America’s dependence on China for imported goods is common knowledge. We have outsourced most of our manufacturing sector over the past few decades, to the detriment of American factories and the benefit of our personal purchasing power. Chinese-made goods simply cost less. This is largely due to sweatshop working conditions and lax environmental regulations, but regardless of the method, the end result is that consumers like to buy inexpensive clothes, auto parts, books, and more.
But, our addiction to cheap products has come at a high price, and the bill is about to come due.
We aren’t the only powerful country hindered by a dependence on Chinese products. In 2003, China represented just 5% of the global economy. As of 2019, China accounted for roughly 18%. This includes electronics, various components that are shipped back for product assembly in America, and – most alarmingly – medicine.
Up to 97% of all antibiotics and 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to produce drugs for Americans originate in China. In a time of global crisis and increased Chinese-American tensions, we are poorly positioned to protect our citizens’ health. Americans are alarmed to find retailers’ shelves devoid of milk, flour, and toilet paper, but our situation would be much more dire if China pulled the plug on exporting medicines to us and the many other countries around the world who depend on them for these products.
The Covid-19 pandemic can help legislators realize they need to discourage imports from China and promote domestic manufacturing. That is, if they can pause the partisan bickering and cease criticizing their head of state long enough to agree on something. Recently, the Trump administration has been working on closing loopholes that allow the government to purchase pharmaceuticals and medical supplies from foreign countries. An executive order, which could be signed in the coming days, would hopefully increase our government’s demand for American-made drugs and medical products, encouraging domestic companies to produce more of these vital goods.
Moving jobs back to American factories and workers would likely increase costs to consumers. But long-range benefits include keeping quality control and supply chains in our own hands rather than relying on a foreign supply. Revitalizing our domestic manufacturing sector would also provide an added layer of security in future times of global crises.
There are plenty of red tape, regulations, expenses, and other obstacles standing between our current supply chain and a future filled with a more self-contained, robust American manufacturing industry. The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 has highlighted areas where we (and other countries) need to take immediate action in order to stabilize our own supply chains. Up till now, we have all enjoyed saving money while buying lower cost commodities and finished products from China. It’s time to bring our manufacturing sector back home, though, so that the next global crisis does not find us as vulnerable.