(What's Left of) Our Economy, automotive, Canada, China, domestic content, Foley & Lardner, manufacturing, Mexico, quotas, reshoring, rules of origin, tariffs, Trade, trade war, Trump, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA
President Trump’s critics have often complained that even if his trade war with and tariffs on China have prompted many U.S.-owned and other companies to move production out of the People’s Republic, relatively few are relocating back to the United States. (See, e.g., here.) So it was especially interesting to come across a survey of mainly America-headquartered firms indicating that the Trump policies actually deserve pretty high marks for benefiting domestic industry.
The study was conducted by the legal and business advisory firm Foley & Lardner, and involved 143 executives (presumably from 143 companies). Fully 78 percent were “primarily based in the U.S.” and most of the rest were from Mexico. And their businesses ranged throughout the manufacturing sector, with the two biggest industries represented being automotive and general manufacturing (22 percent each). These companies’ sizes and places in global supply chains varied significantly, too.
When it comes to China production and sourcing strategies, Foley found that 21 percent of these respondents “have already” moved “some” of their facilities out of the People’s Republic, 22 percent were “currently in the process of doing so,” and 16 percent are “considering” this option. Of the remaining 39 percent of respondents, 16 percent have rejected leaving China, and 23 percent say they haven’t considered such a move to date.
These numbers roughly correspond with the results of other, similar surveys and reports. (E.g., this one.) But the real eye opener came from answers to the question “To what other countries are you moving, or considering moving, production or sourcing of goods and/or services?” Of the companies that said they’re moving production or sourcing from China, 74 percent mentioned the United States. The next most popular option was Mexico (47 percent), followed by Canada (24 percent), and Vietnam (12 percent).
These percentages (and others) add up to more than 100 because, as the question implied, firms can be leaving China for more than one country, in order to hedge their bets against dangers like tariffs, pandemics, and the like. But they make clear that the United States has been prominently in the mix, and so has the Western Hemisphere – which helps U.S.-based manufacturing because goods made in Mexico and Canada tend to have relatively high levels of American-made parts and components and other industrial inputs.
To be sure, there’s some evidence that these levels have been falling in recent years. But there’s also reason to expect that the Trump administration’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA – its rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement), will reverse these trends at least in part because its provisions require that goods receiving tariff-free treatment in the tri-national trade zone contain higher levels of North American content overall, and because of quotas on U.S. automotive imports from Mexico (which haven’t kicked in yet but which seem likely to in the not-too-distant future).
I’d be the last one to claim that the Foley report settles the argument over how effective the Trump trade policies have been in encouraging manufacturing reshoring. But when all the hard data showing U.S. domestic manufacturing’s resilience both during the current pandemic (in terms of both jobs and output), and during a disruptive event like a trade war, are considered, the Foley findings look anything but fanciful.