- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans said yesterday that his primary mission in the next 14 months will be to preach the message of job growth to the American public.

“We’re going to be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. And I’m going to be traveling around the country talking about jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr. Evans said in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

The unemployment rate remained at 6.1 percent last month, but a small net job gain was the first positive news from a largely jobless recovery.

“This is going to be my principal focus for the next 15 months, talking about how is it we continue to create these better conditions for job creation,” he said.

Mr. Evans also hopes to turn attention to positive developments in Iraq with a visit to that country next week.

“[President Bush] certainly thinks that for me to go over there is a good idea,” Mr. Evans said, adding that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld encouraged him to make the trip.

Commerce Department officials will be involved in helping Iraqis write rules and regulations for their economy, he said.

But Mr. Evans said his main focus in the coming months will be on issues that directly affect U.S. companies, especially job creation.

Employment is shaping up as a major campaign issue.

Among the Democratic presidential candidates attacking Mr. Bush’s economic record is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

“By this time in his presidency, President Clinton had created over 7.5 million private-sector jobs. In contrast, President Bush has lost over 3.2 million jobs in his 33 months in office,” Mr. Dean said last week.

Mr. Dean said the Bush tax cuts should be repealed to pay for health care and other projects.

Mr. Evans disagreed, saying Bush administration policies, notably the tax cuts, had spurred economic growth.

“We’ve got a lot of good momentum in terms of the economy and job creation now,” he said.

Low unemployment rates of the late 1990s created high expectations, he said. Unemployment hit 7.4 percent in 1992, during the last recession, and fell as low as 3.8 percent in 2000.

Mr. Evans said the government can make it easier for U.S. companies to compete in the global economy.

The manufacturing sector has shed about 2.7 million jobs over the last three years, with the most dramatic losses in the textile and steel industries.

Despite the employment downturn, manufacturing productivity is strengthening, Mr. Evans said.

“You’ve got a very, very powerful sector of the economy that continues to grow and continues to expand. It’s just some of the lower end, lower value products. [For them] it’s going to be a challenge to compete in the global market,” Mr. Evans said.

The manufacturing sector alone would rank as the world’s fifth-largest economy and has increased output in real terms by 2 times through the past 30 years, he said.

Manufacturing accounts for about 16 percent of U.S. economic output and provides jobs for about 11 percent of the work force, according to data from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Mr. Evans last month previewed a report prescribing help for the sector. The report will focus on unfair trade practices by other countries, creation of export opportunities for U.S.-based companies, and domestic cost issues such as expenses related to health care and frivolous lawsuits, a Commerce spokeswoman said.

Mr. Evans said the report proposes a new post: assistant secretary for manufacturing.

China, which gained entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, drew the most attention for unfair trading practices.

The U.S. trade deficit with China is growing as imports skyrocket. U.S. business groups are critical of China’s supposed currency manipulation, slow implementation of new trade rules, and enforcement of commercial law.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business federation, last month criticized China’s slow progress in implementing WTO requirements.

“They’ve got some work to do,” Mr. Evans said of China.

Music piracy, clothing knockoffs and other violations of intellectual property rights are the biggest problems, he said.

“There’s just people stealing from American workers, and their hand needs to be called,” Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Evans said the steel tariffs implemented in March 2002 had worked as intended, allowing the industry to consolidate.

The tariffs are up for review by Mr. Bush next month. Mr. Evans said he did not know whether the president would modify the tariffs, eliminate them or allow them to run their three-year course.

The tariffs have been unpopular with manufacturers who use steel and with U.S. trade partners.

The European Union and other nations filed a case against the tariffs at the World Trade Organization. The United States lost an initial ruling, and a decision on an appeal decision is expected next month.

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