It seems that every time the United States signs a trade agreement with a foreign government, we end up with the short end of the straw. The North American Free Trade Agreement is perhaps the clearest example, having encouraged many companies to move their manufacturing to Mexico.
Not only did this offer companies cheaper labor and far fewer regulations, but finished goods could now be shipped back to the United States under special import rate exemptions.
Month after month we experience unprecedented trade deficits. Some of the largest ocean vessels arrive regularly at U.S. ports loaded to capacity with Chinese-made goods of every kind. These same vessels, however, return to China empty.
When China opened its doors to the world in the 1970s, and subsequently relaxed its 51-percent Chinese ownership requirement in the 1980s, many U.S. companies rushed to move their manufacturing facilities into this promising new market. Unfortunately, they took with them the technology and the manufacturing know-how and many of the jobs previously held by our domestic work force. This resulted in the loss of millions of good U.S. manufacturing jobs. The rapid increase of imports, particularly from China, keeps adding to our ever-deepening trade imbalance.
While many Americans will simply accept products from anywhere as long as they are cheap, there are still those who look at labels and are influenced by the origin. Unfortunately, the "Made in America" label is becoming a rarity.
How did we get to this point as a nation with the world's leading economy? Are further trade agreements really beneficial to the United States? While our government is eager to enter into further such agreements -- as with South Korea, for example -- each seeks to gain the greater benefit for itself. Most other countries view the United States as an exceptionally good market for their products. By entering into such trade agreements, foreign products often are allowed to enter the United States at a special low import duty or at none at all. This further handicaps U.S. companies from being competitive.
As consumers, we usually feel somewhat helpless. With the exception of our occasional griping, we feel that we have few choices. This is often reaffirmed when we are told that it is a global market. Well, if that is so then we, too, must be part of it and not just as buyers. We cannot just capitulate but should again begin to look at labels and decide.
Is "Made in America" still important to us? Do we want to support further trade agreements? Federal, state and local governments have enormous purchasing powers and should also give preference to American-made products. While this thinking may not always set well with other countries, we simply must reduce this out-of-line trade deficit, even if that means angering certain countries.
Fred Bonisch, of West Seneca, administered international sales and marketing for a large domestic aerospace firm for more than 30 years.