About Us

  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

Contact

« June 2014 | Main | August 2014 »

July 22, 2014

Administration Flooded with 26,000 Comments Opposing Proposal to Disguise Offshoring of U.S. Manufacturing

Broad Reclassification Plan Would Count iPhones Made in China as U.S. Exports; Data Tricks Would Artificially Inflate U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Deflate Manufacturing Trade Deficits

More than 26,000 people nationwide have submitted comments opposing Obama administration proposals that would severely distort U.S. job and trade data by reclassifying U.S. corporations that offshore American jobs as “factoryless goods” manufacturers. Under a broad data reclassification plan, much of the value of U.S. brand-name goods assembled by foreign workers and imported here for sale would no longer be counted as imported goods, but rather as manufacturing “services” imports. This would deceptively deflate the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.

The “factoryless goods” proposal, designed by the administration’s Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC), also would, overnight, falsely increase the reported number of U.S. manufacturing jobs as white-collar employees in firms like Apple – now rebranded as “factoryless goods producers” – would suddenly be counted as “manufacturing” workers. This shift also would create a false increase in U.S. manufacturing wages and output.

“The only reason you would classify an iPhone made in China as a U.S. export is to hide the size of our massive trade deficit,” said James P. Hoffa, Teamsters general president.

“To revive American manufacturing jobs and production, we need to change our policies, not cook the data,” said Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council. “We need to reform the trade policies that have incentivized offshoring and resulted in decades of trade deficits and millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs offshored, not cover up the evidence that our current trade policy is not working.”

One element of the proposed economic data reclassification plan would rebrand U.S. imports of goods manufactured abroad, such as Apple’s iPhone (which is assembled in China by a firm called Foxconn) as “services” imports rather than imports of manufactured goods. And if Foxconn exported iPhones to other countries, the proposed reclassifications would count the iPhones manufactured in China as U.S. manufactured goods exports, further belying the real U.S. manufacturing trade deficit. 

The economic data reclassification initiative, if implemented, could further undermine efforts to bolster U.S. manufacturing by producing a fabricated reduction of the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.

“These Orwellian data rebranding proposals would hide the damage wrought by past trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement, greasing the way for more-of-the-same, job-killing, deficit-boosting trade deals,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The comments submitted by concerned individuals include:

  • “Reclassifying jobs that have been and continue to be shipped overseas under the euphemism ‘factoryless goods’ is an insult to the citizens of the United States who want real manufacturing jobs, and know that the TPP and other NAFTA-style trade deals are not in our best interest.” – Susan Marie Frontczak, Boulder, Colorado
  • “Put the tricks aside. It's time to address the bad trade policies that have led to incentivized offshoring, rather than play with rebranding.” – Merill Cole, Macomb, Illinois
  • “NAFTA and GATT were a really bad idea ... TPP is worse ... and ECPC as a cover-up for unfair trade policies is just ridiculous. Bring manufacturing back to the US and stop this unfair trading with other countries.” – Aaron McGee, Madison, Wisconsin

This month, 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman, demanding that he immediately begin to provide Congress with accurate U.S. trade data. The letter followed an admission by USTR staff that the agency was providing Congress with uncorrected raw data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. That data includes “re-exports,” which are goods produced in foreign countries that pass through the United States without alteration before being sold abroad.

Each month, the U.S. International Trade Commission provides corrected trade data that removes the foreign re-exports, but USTR has chosen not to use this data. By using the uncorrected data, the USTR can misleadingly appear to make more than half the $177 billion 2013 NAFTA goods trade deficit “disappear.” The USTR does this by, for instance, counting goods that are imported from China, that are not altered in the United States and that are then “re-exported” to Mexico as “U.S. exports” to Mexico.

Congress’ demand for accurate trade data from the USTR and the administration’s distortionary data reclassification proposals come as administration officials seek support for two controversial trade and investment pacts now under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). The administration’s push to obtain Fast Track authority for those pacts has met strong opposition from both parties in Congress and from more than 60 percent of the U.S. voting public. 

July 10, 2014

Civil Society Organizations Oppose U.S.-EU ‘Trade’ Pact Proposals That Would Undermine Chemical Safety Protections

111 Consumer, Health, Environmental, Labor Groups Warn Trade Ministers About TTIP Proposals That Would Endanger Public Health

In a letter today, a broad array of major U.S. and European chemical safety, health, environmental, labor, consumer and other organizations expressed strong opposition to proposed rules for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that could chill or roll back robust chemical safety standards on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The letter was sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht, in advance of the sixth round of TTIP negotiations, which are to begin in Brussels next week.

“EU and U.S. trade policy should not be geared toward advancing the chemical industry’s agenda at the expense of public health and the environment – but that appears to be exactly what is currently underway with TTIP,” the letter states. “The presence of toxic chemicals in our food, our homes, our workplaces, and our bodies is a threat to present and future generations, with staggering cost for society and individuals.”  

“U.S. and EU negotiators appear to have bought the chemical corporations’ argument that this so-called ‘trade’ deal should go well beyond trade and target our safeguards from toxic chemicals as ‘barriers to trade,’ which could continue public exposure to hazardous substances in unsafe workplaces, toxic lakes and rivers, and tainted food and toys” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and one of the letter’s signatories. “If the U.S. and EU governments want to have any hope of stemming the controversy surrounding this proposed pact, they must reverse course and keep our chemical safety protections out of their closed-door “trade” negotiations.” 

At next week’s TTIP negotiations, draft text will be presented for the first time for several of the proposed pact’s chapters that could directly undermine strong chemical safety rules. The texts will be kept secret from the public during negotiations, but the rules that would be established would be binding on the United States and EU member nations, with trade sanctions or cash fines ordered against domestic policies that do not comply with TTIP rules.

The letter highlights specific TTIP proposals that the U.S. and EU governments and industry interests have put forward that could chill U.S. efforts to strengthen chemical regulations while weakening tighter EU chemical protections. This includes a U.S. proposal for regulatory coherence that could “thwart the timely promulgation of important regulations” and an EU Regulatory Cooperation Council proposal that would require regulators to calculate “chemical regulations’ costs to transatlantic trade, not the benefits of such protective laws for society.” 

The letter also rejects a controversial proposal – opposed by U.S. state legislators, some EU member states and a transpartisan array of U.S. and EU civil society groups – to include “investor-state dispute settlement” terms in the TTIP. Already inclusion of such terms in other pacts has empowered corporations to circumvent domestic courts and directly challenge controls for the use of hazardous substances, pollution cleanup requirements and other chemical protections before extrajudicial tribunals authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for violations of broad foreign investor “rights.” Such extraordinary provisions, according to the letter, “would force the public and their representatives to decide between compensating corporate polluters for lost profits due to stronger laws, or continuing to bear the health, economic and social burdens of pollution.”

The letter concludes by criticizing the negotiations’ lack of transparency: “In a deal where fundamental changes to sub-national, national and regional policies and lawmaking processes are being proposed and negotiated, the non-disclosure of TTIP negotiating positions or texts is inexcusable and inconsistent with the principles of a modern democracy.” 

July 09, 2014

Proposed U.S.-China Treaty Would Expose U.S. Laws to Extrajudicial Attacks by Chinese Corporations, Incentivize More U.S. Job Offshoring

Chinese Acquisitions, Establishment of U.S. Subsidiaries Growing at 80 Percent Annual Rate with 820 Major Deals Totaling More Than $37 Billion Since 2000

At a time of rapid growth in Chinese acquisition of U.S. firms, establishing the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) discussed during this week’s U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is an especially terrible idea, said Public Citizen.

The treaty’s investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) would empower Chinese corporations invested here to directly challenge U.S. public interest safeguards before extra-judicial tribunals that could order payment of U.S. Treasury dollars to compensate the firms for U.S. laws that they claim violate their new treaty rights.

Over the past five years, there has been a surge in Chinese corporations acquiring or creating U.S.-based subsidiaries, with such deals growing at an annual rate of 80 percent. Since 2000, Chinese corporations have acquired or installed about 820 U.S.-based firms in deals totaling more than $37 billion. Nearly 90 percent of these deals, by value, were Chinese takeovers of existing U.S. companies. Not included in these numbers are many instances of Chinese firms purchasing controlling shares of U.S. companies’ stock.

“How could it be in our interest to empower the ever-greater number of Chinese firms operating here – many owned by the Chinese government – to circumvent U.S. courts and challenge our financial, environmental, health and other public interest policies before foreign tribunals empowered to order payment of our tax dollars to these Chinese firms?” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “A U.S.-China BIT would invite a wave of attacks on our domestic laws by Chinese corporations through a system of private foreign tribunals that are a threat to our sovereignty and solvency.”

By providing new special protections and rights for U.S. firms that relocate to China, the treaty would remove many of the costs and risks of relocating and incentivize another wave of American job offshoring to China.

Under a U.S.-China BIT’s investor state dispute settlement provisions, Chinese corporations with U.S.-based operations and firms with significant Chinese investment would be empowered to drag the U.S. government before extrajudicial tribunals and demand taxpayer compensation for a broad array of non-trade-related policies. These tribunals, composed of three private attorneys, would be authorized to order unlimited U.S. taxpayer compensation for alleged losses to the Chinese firms’ “expected future profits” on the basis of claims that U.S. policies violated the firms’ sweeping, BIT-granted foreign investor “rights” not available to U.S. firms.

For example, thanks to its purchase last year of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, the Chinese corporation Shuanghui International could take advantage of a U.S.-China BIT’s investor privileges to challenge new U.S. food safety standards before a foreign tribunal. And Sinopec, a Chinese corporation that acquired a 50 percent stake in 850,000 acres of oil and natural gas leases owned by Chesapeake Energy last year, could use a U.S.-China BIT to skirt U.S. domestic courts and directly challenge future climate or fracking regulations.

Corporations directly controlled by the Chinese government have been responsible for about half of the Chinese acquisitions and other investments in U.S.-based firms to date. Experts have testified before Congress that expanded Chinese control of U.S.-based companies is guided not only by market forces, but also by Chinese government strategy. Under a U.S.-China BIT, the Chinese government would be able to use state-owned enterprises doing business in the United States to directly challenge U.S. domestic laws on the basis of substantive investor “rights” that are even more expansive, and more threatening to domestic regulations, than those found at the World Trade Organization. 

July 03, 2014

Let’s Just Pretend We Didn’t Offshore Manufacturing

Is an iPhone made in China and exported to Europe a U.S. export?

Is an Apple executive a manufacturing worker?

Yes, and yes.  At least those could become the answers if a new proposal afoot among some in the administration is allowed to take effect.  Federal agencies grouped under the bland-sounding Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC) are proposing to radically redefine U.S. manufacturing and trade statistics. 

Under the proposal, U.S. firms that have offshored their production abroad – like Apple – would become “factoryless goods” manufacturers.  The foreign factories that actually manufacture the goods – like the notorious iPhone-producing Foxconn factories in China – would no longer be manufacturers, but “service” providers for the rebranded “manufacturing” firms like Apple.

It appears the administration has been reading Orwell

But the problem with this proposed redefinition is not merely that it offends common sense.  The “factoryless goods” proposal would deceptively deflate the size of reported, but not actual, U.S. manufacturing trade deficits, while artificially inflating the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs overnight.

While some details of the proposal remain open-ended, one thing is clear: this maneuver would obscure the erosion of U.S. manufacturing.  It would disguise the mass-offshoring of U.S. middle-class factory jobs incentivized by NAFTA-style trade deals.  It would undermine efforts to change the unfair trade and other policies that have led to such decline.  

To boost U.S. manufacturing jobs and production, we need to switch our policies, not our numbers.

The ECPC is accepting comments on their “factoryless goods” proposal until July 21.  If you’d care to offer your thoughts, click here.
  

The 3 Big Distortions of the "Factoryless Goods" Proposal
  

1.  The proposal would result in a fabricated reduction of the U.S. manufacturing trade deficit by rebranding imports of U.S. manufactured goods as “services” imports, according to recent explanations offered by officials of ECPC member agencies.  The redefinition would not affect all U.S. trade statistics, but it would distort some of the most widely-reported numbers (those calculated on a balance of payments basis), misleading the public and policymakers alike.

Take, for example, a scenario in which Apple ships iPhone parts to China to be assembled in a Foxconn factory and then sent back to the United States to be sold here.  Currently, the value of the imported iPhone minus the lesser value of the exported parts counts as a net U.S. import of a manufactured good.  This reflects the fact that Apple offshored its iPhone manufacturing to China.

But under the ECPC proposal, Foxconn, now called a “manufacturing services provider,” would not be described as having manufactured the iPhones but as having provided services to Apple.  As a result, the net U.S. import of manufactured goods resulting from Apple’s decision to offshore would be reduced. In its place would be an import of Foxconn’s factory “services.”
  

2.  The proposal would treat some goods exported by foreign factories as U.S. manufactured exports.  Take a scenario in which Apple ships iPhone parts to China that are assembled by Foxconn and then shipped to the European Union (EU).  Currently, Apple’s export of parts to China counts as the only U.S. export in this scenario. 

But the ECPC proposal, according to officials of ECPC member agencies, would instead count China’s export of the fully-assembled iPhones to the EU, less the cost of any imported parts, as a “U.S. manufactured goods export.”

The absurd logic of this rebranding is that while China manufactured and exported the iPhones, they count as U.S. manufactured exports because they were under the control of a U.S. brand.  This Orwellian proposal would spell an artificial increase in U.S. manufactured exports (on a balance of payments basis), further belying the real U.S. manufacturing trade deficit.
  

 3.  The proposal would spur a disingenuous, overnight increase in the number of U.S. “manufacturing” jobs as white-collar employees in firms like Apple – now rebranded as “factoryless goods producers” – would suddenly be counted as “manufacturing” workers. 

This change would also create a false increase in manufacturing wages, as many of the newly-counted “manufacturing” jobs would be designers, programmers and brand managers at “factoryless goods producers” like Apple. 

Reported U.S. manufacturing output would also abruptly and errantly jump, as revenues from firms like Apple would be lumped in with the output of actual manufacturers. 
  

This proposal defies common sense.  It would dramatically distort U.S. trade, labor and gross domestic product statistics.  Goods manufactured abroad and imported into the United States are not something other than manufactured goods imports.  Goods exported from foreign factories do not become “U.S. exports” when they are produced for U.S. brands.  And jobs in which workers spend zero time actually manufacturing anything are not “manufacturing jobs.”  

The offshoring of U.S. manufacturing under years of unfair trade policies cannot be undone with a data trick.  The hoped-for “renaissance” of U.S. manufacturing will come through new policymaking informed by accurate data, not politically convenient distortions.  

Recent Posts

Subscribe