As part of President Donald Trump’s March 31 executive order on trade, the Commerce Department and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative are examining the role trade deficits play in key trading relationships. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) provided this detailed submission last week, and I am testifying today about opportunities and challenges that trade presents for manufacturing in the United States.
For those seeking the Reader’s Digest version, consider the top four takeaways.
- Exports are critical to today’s manufacturing success. Indeed, U.S.-manufactured goods exports now represent more than half of U.S.-manufactured output, supporting more than 6 million manufacturing job across the country—jobs that pay substantially more than non-export-related jobs. The U.S. manufacturing sector must have opportunities to expand sales—at home and abroad—to continue to add jobs.
- Manufacturing is growing around the world, creating new middle-class consumers and new partners, but also new competitors. More than $11 trillion in manufactured goods are traded annually as markets have been opened and trading costs reduced. In some cases, imports compete directly with manufacturers in the United States, just as U.S. exports compete with manufacturing overseas and many manufacturers require inputs not domestically available. Unfortunately, however, some import competition is fueled by foreign market-distorting and discriminatory trade practices that create unfair advantages for foreign manufacturing production at the expense of manufacturers, workers and communities in the United States. Under these circumstances, the NAM has long supported robust U.S. government action to address the underlying causes of the distortions and full enforcement of trade agreements and trade rules.
- The trade deficit arises as a result of several factors. Overall domestic economic conditions and standards of living, domestic consumption and purchasing compared with savings rates, the price of goods in the market, exchange rates, domestic structural issues (e.g., taxation, regulation) and openness to international trade all impact the trade deficit. In the United States, trade deficits expand as the U.S. economy grows and fall during periods of economic weakness. At the same time, however, when the U.S. economy expands, more workers are employed and unemployment falls, we see that the trade deficit actually increases.
- As manufacturers see it, many indicators are relevant in assessing the strength and weaknesses of U.S. trading relationships with particular markets. These factors include the existence and implementation of trade agreements, the size of the trading relationship compared to the size of the foreign economy, the growth of exports over time, the U.S. share of the country’s worldwide imports, foreign direct investment, U.S. content in imports into the United States and overall tariff rates. The chart below shows that Canada and Mexico are outsized purchasers of U.S.-manufactured goods compared to other sources of imports and given the size of the countries’ economies.
As the administration considers next steps, the NAM urges that it prioritize work to address existing distortions and barriers to improve U.S. competitiveness globally through (1) the negotiation of advanced trade agreements that open markets and set strong rules; (2) the modernization of U.S. trade tools to boost U.S. global competitiveness, from improving export financing options to eliminating self-inflicted barriers that impede U.S. manufacturing; and (3) the implementation of more robust trade enforcement consistent with the international rules system to ensure that trade agreement commitments are honored, our innovative technologies are not stolen and U.S. trade rules are effectively enforced. Where trade agreement rules are not keeping up with new challenges and distortions, manufacturers urge U.S. leadership and efforts to develop new internationally agreed-upon rules and frameworks to raise standards and promote a more open and competitive market-driven global economy.
Learn more about manufacturers’ priorities for trade policy here.