Turn 'free trade' into fair trade
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 & Manufacturing Inc.
Mount Union, Pa.
Free trade helps fat cats, not oppressed
In response to your Dec. 16 Viewpoint (``Free trade provides chance for change,'' Page 6), I have to disagree with your views on free trade as a tool for spreading ideas and education to undemocratic nations.
I think the American view that most of these nations have no skill or technology is totally wrong. Many of these nations invest a lot of money to compete in the manufacturing sector of the world. It is up to these governments to ensure the prosperity of their own people. Not the United States.
So why is the United States government so freely allowing American companies to set up shop in these countries and pay wages that should be considered a joke? Some of these companies even often violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency rules that they would have to adhere to in the United States.
Products are made overseas with cut-rate manufacturing, often with lesser quality, then shipped back to the United States to sell for a price that would be comparable to if it was already made here.
Do any of these extra profits trickle down to workers? Probably not. While the quality of life in these nations is trying to get better, the governments ensure their own people do not get a taste of any prosperity. In the meantime, the quality of life for the U.S. worker is rapidly declining, due to the work being sent overseas by American companies.
These nations are usually so oppressive, the only ones that will prosper are the governments themselves and the American CEOs that occupy their soil. I have worked very hard to be paid what I get, and I just can't sit back and watch my industry as I know it go down the toilet in the U.S. because of unrealistic visions. As a reservist in the U.S. Navy, I would like to think that if I ever get mobilized for a possible war with Iraq that my company would still be around when I get back.
The result at Tiananmen Square would still have been the same even if those students had had a couple extra bucks in their pockets.
3-D Mold & Tool
In long run, 'cheap' isn't
It is my belief that we are losing the world battle for our workers. When I walk through a Wal-Mart and try to find products made in America it is almost impossible. If this continues Wal-Mart will fail in America, as the middle-class worker will not have the funds to buy these ``cheap goods.''
The trend of moving the plastic industry offshore has to stop. China will put us under without firing a shot. It seems the media continues to promote the idea of getting things done cheap. This has to stop or our grandchildren will suffer.
John Moore Corp.
Missouri City, Texas
America must adjust to service economy
Your story on Ampac Packaging LLC in the Dec. 16 issue (``Ampac entering China, expanding in Ohio,'' Page 1) is pointed to the truth. The United States is going to lose more ground to the Far East in all manufacturing areas.
There is no way a U.S. manufacturer can cut costs to compete with China and make a profit. Sorry, but you don't have to have an MBA to figure it out.
Not only is the plastics industry feeling the blunt end of the Far East, but the U.S. paper industry is finding foreign paper sales into the United States. The U.S. steel industry is bankrupt and only surviving because of some tariffs in place now. But, overall, the steel industry in the United States is dead.
The U.S. consumer benefits from all this, but at the expense of exporting new jobs. There is no need to have immigration into this country if the work force here is not working.
The United States is at a great transition point in economic history. We are going to a service and information society now. Smokestack industries are dead or dying. In order to stop the process, we would have to invoke high tariffs to keep our industries floating, or go to government subsidization. Overpopulation has made labor cheap. Advanced technology and cheap energy have made it possible to build more with less and at lower costs. This trend will continue until all industries find that the main problem of the future is getting people to buy their products.
We are overproducing on a worldwide scale. Look at the number of new cars on dealer lots. Overpopulation and overproduction have created environmental problems for the planet and greater social problems for nations.
There is no counterweight to balance this problem. It is not possible to feed everyone and give them housing and work. This is not doom and gloom; it is a fact of life that when a species of animal overpopulates an area it affects the environment and a counterbalance in nature appears.
The question you must ask is: Is having our industry exported part of the balance?'' I say yes. The United States was a high-floating ship. We are now sinking in relation to other rising industrial nations. What does the future hold for U.S. industry? More of the same. We will have less industry as this century goes forward. There will always be a core of need and supported plants for defense purposes, but consumer products will continue to be imported in greater numbers.
You can not fight the force that comes with open trade on a global basis. To survive you need to move into service business and information services. Research and development and high technology are growth areas for new business. If you want to make steel or plastic, you will have a tough time of it.
One last note: Why is it that the Far East can buy resins at 15-20 percent less than U.S. buyers? Maybe we need to look at the resin makers for some of our problems. Seems to me the U.S. buyer is getting jacked around if that is true.
Agency Fibers Ltd.