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Star-spangled (import) banners
ROSEMOUNT, Minn. (AP) — What's red, white and blue — and made in China? A move is on in state legislatures to ensure that the flags people buy and fly next Independence Day are made on this fruited plain.
Minnesota has passed the strongest measure, which goes into effect at year's end and requires every Old Glory sold in state stores to be domestically produced. Violations are a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.
In Arizona, schools and public colleges were required starting July 1 to outfit every classroom from junior high up with a made-in-the-USA flag. Tennessee requires all U.S. flags bought via state contract to be made here, and similar bills are moving forward in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Census bureau estimates that $5.3 million worth of U.S. flags were imported from other countries in 2006, mostly from China. That figure has been steady over the past few years. The big exception was in 2001, when $51.7 million in U.S. flags were imported, most on the heels of the September 11 attacks.
Sandy Van Leiu, chairman of the Flag Manufacturers Association of America, said the imports are cause for concern even though U.S. companies still dominate the flag market.
"That door is going to keep opening," she said. "It starts small, then it gets big. You're just opening Pandora's box."
To help consumers identify the origin of flags, the association created a certification program two years ago that bestows a seal-of-approval logo on flags made with domestic fibers and labor.
Whether Minnesota's law violates international trade agreements — and whether anything would be done about it — is an open question.
Under World Trade Organization standards, the U.S. government can't treat foreign products less favorably than those produced within its boundaries, said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and the former chief economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission. How the rules apply to states is debatable, he said.
Mr. Morici said a foreign business harmed by the law would have to get its government to take action against the U.S. government.
When the bill was debated this spring, some legislators argued it sent the wrong message to close Minnesota's borders to foreign-produced flags.
"That flag should be made throughout the world because it is our message to the world that there is hope for freedom and justice," Rep. Dan Severson, a Republican, said at the time.
The law's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Tom Rukavina, said the flag deserves extra protection. To celebrate his legislative victory, he planned to hand out 1,000 miniature flags at July Fourth parades in his district.
"The biggest honor that you can give the flag is that it be made by American workers in the United States of America," he said. "Nothing is more embarrassing to me than a plastic flag made in China. This replica of freedom we so respect should be made in this country."
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