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Cary Brunswick

January 21, 2012

Pumpkin seeds and the problem of China imports

I was shopping at a local supermarket recently and bought some organic pumpkin seeds. Ordinarily, I check over food-product labels but didn't think about it this time, knowing there are so many pumpkins grown not only in upstate New York but also in the nation.

The shock I experienced when I got home points to what I believe is the biggest facet of the economic and jobs crisis facing our country.

Glancing at the label, I couldn't believe that the alleged organic pumpkin seeds I had purchased came from China. But I had to believe it; the fact was staring at me right there in black and white print.

Pumpkin seeds from China? Why?

We've all read or heard for years about all the "stuff" American companies are importing from China. Most of us realize that's a major reason why our economy has gone sour and so many jobs have been lost. But shopping for products that are not made in China is a real chore, and, despite good intentions, often we tend to just throw up our hands, mutter a few choice phrases and give in.

What's baffling for American citizens is that our political leaders are doing so very little to halt the trade imbalance that's doing so much damage to our economy. During election campaigns, they angrily offer a lot of strong talk about limiting or taxing Chinese imports. After they win election, promises usually are forgotten.

President Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, vowed to "crack down" on China and stop allowing it to "undermine U.S. workers." But all he's really done, and that was in 2009, is impose a tariff on tires made in China to supposedly save 5,000 American jobs.

Some Republicans running for the GOP presidential nomination are making the same kinds of campaign promises, but only the naive actually believe they're offering more than lip service to an issue that seems so vital to our interests but yet appears to be beyond political control.

Like Obama before him, Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner, has pledged to target China beginning on his first day in office _ by imposing tariffs to counter its manipulated low-value currency and theft of intellectual property.

He also says the U.S. should strive to make sure Chinese markets are welcoming to our goods.

Rep. Ron Paul, a free-markets proponent, has generally opposed any efforts to lessen the trade imbalance with China. He says Americans benefit from lower-priced goods from China, sold at stores such as Walmart.

In 2004, Paul cast the lone vote in the House against a resolution to encourage China "to fulfill its commitments under international trade agreements, support the United States manufacturing sector, and establish monetary and financial market reforms."

Newt Gingrich seems to prefer a middle road, advocating a path that doesn't restrict Chinese imports but encourages the U.S. to take more advantage of the markets China offers to our manufacturers.

He says protectionism "could help China and India surpass the U.S. in economic power in our children's or grandchildren's lifetime," whereas the more the Chinese and Americans can work together "to create more wealth, the happier they'll be with each other, and less likely we'll have conflict."

I'm not sure who's going to be getting all that wealth, but I'm pretty certain most of the 99 percent will continue to be excluded.

Rick Santorum is adamant about the need to manufacture products in America again, but he believes the strategy to achieve that is to create an "environment here that can attract those jobs back from China," rather than by import tariffs.

He says he wants "to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business." He would do that by eliminating corporate taxes and dismantling government regulations.

Sounds like a real gamble with profits and our environment to me, as if corporations are going to start creating jobs with that tax money and being good to consumers, our water and our air without rules forcing them to do so.

Many who represent U.S. manufacturers don't expect any candidate to do much about the problem once elected.

Scott Paul, head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said presidential candidates in the past have talked aggressively about China, "only to back off once they become president."

And after the presidential election later this year, it doesn't look like we're going to see fewer Chinese products and more from the U.S. on store shelves.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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