• Field Notes 05.02.2014 2 Comments

    As I write this on Monday morning, I’m wondering if all my co-workers at TGP’s headquarters in Seattle will be at work today. Hats off to the Seahawks’ 12th Man!  But, who saw this game starting and turning out that way? All the prognosticators predicted close scores. ESPN’s Chris Berman predicted neither team would score more than the forecasted mid-30s temperature for New Jersey. How did your square pool turn out?  Busted in 12 seconds?

    Late last week, it was announced that the duties the U.S. is imposing on Chinese fabricated curtainwall materials were upheld by the Court of International Trade. Obviously, the immediate reactions depended on which side of the pond you’re on. For the Chinese, this can’t be good.  For the U.S. extruders and fabricators, the view is much more pleasant, if not downright exciting.  What a huge break for U.S. industry.

    One of the Coca-Cola commercials during the Super Bowl highlighted this difference.  If you missed it, the spot features “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages. Rumbling through the news on the Internet and CNN this morning is a lot of: “this is America, it should only be sung in English” type discussions. On the other hand, this country is and always has been Heinz-57 – there’s a lot of ethnic diversity, and all of us who aren’t Native Americans are descendants of immigrants, some more recent, some several generations ago, but immigrants nonetheless.  It’s what makes us great. We all are trying, or have been assimilated into, a country where those differences contribute to who we are. It’s why the U.S. Constitution starts “We the PEOPLE…”

    Thus, the dilemma with foreign trade. Setting aside potential quality issues, if a competitor bidding against you can do it better/cheaper/faster than you can, aren’t you going to lose the job?  Why should it matter if they pay less for the material or labor?  Does it matter if they are next door or across the ocean?  Yes, I am in favor of products made here in the states, but there are a lot of BMW, Sony and Apple products made offshore. I own some myself.

    The labor or material may be cheaper because they aren’t paying their people a living wage, providing health insurance, paying the employer payroll taxes, not protecting the environment adequately, or because the government subsidizes them. The argument is that is an unfair advantage.  But, in a competitive marketplace, if you have an edge, who wouldn’t try to make the most of that “advantage?”

    Is there a right answer on this?  Maybe not.  Idealistically, though, it’s hoped by driving up their product costs, it does level the playing field. Too often, though, duties seem to just enrich our own government’s income but don’t increase salaries or raise the standard of living in the country of origin. Granted, Germany (BMW) and Japan (Sony) have standards of living similar to ours, but that took a lot of work and help from the U.S. after WWII. And, the quality of the German and Japanese products drives U.S. purchases of them. If only we can bring the Chinese along to that level, both in terms of the quality of the products and what they pay their people, it would cost them more, thus truly leveling the playing field.  Now there’s a goal to shoot for. Okay, enough political…

    I’m off to the GANA Annual Conference this week, and hope to pick up a lot on the energy focus on Tuesday, and see what the other divisions are up to.  Next week I’ll report on any pick-ups from it.

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