GUEST COMMENTARY: Yes, we can bring manufacturing back from China

  • Edwar Johnson works on making protective masks in Warren, Mich., on April 23. General Motors has about 400 workers at the now-closed transmission plant in suburban Detroit. All over the country, blue-collar and salaried workers have raised their hands to make medical equipment as companies repurpose factories to answer calls for help from beleaguered nurses, doctors and paramedics who are treating patients with the highly contagious new coronavirus COVID-19. (Photo/Paul Sancya/AP)

As the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic mounts, more and more Americans are saying the same thing: “We need to bring manufacturing back from China.”

This makes sense, given the tremendous disruption caused by the coronavirus. Medical supplies are on hold, since China is keeping facemasks and other equipment for their own use. Medications are delayed, because America’s drug compounds are sourced from China. And we have a shortage of hospital ventilators. The list goes on.

The United States has become incredibly reliant on overseas producers for everything from antibiotics, vitamins, and auto parts to computers, steel, and military equipment. And our health is at risk because we don’t even produce facemasks, face shields, and hospital gowns.

The transferring of our factories overseas has eliminated roughly 5 million good-paying manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years. And now we’re seeing the end result — an over-dependence on imports to sustain a safe standard of living.

Americans are right to be troubled by this dependence; China’s strategy to dominate global manufacturing is now harming our national security, healthcare, and economic wellbeing. And we’re justifiably angry with Beijing’s deceitful behavior at the onset of the pandemic. All of this paints a picture of an aggressive competitor intent on eroding America’s prosperity and global leadership.

What’s encouraging, however, is that the United States holds the power to rebuild industries that once made our nation prosperous and self-reliant. And the key to restoring our economy is bringing back the critical manufacturing needed in the 21st Century: everything from steel and renewable energy systems to medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and wireless technologies.

To do this, Congress needs to get trade policy right. The U.S. dollar remains heavily overvalued due to the ongoing demands of foreign investors in America’s financial markets. This has helped Wall Street, but it has also made the dollar uncompetitive by lowering import prices and making U.S. exports more expensive.

Congress should immediately pass currency legislation introduced in the Senate last year to make the dollar more competitive. That would provide a huge boost for America’s manufacturers as they struggle against heavily subsidized factories in China.

We should also rebuild our nation. To get Americans working again, Congress could launch a robust plan to fix America’s ailing infrastructure, including crumbling roads, bridges, water works, and transit systems. That effort should include strong “Buy America” provisions to ensure that tax dollars are directed to domestic companies whenever possible.

Overall, Congress could enact a “Made in America 2030” plan to rebuild needed infrastructure while investing in areas crucial to national security like medical supplies, the pharmaceutical industry, and wireless networks. That could strengthen the U.S. economy while also creating millions of jobs and boosting GDP.

There’s little time to waste. America must bring back key industries from China. And we must enact an ambitious trade and infrastructure program to create millions of good-paying jobs, jumpstart the economy, and make America stronger than we were before COVID.

Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo

Updated: 
04/29/2020 - 9:26am