- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

RICHFIELD, Ohio (AP) — President Bush announced yesterday he is creating a high-level government post to nurture the manufacturing sector, which is bleeding jobs in states crucial to his re-election.

On a rain-soaked Labor Day trip to a factory training center, Mr. Bush said he directed Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans to establish an assistant position to focus “on the needs of manufacturers.” Keeping factory jobs is critical to a broader economic recovery, the president said, his outdoor venue ringed by cranes, backhoes and bulldozers.

Mr. Bush said the nation has lost “thousands of jobs in manufacturing.” In fact, the losses have soared into the millions: Of the 2.7 million jobs the U.S. economy has lost since the recession began in early 2001, 2.4 million were in manufacturing. The downturn has eliminated more than one in 10 of the nation’s factory jobs.

The president attributed the erosion to productivity gains and to jobs flowing to cheaper labor markets overseas. He suggested that jobs moving to foreign shores was his primary reason for creating the new manufacturing czar.

“One way to make sure that the manufacturing sector does well is to send a message overseas, [to] say, ‘Look, we expect there to be a fair playing field when it comes to trade,’” Mr. Bush said.

“See, we in America believe we can compete with anybody, just so long as the rules are fair, and we intend to keep the rules fair,” Mr. Bush said as his audience of workers and supporters cheered.

Bush administration officials said one way to spark the economy and deal with the bloated trade deficit is for other countries to remove trade barriers. That would allow U.S. companies to more freely do business in overseas markets, boosting America’s global competitiveness. The nation’s trade deficit increased at an annual rate of $488.5 billion for the first six months of this year, heading for another record.

Congress approved trade pacts with Singapore and Chile earlier this year, and Bush plans to sign both tomorrow. The administration says it now is striving for an agreement with all of Central America.

Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said “bad trade deals” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement have been driving American jobs abroad.

He promised a “trade and manufacturing policy that will put an end to the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and keep good-paying jobs in this country for our workers.”

Mr. Bush did not name the new manufacturing official, and gave no timetable for offering a nomination to the Senate. Nor did he specify what duties the new post would include. Commerce Department officials said they are still ironing out the new hierarchy; assistant secretaries are generally the fourth echelon in Cabinet-level departments, beneath secretary, deputy secretary and undersecretary.

Mr. Bush spent most of his speech expressing empathy for anxious workers and wiping rain from his head, which became thoroughly drenched despite his union hat.

“I want you to understand that I understand that Ohio manufacturers are hurting, that there’s a problem with the manufacturing sector,” Mr. Bush said. “I understand that for a full recovery, to make sure people can find work, that manufacturing must do better.”

Ohio lost 185,000 jobs during the recession from 2001 through last March, nearly two-thirds in manufacturing, according to a study released Sunday by a private economic think tank.

Politics weighed heavily in Mr. Bush’s 11th trip to Ohio — a state he carried in 2000, where he also spent the July Fourth holiday.

Mr. Bush has tried to woo some trade and industrial unions, which tend to be more conservative than public- and service-sector unions.

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