Multinational companies such as General Electric and Caterpillar, and their allies in the Chamber of Commerce, are attacking “Buy American” provisions included in the economic recovery bill passed by the House on January 28th. They claim that these provisions will provoke a “trade war” with foreign governments, but foreign governments have long histories of supporting their own domestic companies. These companies are self-interested, simply wanting unlimited access to imports, many of which are illegally subsidized and unfairly traded. U.S. and foreign multinational companies (MNCs) were responsible for nearly two-thirds of all U.S. imports in 2006, as shown in the chart below. U.S. firms led the way with $678 billion in imports, 36.4% of all U.S. goods imports. Foreign MNCs pulled in an additional $482.4 billion in goods, 25.6% of the U.S. import bill.
Companies like Caterpillar, which will benefit from billions of dollars of infrastructure spending in the stimulus package, want unfettered access to cheap steel from countries like China, which poured more than $15 billion into energy subsidies into that sector in 2007 alone. Chinese steel imports more than doubled between January and November, while U.S. steel production fell nearly 40%. The Chamber of Commerce, which also opposes further “Buy American” provisions, represents the interests of U.S. companies like Caterpillar and IBM as well as foreign multinationals like Toyota and Siemens, all represented on its board of directors. Congress has finally realized that what’s good for big business is not always good for America, and that new rules are needed to rein in runaway corporations. That’s real progress.