Still No. 1!

By May 29, 2007Trade

In 1947, India achieved independence after about two centuries of British rule. In 1952, a polling firm undertook to find out how many Indians were aware the British had left. India was a primitive country back then. Most people were illiterate and few had access to radio or newspapers. Even so, the pollsters were amazed to discover that the great majority of India’s people were not only unaware the British had left, they were unaware the British had ever arrived in the first place.

A recent report in the Financial Times that China will gradually take over the role of the U.S. as the world’s largest manufacturer by 2020 will no doubt elicit the same kind of response. It is fair to assume that after years of incessant news reports of China’s great leap forward in manufacturing, many Americans thought the Chinese had long since overtaken us in manufacturing and will be surprised to learn otherwise.

In truth, the U.S.’s position in the global league table of manufacturers remains surprisingly strong, according to an authoritative economic study by Global Insight, a Washington-based economics consultancy. Global Insight forecasts that the U.S. will keep its share of global manufacturing output above 20 percent at least until 2024. The U.S. share of global manufacturing output is expected to fall to 22.2 percent by 2020 from 25.5 percent last year. By 2020, China’s share would overtake that of the U.S. for the first time. It will rise to 22.4 percent, from 12.1 percent in 2006.

For now and for the foreseeable future, U.S. manufacturing remains the heart of our nation’s economy, producing more volume of manufactured goods than ever before. Standing alone, U.S. manufacturing would be the eighth largest economy in the world. We sell about $900 billion worth of manufactured goods overseas each year – which is a major reason we need to keep the trade lanes open – and we are more than a match for China, thank you very much.

Or to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of U.S. manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated.