- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

As she brought her presidential bid to manufacturing businesses and technical colleges on the campaign trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly has questioned why their high-tech machinery is made in other developed countries such as Germany and the Netherlands and not in the United States, identifying the foreign-made machines as a symptom of America’s economic ills.

But manufacturing professionals say the former secretary of state’s criticisms miss the mark. Many place the blame instead on the lack of U.S. trade deals — the same type of free-trade agreement that Mrs. Clinton now views skeptically — for giving other advanced countries an advantage in sophisticated, high-tech manufacturing markets.

At a campaign stop Tuesday in New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton pointed to European-made machines as evidence that America had lost its competitive edge not just in manufacturing of clothes and electronics, but in building the most sophisticated technological equipment.

“It’s one thing if a low-wage country outcompetes us, but if we’re competing against other advanced economies, how do we bring those jobs back?” Mrs. Clinton said as she surveyed the massive machines used at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.

She wondered aloud whether the government could fix the problem.

“You see these machines, most of which are not made in the United States, but they’re made in advanced economies, Germany or the Netherlands, Israel, Japan,” she said. “Can we bring back that level of advanced manufacturing with the right incentives, so that we can compete?”

She made similar comments last week when visiting an automotive technology classroom at a community college in Monticello, Iowa, and Monday at a children’s furniture and toy manufacturing business in Keene, New Hampshire. But some of those whom Mrs. Clinton purports to help aren’t endorsing her argument.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said John Park, president of the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association. “It’s helping employment. People are running these machines.”

He noted that European and Asian countries have been at the forefront of wood-processing machines dating back to World War II, though the U.S. dominates in high-tech machines in other fields, such as medical devices.

“The machinery side is a very small segment of the market. The larger market is the manufacture of consumer goods, the hotel/motel furniture, the cabinetry, the door fixtures — all the products that U.S. manufacturers make using this technology,” he said. “The focus of the next president should be in stimulating manufacturing or products like furniture and making the manufacturing environment viable for investment.”

Mallory Micetich, spokeswoman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said that U.S. companies make plenty of high-tech machinery and would make more if the country had more trade deals.

“What we would say that [Mrs. Clinton] would say differently is that we need better trade deals,” said a manufacturing industry source.

Mrs. Clinton also expressed misgivings about a major trade deal with Pacific Rim countries currently being negotiated by President Obama. The 14-nation deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is fiercely opposed by the Democratic Party’s left wing that Mrs. Clinton has cautiously courted since launching her presidential campaign last week.

“We need to build things, too,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters at the technical college. “We have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and skills to be competitive.”

She said any trade deal must “produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security.”

Mrs. Clinton, who as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state was a key figure in negotiating with countries in the deal, stopped short of rejecting it.

She called it a “partnership between our business and our government, workforce, intellectual property that comes out of our universities, we have to get back to a much more focused effort in my opinion to try and produce those capacities here at home.”

The former first lady, senator and top diplomat has shifted her position on free trade over the years, reflecting the tricky politics of the issue within the Democratic Party. She backed her husband, President Bill Clinton, in implementing the North America Free Trade Agreement in 1994 but then called the deal a “mistake” when running for president in 2007.

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