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Tariffs Benefit the American Manufacturing Industry

February 15, 2019

Most people are unaware that for over 150 years, the American government protected the development and growth of its manufacturing industry with high tariffs, ranging from a low of 5% to as high as 50% in some cases. The first tariffs were imposed by the Tariff Act of 1789, whose purpose was to raise money for the new federal government, slash Revolutionary War debt and protect early-stage American industries from foreign imports.

[ Michele Nash-Hoff | February 13, 2019 | SavingUsManufacturing.com]

Prior to achieving its independence, Americans were dependent on goods imported from England, France, and Holland, so it was critical to develop their own manufacturing base to maintain independence as a country in the event of future wars.

These protectionist policies enabled its fledgling manufacturing industries to grow until the United States became the preeminent industrial nation in the 20th century.  American manufacturing dominated the globe for over 70 years.

After World War II, the U.S. switched from protectionism to free trade in order to rebuild the economies of Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan and bind the economies of the non-Communist world to the United States for geopolitical reasons.

To accomplish these objectives, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was negotiated during the UN Conference on Trade and Employment, reflecting the failure of negotiating governments to create a proposed International Trade Organization. Originally signed by 23 countries at Geneva in 1947, GATT became the most effective instrument in the massive expansion of world trade in the second half of the 20th Century.

GATT’s most important principle was trade without discrimination, in which member nations opened their markets equally to one another. Once a country and one of its trading partners agreed to reduce a tariff, that tariff cut was automatically extended to all GATT members. GATT also established uniform customs regulations and sought to eliminate import quotas.

By the 1970s, Japan’s economy was flourishing to the point that Japan became a major exporter to the U. S. for consumer electronic goods such as cameras, stereos, radios, and TVs. During the 1980s, Japan further expanded its U. S. market share with automobiles and machine tools for the manufacturing industry, such as mills, lathes, and turret presses.

Germany focused on high-end products in all of the same markets as the Japanese, so that American products faced stiff competition at the low end and high end.

Manufacturing employment in the U. S. reached a peak of 19.5 million in 1979, and slid down to 17.3 million by 1993 from the effects of job losses from increased imports from Japan, Germany, and other countries because of free trade policies and lower tariffs.

By 1995, when the World Trade Organization replaced GATT, 125 nations had signed its agreements, governing 90 percent of world trade.

Another major blow to the American manufacturing industry took place when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was negotiated under President Bill Clinton and went into effect in January 1994. The agreement was supposed to reduce market barriers to trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to reduce the cost of goods, increase our surplus trade balance with Mexico, reduce our trade deficit with Canada, and create 170,000 jobs a year. Twenty years later, the fallacy of these supposed benefits is well documented.

According to the report “NAFTA at 20” released in 2014 by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “More than 845,000 specific U.S. workers have been certified for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) as having lost their jobs due to imports from Canada and Mexico or the relocation of factories to those countries.”

In 1994, GATT was updated to include new obligations upon its signatories. One of the most significant changes was the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO.) The 75 existing GATT members and the European Community became the founding members of the WTO on January 1, 1995. The other 52 GATT members rejoined the WTO in the following two years, the last being Congo in 1997. Since the founding of the WTO, a number of non-GATT members have joined, and there are now 157 members.

The loss of jobs accelerated after President Clinton granted Most Favored Nation status to China in the year 2000, and China was able to join the WTO. As a result, the U. S. lost 5.9 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010, and manufacturing employment dropped from 17.3 million down to 11.4 million in depth of recession in February 2010. In addition, an estimated 57,000 manufacturing firms closed.

On January 31, 2017, the Economic Policy Institute released a report, “Growth in U.S.–China trade deficit between 2001 and 2015 cost 3.4 million jobs,” written by Robert Scott.

Scott stated, “Due to the trade deficit with China, 3.4 million jobs were lost between 2001 and 2015, including 1.3 million jobs lost since the first year of the Great Recession in 2008. Nearly three-fourths (74.3 percent) of the jobs lost between 2001 and 2015 were in manufacturing (2.6 million manufacturing jobs displaced).”

Why were so many jobs lost? A large percentage of the people who lost jobs were in industries decimated by Chinese product dumping and below market pricing; i.e., textiles, furniture, tires, sporting goods, and garments. In addition, American manufacturers chose to outsource manufacturing offshore as the U.S. Department of Commerce data 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.”

Thankfully, manufacturing employment increased to 12.8 million by December 2018 as shown by the chart below. This was the result of a very slowly improving economy, reshoring (returning manufacturing to America), and increased Foreign Direct Investment (foreign manufacturers setting up plants in the U.S.) Notice that it took six years to increase by 904,000 under the Obama Administration, and it’s only taken two years to increase by another 441,000 jobs under the Trump Administration. While an increase of 1.4 million jobs is good news, at this rate, it would take about 30 years to recoup the 5.8 million jobs we lost from 2000 to 2010.

We need to accelerate the growth of manufacturing jobs, and that is what the tariffs imposed by President Trump are designed to do.  In the only few short months since the tariffs went into effect, I’ve seen the following headlines about job growth in the past week:

“U.S. Steel Corp. Restarts Texas Plant That Closed in 2016,”  IndustryWeek,February 5, 2019

“Tariffs Helping US Manufacturers Add Jobs, Says Group,” IndustryWeek, February 7, 2019

“US Steel Resumes Construction on Idled Facility,” IEN, February 11, 2019

On December 04, 2018, the article “Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s tariffs are working” by Jeff Ferry, Research Director for the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA), stated,  “The tariffs have contributed to this growth directly and indirectly. Directly, we’ve catalogued some 11,000 US jobs that are being created by companies in the four tariffed industries, and that’s not including any of the Section 301 industries. Since that 11,000 tally in August, more investments and jobs have been announced, like the massive $1.5 billion steel plant to be built by Steel Dynamics, which will create some 600 new jobs in the southwest. Solar Power World lists a dozen solar companies now investing in US production of solar modules.”

“At CPA, we built an economic model looking at the effects of the tariffs on the US economy from 2018 through 2021. We found that the tariffs boosted US economic growth, adding $9 billion to GDP this year. Further, our growing economy leads to growing US imports each year. In other words, by boosting our own economic growth, we buy more goods from our trading partners, not less.”

If we want to protect our national security and maintain our national leadership in the 21st Century, we cannot continue down the path of increasing trade deficits and increasing national debt by allowing countries with predatory trade policies to destroy the American manufacturing industry.  I support the new path the Trump Administration is forging by developing and implementing a national strategy to win the international competition for good jobs, sustained economic growth, and strong domestic supply chains.


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