There was a lot of talk in 2017. Will 2018 bring any action?
Manufacturing dominated much of the national conversation in 2017, as issues like trade, jobs, the working class, infrastructure, automation, and more made headlines throughout the year.
We recapped many of them on The Manufacturing Report podcast in December. As we noted in that episode, there were a lot of seeds planted in 2017 that we hope will actually come to fruition in 2018, including:
No. 1: Meaningful Action on Steel and Aluminum Imports
For years now, China’s state-run economy has been churning out steel and aluminum, pricing it far below fair market value and dumping it into the global market. That’s led to tens of thousands of layoffs and dozens of plant closures in the United States. The Obama administration sought to level the playing field for American workers and companies by issuing duties on specific products, and while that provided some relief, it wasn’t enough to solve the problem long-term. China clearly is playing the long game.
President Trump talked a big game about steel and aluminum during the 2016 campaign. We were hopeful his administration would make good on its promise to get tough with China after the president announced national security investigations into these imports. The administration even pledged action by July 1.
But that timeline has come and gone. As we await the release of the “Section 232” investigations, steel imports alone are up more than 17 percent; Team Trump’s delay in unveiling the steel and aluminum reports has actually made the crisis worse.
In 2018, we hope President Trump finally releases these investigations’ findings and takes strong and meaningful action to address the overcapacity crisis.
No. 2: Movement on Executive Orders
The steel and aluminum imports investigations aren’t the only thing we are awaiting from the administration. President Trump also issued a series of executive orders early in 2017 designed to boost manufacturing, including one that gave the federal government 220 days to research ways to strengthen Buy America laws. That timeline has since passed, and the report still isn’t out.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed. Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) -- who represents a state with a strong manufacturing presence that swung for Trump in 2016 -- last week called on the president to make the report public. We agree with the Senator, and hope President Trump will release the report in early 2018.
No. 3: Protection for Intellectual Property
There's no doubt that China has been a key focus of the Trump administration's priorities on trade (see No. 1). Imports have dominated much of the discussion (there also are actions pending for products like washing machines and solar panels) but another important issue with China concerns intellectual property.
Back in August, the U.S. Trade Representative launched a "Section 301" investigation to determine whether "acts, policies and practices" of the Chinese government related to "technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce." It's expected that the USTR will indeed find that there are discriminatory practices – U.S. companies are expected to hand over intellectual property to China's government to merely enter the Chinese marketplace, for example. China has even been accused of stealing trade secrets.
The question is what Trump will do about it. The United States long has lectured China on this subject, without any meaningful change. Even some of Trump's advisers who do not favor tariffs to combat imports are believed to be "comparatively comfortable with targeted actions against truly bad actors, as in this case."
It's time for Trump to send China a message and stand up to protect American companies.
No. 4: At Long Last, an Infrastructure Investment Package
There aren't many policy areas where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO come together to work on, but infrastructure is one of them. The United States is simply needs major infrastructure work – the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a D+ grade in 2017.
The backlog of projects doesn't just mean that there are more potholes on the road and that subway trains are more often delayed – the United States is less competitive in the global arena because of our decaying infrastructure, and underinvestment has cost the United States 900,000 jobs. It's also a huge safety issue; 70,000 bridges across the country are classified by the government as structurally deficient.
The good news? There is widespread agreement, across political parties and advocacy groups, that something needs to be done. During the 2016 campaign, President Trump pledged to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure. But while the White House maintains infrastructure is a top priority, it pushed release of its infrastructure plan until after the competition of tax reform.
Now that taxes are done, we hope that the Trump administration and Congress will shift focus and work across the aisle to pass a robust infrastructure investment plan that creates millions of jobs and makes the United States more competitive.
No. 5: Trump Family Moves to Reshore Production
While the other items on our wish list require coordination among various government agencies and officials, the final one is a decision that can be made entirely without “the swamp.”
Ever since President Trump started talking about bringing jobs back during the 2016 campaign, he’s faced charges of hypocrisy, as the vast majority of Trump-branded items are made overseas. That criticism also has hit daughter Ivanka Trump, especially after three Chinese activists were arrested for investigating working conditions at factories making goods for her fashion line.
The president and his daughter are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of their companies, but their name is still on the label. As such, they’d be advised to reshore at least some production. It won’t happen overnight, of course, but imagine what a great message it would send if Ivanka Trump opted to manufacturer some of her shoe line in America, for example.
In 2018, we hope the Trump family puts its money where its mouth is and starts making its own products in the United States.