (now PNTR) status has been granted to about 180 countries. Only a handful of communist countries have been denied MFN status.

For over 20 years, American manufacturers experienced little competition from foreign exports, but in the 1970’s Japanese and German products began to significantly penetrate the U. S. market. Due to the focus on demilitarization and decentralization in the U. S.- directed rebuilding of the Japanese and German economies, producing consumers goods was the focus.

Japan focused on audio/stereo products, cameras, pianos/keyboards, and TVs, as well as low cost automobiles and motorcycles. Companies such as Panasonic, Sony, Sanyo, Yamaha, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Datsun (now Nissan) became the new household names in America. Mitsubishi had produced aircraft in Japan before and during WWII, including the infamous fighter plane, the Zero. Nakajima was another aircraft manufacturer that was reformed as Fuji Heavy Industries after the war and began to produce the Subaru vehicles.

Germany started focusing on automobiles such as the Volkswagen “Bug” and bus, BMWs, and then Mercedes vehicles.  They expanded into manufacturing equipment, machine tools, and scientific and laboratory instruments and equipment. Volkswagen was instrumental in Germany’s industrial recovery as their plants have escaped damage from bombing. The Volkswagen plant had been offered to England after the war as reparations, but England turned it down. Without Volkswagen being able to start manufacturing autos in 1946 after the war, the reindustrialization of Germany would have been delayed considerably.

It didn’t take long for the increased imports from Japan and Germanys to take their toll on the U. S. trade balance.  As the below chart shows, the last year we had a positive trade balance in goods was 1975:

Source:  Coalition for a Prosperous America

As a developing country, imports from China didn’t become a significant factor until the beginning of the 21st Century. The development and growth of China’s manufacturing industry was essentially funded through American companies setting up manufacturing plants in China starting in the 1990s and transferring manufacturing to Chinese contract manufacturers. Foxconn, Apple’s contract manufacturer for the iPhone and iPad, is the only Chinese manufacturer to become well known in the U.S. While Foxconn has plants in mainland China, it is actually owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.

“In article titled “The Death of American Manufacturing,” published in the February 2006 Trumpet Print Edition, Robert Morley wrote: “Manufacturing loss is occurring because of globalization and outsourcing. Globalization is the increased mobility of goods, services, labor, technology and capital throughout the world; outsourcing is the performance of a production activity in another country that was previously done by a domestic firm or plant.

At the dawn of globalization, the elimination of trade barriers opened up access to foreign markets for American manufacturers in return for building factories abroad. In due course, more and more manufacturers set up shop overseas, producing goods to be sold to Americans.”

According to Yashen Huang author of Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics, China’s “indigenous private sector is conspicuously small.” The majority of urban companies are still State-Owned Enterprises (SOE’s). Other companies are privately owned, but the owner(s) are government employees, so they are still essentially government controlled.

China had lost its status as MFN through suspension in 1951 after the Communists took over control of the government in 1949. It was “restored in 1980 and was continued in effect through subsequent annual Presidential extensions. Following the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the annual renewal of China’s MFN status became a source of considerable debate in the Congress…Congress agreed to permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status in P.L. 106-286, President Clinton signed into law on October 10, 2000.  PNTR paved the way for China’s accession to the WTO in December 2000…;”

  1. S. trade with China began to be measured in 1985 by the U. S. Census Bureau, and we had only a small deficit of $6 million. The trade deficit grew to $83.8 billion by the year 2000. However, after China was granted PNTR and became a member of the WTO, the trade deficit started to escalate. It doubled to $162.3 in 2002 and doubled again by 2014 to $344.8 billion. The 2016 trade deficit was $347 billion, down from $367 billion in 2015.  In 2016, China represented 38% of our overall trade deficit of $654.5 billion.

As a result of the escalated trade deficits from 2001 to 2010, the U.S. lost 5.8 million manufacturing jobs and 57,000 manufacturing firms closed. Where do all the jobs go?  Well, the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that “U.S. multinational corporations… cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.” So, we lost about half to offshoring of manufacturing to China and other parts of Asia.

The real story is even worse than this data. In an article by Terence P. Jeffrey published on on May 12, 2015, “The number of jobs in manufacturing has declined by 7,231,000–or 37 percent–since employment in manufacturing peaked in the United States in 1979, according to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a result of more and more American manufacturers setting up plants in China, our domestic supply chain was weakened. From 2001 to 2010:  The U. S. textile industry lost 63% of jobs since 2001. Communication equipment industry lost 47% of its jobs. Motor vehicles and parts industry lost 43% of its jobs. U. S. machine tool industry consumption fell 78% in 2008 and another 60% in 2009. U. S. printed circuit board industry has shrunk by 74% since 2000.  We even lost whole industries, such as:  fabless chips, compact fluorescent lighting, LCDs for monitors, TVs and handheld devices like mobile phones displays, Lithium ion, lithium polymer and NiMH batteries, low-end servers, hard-disk drives, and many others.

After over 40 years of trade policies that foster offshoring, it’s time to have a new goal for trade policies.  Instead of “remove barriers to trade,” we need to have a goal of “eliminating the trade deficit.”  The Coalition for a Prosperous America has recommended this goal for years, and on March, Representatives Brooks and Lipinski introduced House Congressional Resolution 37 for Congress to set a national goal to eliminate the trade deficit.  It is only one sentence long:  “Expressing the sense of Congress that Congress and the President should prioritize the reduction and elimination, over a reasonable period of time, of the overall trade deficit of the United States.”

As soon as the tax reform bill is signed by President Trump, Congress needs to pass this Resolution before the end of the year, so we can start 2018 on a new track.

Why it is Important to Know Where Products are Manufactured

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

At a time when more consumers are paying attention to where products are made and expressing greater interest in buying “Made in USA” products even if they cost more, there are changes proposed that could impact consumers being able to make decisions on the products they buy.

The first reason we need to know where products are manufactured is to have a clear picture of whether the nearly six million manufacturing jobs we have lost since 2000 have been mainly the result of technologic advances and higher productivity in the U. S. or whether outsourcing to foreign countries like China has been the main cause.

For decades, there have been companies referred to as manufacturers that I called “virtual manufacturers.” in my book. These companies have no manufacturing capability in-house. Sometimes they don’t even have the personnel to design the product. The founders of the company may have a concept of the new product they wish to develop and market, but they don’t have the technical expertise to do the design and development themselves. They hire outside consultants to design and develop the product or subcontract the design, development, and prototyping to a company specializing in these services. At the extreme end, they subcontract out everything from start to finish, including engineering design, procurement of parts and materials, assembly, test, inspection, and shipping to the end customer. They may handle marketing and customer service themselves, but sometimes they even subcontract these functions to marketing and customer service firms. There was no real impact on U. S. manufacturing data as long as these U. S. companies outsourced their manufacturing to other domestic manufacturers.

However, in the past 20 years, these virtual manufacturers have increasingly outsourced most or all of their manufacturing offshore. This resulted in U. S. federal agencies involved in economic data labeling them as “factoryless goods producers” and classifying them as “wholesale traders,” if they didn’t do any domestic manufacturing themselves. Apple, Nike, and Cisco are some of the more well known “factoryless goods producers” because of having their manufacturing outsourced offshore.

Now, U.S. federal agencies involved in economic data want to change the way they classify companies that have outsourced their U.S. production to foreign manufacturing companies. They are proposing to reclassify these “wholesale traders” as “domestic manufacturers.” This means that their sales would be counted as U.S. production and their products that are made offshore and imported into the U. S. for sale would no longer be counted as imports.

As reported in the August 20th issue of Manufacturing & Technology News, the purpose of this change is supposedly “to determine how much products are been offshored and to pinpoint the number of American companies that are linked to manufacturing, even though they don’t make the products they design and sell.”

For the past decade, “U.S. statistical agencies found that the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) did not provide a clear definition of companies that outsourced their production overseas, but that still owned the design and controlled the production and sale of goods from that foreign production.” A Manufacturing Transformation Outsourcing Subcommittee was formed in 2008 by the Economic Classification Policy Committee “to define outsourcing and identify “characteristics of establishments that outsource manufacturing transformation activities.” The committee was made up of representatives from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“The committee decided that all factoryless goods producers should be classified in manufacturing, the specific industry classification based on the transformation production process used by the contractor”  and recommended that the classification changes be implemented in the 2017 North America Industry Classification System.

There is disagreement on whether this change would be beneficial as it would impact a dozen major government statistical series, such as industrial production, producer price indexes, and industrial productivity.

In my opinion this change would result in data that is misleading and wouldn’t be giving a true picture of American manufacturing. We would not be able to know how much is actually being produced in the United States if we count imports from offshore as if they are domestic production. This change could radically increase U.S. production statistics and reduce our import statistics making our trade balance artificially look better.

A better way to find the answer to this question has been provided by San Diego entrepreneur and businessman, Alan Uke in his book, Buying America Back:  A Real-Deal Blueprint for Restoring American Prosperity. Mr. Uke writes, “Our future as a nation and as individuals is being threatened. Since our spending habits as consumers have contributed to this situation, we can change our spending habits to reverse it… in order for a change to happen, consumers must demand to be more honestly and completely informed about what they are buying and where their money goes. To this end, we are starting a consumer movement to bring this to the attention of Congress…The goal of this movement and of this book are to encourage people to change their buying habits toward purchasing things that help the U. S. economy and job situation.”

He points out that the current information provided on country of origin labels is “misleading, incomplete, inaccessible, or all of these…In order to support our economy and American industries, we must have easily accessible, clearly communicated, and truthful information about a product’s entire origins.”

Mr. Uke recommends that consumers be provided the country of origin information they need at the point of sale whether at a store or online and presents a proposal for the U. S. government to require detailed country-of-origin labels for all manufactured products similar to the nutritional information labels now required on packaged food products. He feels that it is important for consumers to “see the last place where the product was manufactured” and “to discern what portion of its components came from other places” by use of what he calls a “Transparent Label.” It would include the cost by country of origin by both percentage and trade ratio, as well as the location of the company’s headquarters. The percentage is the total cost of the product that is produced or transformed in a particular country. The trade ratio describes the amount of exports vs. imports for a country in relation to the United States. This label would enable consumers to make better decisions when they buy manufactured goods.

The second reason we need to know where products are manufactured is to protect ourselves from unsafe, defective, toxic, and counterfeit products. The U. S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission’s website provides a monthly list of products that have been recalled, and month after month, more than 90% are made in China.

A label similar to Mr. Uke’s recommendation would help companies comply with the new product safety standard (ISO 10377) recently released by the International Standards Organization (ISO):  The “Consumer Product Safety — Guidelines for Suppliers” standard (ISO 10377). The summary written by Dr. Elizabeth Nielsen, Chair of ISO/PC 243, Consumer product safety and a Canadian government Scientist, Regulator and Policy Analyst, states, “Regardless of company structure and organization, ISO 10377 will affect all suppliers irrespective of their role in the supply chain and all types of products whatever the origin.”

“Products should be traceable and carry a unique identifier that is labelled, marked or tagged at the source. This also goes for raw materials, components and subassemblies. Suppliers should insist on properly identified products from vendors and be able to trace products back to their direct source and identify the next direct recipient of the product in the supply chain.”

This standard has a different purpose for labeling than Mr. Uke’s label:  to protect consumers from unsafe, defective, toxic, and counterfeit products. “Products are safer when they carry documentation about the product, its design, its production and its management in the market…Suppliers should be able to recognize a product’s development through its documentation and trace its design, risk assessment, hazard analysis and testing decisions back to its conception.”

ISO 10377 is “aimed at small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as larger firms and offers risk assessment and management techniques for safer consumer products. This standard will allow retailers and OEMs to trace every part and component of a product through the supply chain to determine exactly where a defect or a counterfeit has occurred.” The standard is divided into four main sections outlining general principles that promote a product safety culture in a company, safety in design, safety in production and safety in the retail marketplace.

Either Mr. Uke’s “Transparent Label” or the label required by ISO 10377 would satisfy both reasons for wanting to know where products are manufactured. This type of label would provide protection for consumers from unsafe, defective, toxic, and counterfeit products and would help us to recognize the main cause of the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. We need to face up to the true cause of the loss of manufacturing jobs before we can get any consensus of what to do about it by means of our national policies. We need to oppose reclassifying “wholesale traders” as domestic manufacturers and support “country of origin” labeling by contacting our Congressional representatives.





U.S.-China Trade Deficit Cost More than 2.1 Million Manufacturing Jobs

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

On August 23rd, the Economic Policy Institute released a briefing paper, “The China Toll ? Growing U.S. trade deficit with China cost more than 2.7 million jobs between 2001 and 2011, with job losses in every state, written by Robert Scott.

“Between 2001 and 2011, the trade deficit with China eliminated or displaced more than 2.7 million U.S. jobs, over 2.1 million of which (76.9 percent) were in manufacturing. These lost manufacturing jobs account for more than half of all U.S. manufacturing jobs lost or displaced between 2001 and 2011.”  The growing trade deficit with China has been a prime contributor to the crisis in U.S. manufacturing employment. When you take into account the multiplier effect of manufacturing jobs creating 3-4 other jobs, this explains why we have had a virtually jobless recovery since the end of the recession and why the unemployment rate has stayed so high for so long.

The growing trade deficit between China and the United States since China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 has had a disastrous effect on U.S. workers and the domestic economy. It has cost jobs in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“A major cause of the rapidly growing U.S. trade deficit with China is currency manipulation. Unlike other currencies, the Chinese yuan does not fluctuate freely against the dollar. Instead, China has tightly pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar at a rate that encourages a large bilateral trade surplus with the United States.”

China’s currency should have increased in value as its productivity increased, which would have created balanced trade. But, the yuan has remained artificially low as China acquired dollars and other foreign exchange reserves to further depress the value of its own currency. The paper explains “To depress the value of its own currency, a government can sell its own currency and buy government securities such as U.S. Treasury bills, which increases its foreign reserves.”

As a result of pressure for action on China’s currency manipulation, the Ryan-Murphy Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act (H.R. 2378) was approved by the House of Representatives on September 29, 2010, in the 111th Congress, but it did not pass the Senate. Last year, the Senate passed a similar bill, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011 (S. 1619), authored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), but a similar measure introduced in the House by Rep. Sander Levin (D-Michigan) with strong bi-partisan support from 234 cosponsors is being held up by the House leadership. “These bills would revise the Tariff Act of 1930 to include a “countervailable subsidy” that would allow tariffs to be imposed on some imports from countries with a ‘fundamentally undervalued currency’.”

Scott identifies several other Chinese government policies that also illegally encourage exports:

  • Extensive suppression of labor rights, lowering manufacturing wages of Chinese workers by 47 percent to 86 percent
  • Massive direct export subsidies provided to many key industries
  • Maintaining strict, non-tariff barriers to imports

The EPI paper states, “As a result, China’s $398.5 billion of exports to the United States in 2011 were more than four times greater than U.S. exports to China, which totaled only $96.9 billion…making the China trade relationship the United States’ most imbalanced by far.”

Scott believes that another crucial missing link is foreign direct investment (FDI) and outsourcing, about which I have written extensively in my own book and articles. He writes, “FDI has played a key role in the growth of China’s manufacturing sector. China is the largest recipient of FDI of all developing countries…Foreign-invested enterprises (both joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries) were responsible for 52.4 percent of China’s exports and 84.1 percent of its trade surplus in 2011…Outsourcing—through foreign direct investment in factories that make goods for export to the United States—has played a key role in the shift of manufacturing production and jobs from the United States to China since it entered the WTO in 2001. Foreign invested enterprises were responsible for the vast majority of China’s global trade surplus in 2011.” This includes investments by American corporations in their plants in China.

Another factor that has contributed to the trade deficit is that the expectations of a growing Chinese market for U.S. goods failed to occur. The U. S. was supposed to benefit from increased exports to a large and growing consumer market in China. Instead, “the most rapidly growing exports to China are bulk commodities such as grains, scrap, and chemicals; intermediate products such as semiconductors; and producer durables such as aircraft and non-electrical machinery…”

The paper provides a detailed analysis of trade and job loss by industry to show “the employment impacts of the growing U.S. trade deficit with China using an inputoutput model that estimates the direct and indirect labor requirements of producing output in a given domestic industry. The model includes 195 U.S. industries, 77 of which are in the manufacturing sector…”

The rapidly growing imports of computer and electronic accounted for 54.9 percent of the $217.5 billion increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2011. “…the trade deficit in the computer and electronic products industry grew the most, and 1,064,800 jobs were displaced, 38.8 percent of the 2001–2011 total.” As a result, the hardest-hit congressional districts were in California, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Minnesota, where jobs in that industry are concentrated. Some districts in North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama were also especially hard hit by job displacement in a variety of manufacturing industries, including computers and electronic products, textiles and apparel, and furniture.

The three hardest-hit congressional districts were all located in Silicon Valley in California, and of the top 20 hardest-hit districts, seven were in California, four were in Texas, two in North Carolina, two in Massachusetts, and one each in Oregon, Georgia, Colorado, Minnesota, and Alabama.

According to Scott, “The composition of imports from China is changing in fundamental ways, with serious implications for certain kinds of high-skill, high-wage jobs once thought to be the hallmark of the U.S. economy. China is moving rapidly “upscale,” from low-tech, low-skilled, labor-intensive industries such as apparel, footwear, and basic electronics to more capital- and skills-intensive sectors such as computers, electrical machinery, and motor vehicle parts. It has also developed a rapidly growing trade surplus in high-technology products.”

This growth of trade in advanced technology products (ATP) is of serious concern because it includes the more advanced elements of the computer and electronic products industry, as well as other sectors such as biotechnology, life sciences, aerospace, nuclear technology, and flexible manufacturing. It also includes some auto parts ? China has surpassed Germany as one of the top suppliers of auto parts to the United States.

“In 2011, the United States had a $109.4 billion trade deficit with China in ATP, reflecting a nine-fold increase from $11.8 billion in 2002. This ATP deficit was responsible for 36.3 percent of the total U.S.-China trade deficit in 2011. It dwarfs the $9.7 billion surplus in ATP that the United States had with the rest of the world in 2011…”

This increase in ATP is mainly the result of foreign direct investment and outsourcing by   U. S. corporations that have set up manufacturing in China or are using Chinese manufacturers as vendors so that products they make in China are imported for sale domestically that these corporations previously made in the U. S.

The growing U.S. trade deficit with China has displaced millions of jobs in the United States and contributed heavily to the crisis in U.S. manufacturing employment. At the same time, “the United States is piling up foreign debt, losing export capacity, and facing a more fragile macroeconomic environment.”

Scott writes, “The bottom line of the influences discussed above is this:  As a result of China’s currency manipulation and other trade-distorting practices (including extensive subsidies, legal and illegal barriers to imports, dumping, and suppression of wages and labor rights), the increase in foreign direct investment in China and related growth of its manufacturing sector, and the absence of a growing market for U.S. consumer goods in China, the U.S. trade deficit with China rose from $84.1 billion in 2001 to $301.6 billion in 2011, an increase of $217.5 billion…” ? a 72 percent increase!

He concludes, “Unless China raises the real value of the yuan by at least a third and eliminates these other trade distortions, the U.S. trade deficit and related job losses will continue to grow rapidly…The U.S.-China trade relationship needs a fundamental change. Addressing the exchange rate policies and labor standards issues in the Chinese economy is an important first step. It is time for the administration to respond to the growing chorus of calls from economists, workers, businesses, and Congress and take action to stop illegal currency manipulation by China and other countries.” If elected representatives will not serve the interests of the American people, then they need to be replaced by ones who will in the next election!