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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Virginia Manufacturers Association

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Thank you for that kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be here with all of you in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It is a beautiful part of the country, near the unspoiled beaches of the Atlantic; the Chesapeake Bay; Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg; and, of course, the Naval Station and Shipyard.

Like America, Hampton Roads is big and mighty, and is a great place to be a manufacturer. It was no fluke that Virginia was recently ranked number-one in the country for business, especially with the Amazon win, and Virginia Tech announcing a $1 billion high-tech campus nearby. I spent this morning with the executives at STIHL-USA, producers of the highest-quality landscape, construction, and forestry tools.

We toured the company’s Advanced Manufacturing Summer Camp for high-school students. It was impressive to see the enthusiasm of the instructors, the students, and STIHL executives who are committed to advanced manufacturing and training the next generation of skilled workers.

The design, production, sale, and even delivery of products has entered a new era, based on digital, high-tech processes. I don’t think enough Americans know of manufacturing’s transformation, and we must promote the millions of good jobs and careers that are available for digitally skilled workers.

Training the workforce of the future is one of the primary challenges being addressed by the Trump Administration. There are 7.3 million vacant jobs in the country, with 1.3 million more open jobs than there are people officially unemployed. Manufacturers in Virginia and throughout the country are struggling to find skilled workers, and it is beginning to impact our economy.

The Trump Administration has initiated a large-scale effort to educate and train the next generation of skilled workers. It is high on our priority list. President Trump’s National Council for the American Worker, which I co-chair with Ivanka Trump, is extremely active, and its new American Workforce Advisory Board is crafting recommendations as we speak. We instituted the Pledge to American Workers, and already have more than 280 companies promising to provide training opportunities and apprenticeships to almost 10 million workers. Our goal is to reestablish the United States as the world’s factory for high-value, high-tech goods.

I encourage all Virginia manufacturers to partner with the universities in your state, your local community colleges, and even high schools to train workers for the jobs that are available in your operations. You are blessed with so many great educational institutions, and they are there to serve you as employers and taxpayers. Virginia Tech, UVA, Christopher Newport, William and Mary, James Madison, George Mason, Tidewater Community college, and many other schools and training institutes should be providing your companies with the skilled workers that are in demand.

The Commerce Department is also involved in making the global playing field free, fair, and reciprocal for all manufacturers. We want to end the unfair conditions by which Virginia manufacturers must compete against state-owned enterprises dumping underpriced products into the United States, and locking American products out of their markets. Since the President took office in January 2017, the Commerce Department has initiated 172 new trade investigations on behalf of American industries — a 219 percent increase from the comparable period of the previous administration.

Our 232 tariffs also have been instrumental in rebuilding the steel and aluminum industries that are essential to both our national and economic security. The steel and aluminum tariffs have led to almost $20 billion in investments in 60 new, expanded, or modernized factories throughout the United States. Because of the tariffs, steel and aluminum production is up significantly; jobs have increased; and the flood of foreign-subsidized imports into the U.S. market has abated.

Few would have predicted this complete industry turnaround. Earlier, many economists accepted as inevitable the utter demise of these and other manufacturing sectors. Contrary to some forecasts, the tariffs are not having a major negative impact on their customers. According to our Office of Trade Policy and Analysis, last year, downstream industries that are the heaviest users of steel and aluminum added 176,000 new jobs. In contrast, between 2013 and 2017, prior to the tariffs, employment in these sectors had dropped by 0.5 percent.

Nor have the Section 301 tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports caused major economic problems. In fact, just the opposite is occurring: Over the past 12 months ending this June, the U.S. price index for non-fuel imports decreased by 1.4 percent; That compares to the prior year when tariffs were not in place, and the price index for non-fuel imports increased by 1.5 percent.

The tariffs also have not impacted retail sales, which my Department reported last week were up by 0.4 percent in June, month over month, the fourth straight monthly increase. Retail sales have increased by 3.4 percent since June 2017. Unemployment is at the lowest levels in more than half a century; More Americans are employed than ever before; Incomes are up, and inflation is low; The stock market is setting records; And GDP is growing at a rate nobody predicted only a few years ago.

It shows that good things happen when the U.S. government fosters the interests of American manufacturers. The tariffs have done exactly what was intended. They saved two fundamental industries, and symbolized the President’s Buy America, Hire America, and America First programs.
Perhaps even more importantly, those tariffs signaled to world leaders that the President was deadly serious about fair trade, and would institute measures unimaginable by his predecessors. Since the President was elected, more than 500,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created.
In 2017 and 2018, 9,591 new factories opened in the United States. That is a big turnaround from the loss of more than 65,000 factories from 2001 to 2013.

The Trump administration also will continue to eliminate excessive regulations that deter investment in new plant, equipment, and jobs. We will work with all of you to identify and eliminate regulations that impede your activities. We are also seeing extremely positive results from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Our corporate tax rate is now globally competitive, and new tax rules provide companies with 100 percent immediate deduction of capex.

This facilitates new production capacity in the United States. There also are special incentives for Americans to invest in distressed communities through the Opportunity Zones created in the Tax Bill. There are 212 Opportunity Zones in the state of Virginia. Opportunity Zones permit investors to defer taxes on realized capital gains for many years by investing the gain in a Zone. Opportunity Zones may be combined with any other incentive program your state or local governments might provide for business development. So, please take advantage of this new opportunity for investment.

Your companies and workers will also be benefit from the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. USMCA is the largest and best trade deal in the history of the United States. It directly attacks the colossal $81.5 billion trade deficit in goods the United States has with Mexico, and the $19.7 billion trade deficit in goods with Canada. It will be a big win for manufacturers throughout the mid-Atlantic. There are important new chapters on Digital Trade, IPR Protection; Anticorruption; Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises; Currency Manipulation; State-Owned Enterprises; and Good Regulatory Practices. There are new tools for customs officials to stem the massive flow of counterfeit goods and fakes through our borders.

The new chapter on digital trade allows companies to transfer data across borders, and prohibits protectionist limits on the location of data storage and processing. This is a big win for all U.S. companies operating internationally. USMCA requires 75 percent of automotive content to be North American; and 40 to 45 percent to be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour on average. This assures that the United States will get a fair share of the jobs brought back from
Asia.

New rules-of-origin also will increase the regional content of chemicals, steel-intensive products, titanium, glass and optical fiber. So, in all, with your help, we can continue this momentum of rebuilding the U.S. industrial base, and make our country the best place in the world to invest in new and expanded factories.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

 

 

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