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White House moves to aid manufacturers

The Bush administration has planned a new presidential council that would give U.S. companies more say in government decisions, part of a series of recommendations meant to help revive the ailing manufacturing sector.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Bush administration is proposing a new presidential council to give U.S. companies a greater voice in government decisions and making other recommendations aimed at bolstering the ailing manufacturing sector.

The administration's report on manufacturing says the Treasury Department should study how to make tax laws less complex and costly for companies to comply with. Also, the White House budget office should conduct a government-wide review of regulations to assess their impact on U.S. manufacturers.

The long-awaited report was to be made public Friday during a visit by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans to the Lincoln Electric Co. of Cleveland, a successful midsize company that makes sophisticated welding equipment.

The Associated Press obtained a summary of the report Thursday.

"This is our strategy to remove the barriers that are holding back American manufacturers and costing jobs," Evans said in a statement.

The report restates a number of initiatives the administration has already announced. Those include reorganizing the Commerce Department to place more emphasis on penalizing unfair trade practices and promoting U.S. exports.

Voice for manufacturers
One new recommendation would mean the creation of a President's Manufacturing Council, headed by Evans and including manufacturing executives. The advisory panel would ensure a voice for manufacturers of all size in how federal initiatives intended to bolster this important economic sector are put in place.

More than 2.8 million manufacturing jobs have been lost over the past 3 1/2 years.

Evans said the report was a "single step in an ongoing process ensuring that American companies are competitive in every part of the world."

Jerry Jasinowski, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, praised the administration's report as a comprehensive review of all the issues facing manufacturing currently.

"This will enhance the government's focus on manufacturing and competitiveness," he said.

President Bush has come under attack from Democratic presidential candidates who contend his administration has done little to address serious problems in manufacturing, represented by exploding trade deficits and the unrelenting loss of manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing companies and the unions that represent their employees have focused much of their attention on the deficit with China, which hit a record of $103 billion in 2002 and was on track to top that for 2003.

Commerce shuffles
In response, the administration in September announced creation of an unfair trade practices team inside the Commerce Department. Also, the department's export functions were consolidated under a new assistant secretary of commerce for trade promotion.

A new assistant secretary for manufacturing is to oversee a new office that will monitor the effect of government regulations on American businesses.

Democratic and union critics said those steps were of little help.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the reorganization at the Commerce Department was "simply window dressing" aimed at distracting the public from the administration's disastrous trade policies.

The report was being released after a recent series of discussions that Evans' department held around the nation to gather input from manufacturers.

China and its soaring trade surplus with the United States came in for a large share of criticism at those meetings.

Manufacturers have complained that China's policy of tightly linking its currency to the value of the dollar has resulted in a Chinese yuan that is 40 percent lower in value than it should be. As a result, Chinese producers have a tremendous price advantage against American companies.

The administration is pressuring China to end the linkage with the dollar and allow the value of the yuan to be set by market forces. The Chinese government has resisted, saying it cannot afford to allow the yuan to float freely at the current time because of the threat that could pose to the country's fragile banking system.