At last, the latest election cycle is over! Now our esteemed elected officials can return to the serious business of selling our great country down the drain.
Perhaps they'll brainstorm and come up with another North American Free Trade Agreement-style deal to further erode our manufacturing base. You remember NAFTA, the savior of American businesses. The promise of free and open markets throughout North America would bring prosperity the likes of which has never been seen! I haven't seen it!
Ross Perot stated during the 1992 elections that NAFTA would create a giant vacuum sound, sucking American jobs south of the border. He was regarded as a political joke, a man who didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about. Remember?
I guess the joke's on us, because Perot was right. That's scary, but what's even more frightening is that Mexico and its neighbors in Latin and South America are now losing their jobs to China.
A recent issue of Plastics News highlighted U.S. trade policies as they relate to the tooling and mold-making industries in a two-page story.
I was shocked to find out the Chinese pay a 3 percent tariff to import their products to America. We, on the other hand pay a 10 percent tariff plus a 17 percent value-added tax to export our goods to China! Free trade?
Add to that the fact the Chinese have no Environmental Protection Agency, Labor Relations Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration or any other governmental oversight agency — makes you wonder what their wage, illness, vacation, holiday and retirement policies are like.
I would guess a country that crushes its protesters under the tracks of a tank would give little thought to the fringe benefits of its labor force. I choose to shine the light on China because today she is the biggest dragon stalking the tool, die and mold industry in which I make my livelihood.
I would like to share with you a few important points brought out recently in a “Tooling Competition Report” presented to Congress by the tool, die and mold industry:
1. The U.S. tool, die and mold industry includes about 7,000 firms, more than 90 percent with fewer than 50 employees. At least 200 have gone out of business in the past three years.
2. Canada accounted for 41 percent of U.S. tool, die and mold imports in 2001. (Thank you, NAFTA.) Imports from China and South Korea were relatively low in 2001, but growing fast: 191 percent and 248 percent respectively.
3. U.S. tool, die and mold manufacturers have excess capacity of 25-30 percent. (Why? See No. 2)
The experts cited in this report offered various options to help relieve this crisis: trade relief, tax law changes, capital investment incentives and ways to control rising health-care costs. These are all credible avenues of action, therefore politically impossible.
For instance, trade relief: read “tariffs.” I would guess that wouldn't work — it's not good for our corporate benefactors' pocketbooks. Tax law changes free up more money so our greedy large corporations can further invest overseas. Capital investment incentives? Great idea! I would suggest a tax credit tied directly to investments made in U.S. manufacturing facilities only. No, I guess that's a bad idea — corporate America wants to invest offshore, getting cheaper labor and bigger CEO bonuses.
So, where does that leave the tool, die and mold industry? Along with all the other manufacturing disciplines that have been lost to “free trade.” The problem is, that cannot happen.
The tool, die and mold industries built this great nation! We cannot afford to lose the foundation industries that made this country what it is today. As D-M-E President Jerry Lirette said in reference to the “Tooling Competition Report,” the effort should look at national security implications. “Without manufacturing there is no way the U.S. is going to maintain its relative power among other countries,” he added.
I say truer words were never spoken. Yet every day we see our manufacturing base slip away under the guise of free trade. Our economy is in shambles! Why? Could it have anything to do with free trade? Why not make “free trade” fair trade! Let's make all import/export tariffs equal. Better yet, why not penalize the countries that do not adhere to the same labor and wage standards that U.S. industries are held to? Maybe then the bargain-basement prices the large corporations receive from countries that treat their workers like animals wouldn't be so enticing. Maybe then we could bring our manufacturing jobs back where they originated and still belong! Maybe then we could honestly look our children in the eye and say, “Study and work hard and some day it will pay off with a real job, in a thriving manufacturing economy — not a minimum-wage job in a service-based economy.”
Please, I urge you, for your children, for your grandchildren, for yourself: Phone, fax, write or e-mail your senators, your congressmen, your representatives and tell them enough is enough. Give the future to our children, not to some foreign country because of corporate greed!
Jason L. White (owner and the last of seven employees)
Innovative Design &
Mount Union, Pa.