- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2003

America’s manufacturers have given so much to our country: good jobs, a better quality of life and inventions that have established our national identity. Manufacturing represents the backbone of our economy and the muscle behind our national security.

So when American manufacturers told President Bush they were struggling to compete in a global economy, we responded.

Before joining the Bush administration, I spent my career in the private sector. I understand what it means to meet a payroll — the hardest thing I have ever had to do is tell people they no longer had jobs.

So the fact that many of our manufacturers have been forced to lay off employees in the last few years is of great personal concern to both the president and me. I know American manufacturers do more than create world-class products — they also create jobs.

That’s why, six months ago, I ordered a comprehensive review of the manufacturing industry. President Bush and I wanted to see what could be done to grow jobs and make our manufacturers more competitive.

Business owners, managers and line-workers all told us the same thing: Americans can compete against any country’s blue collars and white collars — but not if we’re wearing choke collars.

Right now, unfair competition and indirect business costs — like health care and junk lawsuits — are choking American manufacturing.

Past government leaders have failed to address the growing burdens American businesses carry. Inaction in the 1990s on problems such as growing health care costs, runaway junk lawsuits, insufficient energy and unreasonable business regulations now are forcing businesses to lay off employees.

The Bush administration came to office to solve problems — not pass them on to future generations. The president is working with Congress to create the conditions under which businesses can grow and create jobs.

The president’s tort reform and medical liability reform will make our businesses more competitive. Junk lawsuits — especially the ones aimed at our doctors — might enrich trial lawyers, but they bankrupt good businesses and put blue-collar Americans out of work.

We also need a national energy policy to guarantee affordable and reliable energy. Manufacturing is more reliant on energy than any other sector — when the blackout hit Detroit this summer, automakers had to scrap more than a thousand cars. Passing the president’s energy plans will make American businesses more competitive.

Unfortunately, no matter how competitive our manufacturers might be, we can only compete in the global market if we have a level playing field.

This administration is working hard to reduce the international tariffs that drive up the cost of American products overseas. The best way to get our assembly lines moving again is by opening new markets to Made-in-America products.

That’s why the president fought for — and won — Trade Promotion Authority.

Since coming to office, the president has already doubled our number of free trade agreements. Now we are working to create a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas, so we sell our goods tariff-free throughout South America.

To make sure American manufacturers take advantage of these new opportunities, the Commerce Department is creating an assistant secretary for trade promotion. This person will be responsible for making sure our manufacturers are “export ready” and able to sell their products into the global supply chain.

The Bush administration also is taking a harder line with nations that fail to live up to our trade agreements. We are creating an Unfair Trade Practices Team within the International Trade Administration to allow us to track, detect and confront unfair competition. These experts will monitor economic data from our global competitors and vigorously investigate evidence of unfair practices.

Our message is clear: We will not tolerate American businesses being subjected to rampant intellectual property piracy, illegal trade barriers, and capital markets that are insulated from free-market pressures. As Treasury Secretary John Snow told the Chinese earlier this month, the Bush administration believes free-market forces should set currency values.

Finally, to oversee all these initiatives and others, the president is appointing a new assistant secretary to have oversight for manufacturing.

This will not just be another federal bureaucrat — this official will serve as the president’s point man for manufacturing issues. This is Management 101: When you are proposing as many ambitious reforms as we are, it’s important that one person be responsible for making it happen.

American manufacturers are doing their part. They have adopted lean manufacturing techniques, hit zero-defect quality targets and controlled direct costs. Now it is government’s responsibility to reduce the indirect costs and international barriers that impede our ability to compete.

American manufacturing has a rich history. After traveling the country and meeting with hundreds of factory workers, owners and company officials, I am confident it will have an equally rich future.

Donald Evans is the U.S. secretary of commerce. This article distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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