WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, attempting to head off criticism that it has not helped the flagging manufacturing sector, released a long-anticipated report Friday with recommendations on how to resuscitate U.S. manufacturing.

However, the U.S. Department of Commerce report, “Manufacturing in America: A Comprehensive Strategy to Address the Challenges to U.S. Manufacturers,” drew immediate criticism from at least one manufacturing sector: domestic textile and fiber firms, which lost 49,600 jobs last year. The textile and apparel sectors combined have lost 323,000 jobs since President Bush took office in January 2001.

Overall, the U.S. has lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs over the past three- and-a-half years, a point Democratic presidential candidates have seized upon.

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans released the 88-page report in advance of three key events: the Iowa Caucuses on Monday, the return of Congress today and the President’s State of the Union address tonight.

“This is our strategy, to remove the barriers that are holding back American manufacturers and costing jobs,” said Evans in a statement at a business roundtable in Cleveland on Friday. “This report is a single step in an ongoing process: Ensuring that American companies are competitive in every part of the world.”

Among many recommendations, the report called on Congress to establish a President’s Manufacturing Council, which would be comprised of U.S. executives who advise the administration on their challenges and needs.

It also calls for creating an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services, who would serves as the principal point of contact with the U.S. manufacturing sector and oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

The administration has promised since Labor Day to restructure the Commerce Department and group all of its manufacturing assistance programs under a new assistant secretary, but that plan has not materialized because Congress has not yet authorized the change. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas has taken on the role in the interim.

Another recommendation involves the creation of a new office of industry analysis, which would assess the cost competitiveness of U.S. industry and the impact of international economies on manufacturing. In addition, the report calls for another interagency working group on manufacturing to be chaired by the new manufacturing czar.The administration also said it would like to revamp its export assistance centers and its Manufacturing Extension Partnership — a program that had its funding cut back dramatically by Congress this year, but which the administration now hopes to revive.

Other initiatives listed in the report merely reaffirm the administration’s existing goals, such as making temporary tax cuts permanent, enacting tort reform and reducing health care and energy costs.

Administration officials based their recommendations on input from U.S. executives at 23 roundtables held across the country over the past several months. One roundtable was exclusively devoted to textile and furniture executives, who met with Commerce officials in High Point, N.C. in April. The participants included executives from Asheboro Elastics, Unifi Inc., National Textiles, Parkdale Mills and Kayser-Roth Corp.

Textile and fiber associations across the country focused on the last five pages of the administration’s manufacturing report, looking for meaningful initiatives on trade and in particular trade with China, which they claim has devastated their businesses.

“They had over 20 roundtables around the country and they basically heard ‘China, China, China’ and I guess I hoped there might be some kind of actual response or some initiatives specifically in that regard, but there wasn’t,” said Cass Johnson, interim president at the America Textile Manufacturers Institute.

Johnson said the administration did not offer any initiatives designed to go after China’s subsidized manufacturing, manipulated currency or tax schemes that make it so difficult for U.S. manufacturers to compete.

“This report is just a lot of rhetoric,” he said. “I don’t see any new initiatives or bold new steps to help manufacturers out of the deep trouble they are in.”

The administration reiterated many of its existing goals on trade in the report, including leveling the playing field for U.S. manufacturers by knocking down high-tariff trade barriers, combating unfair trade practices, promoting U.S. exports and enhancing the effectiveness of trade enforcement tools.

Among the recommendations in the trade area, the administration called for establishing another office of investigations and compliance with the Commerce Department, and establishing another task force at Commerce to pursue the elimination of foreign unfair trade practices.Many in the textile industry remained highly skeptical of the administration’s “new” recommendations because they claim a two-year-old interagency task force designed specifically to help the beleaguered textile industry has so far failed to produce results. The Bush administration launched the Textile Working Group in 2001 to take steps to improve conditions in the industry, but the jobs losses have continued to mount.

Textile groups claim the new report simply reiterates what they have heard time and again from the administration on aiding their industry and fails to address the real issues, such as China.

The administration did invoke safeguard quotas against three textile and apparel import categories from China in late December at the behest of the domestic textile industry, but sector groups claim the quotas need to cover more products in a broader agreement.

“It is clear that the U.S. government cannot adequately address the crisis in manufacturing without acknowledging that flawed trade policy is the chief cause of the problem,” said Augustine Tantillo, Washington coordinator of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

On the flip side of the debate, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which represents some domestic manufacturers and a much larger group of apparel wholesale importers, welcomed the administration’s report.

“It is a report that says manufacturing is important in the U.S. and says there is a specific agenda designed to ensure manufacturing stays competitive,” said Stephen Lamar, vice president at AAFA. “It puts in place broad structural elements for that to occur and specific policy things that I think people agree need to be done.” Cleveland on Friday. “This report is a single step in an ongoing process: Ensuring that American companies are competitive in every part of the world.”

Among many recommendations, the report called on Congress to establish a President’s Manufacturing Council, which would be comprised of U.S. executives who advise the administration on their challenges and needs.

It also calls for creating an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services, who would serves as the principal point of contact with the U.S. manufacturing sector and oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

The administration has promised since Labor Day to restructure the Commerce Department and group all of its manufacturing assistance programs under a new assistant secretary, but that plan has not materialized because Congress has not yet authorized the change. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas has taken on the role in the interim.Another recommendation involves the creation of a new office of industry analysis, which would assess the cost competitiveness of U.S. industry and the impact of international economies on manufacturing. In addition, the report calls for another interagency working group on manufacturing to be chaired by the new manufacturing czar.

The administration also said it would like to revamp its export assistance centers and its Manufacturing Extension Partnership — a program that had its funding cut back dramatically by Congress this year, but which the administration now hopes to revive.

Other initiatives listed in the report merely reaffirm the administration’s existing goals, such as making temporary tax cuts permanent, enacting tort reform and reducing health care and energy costs.

Administration officials based their recommendations on input from U.S. executives at 23 roundtables held across the country over the past several months. One roundtable was exclusively devoted to textile and furniture executives, who met with Commerce officials in High Point, N.C. in April. The participants included executives from Asheboro Elastics, Unifi Inc., National Textiles, Parkdale Mills and Kayser-Roth Corp.

Textile and fiber associations across the country focused on the last five pages of the administration’s manufacturing report, looking for meaningful initiatives on trade and in particular trade with China, which they claim has devastated their businesses.

“They had over 20 roundtables around the country and they basically heard ‘China, China, China’ and I guess I hoped there might be some kind of actual response or some initiatives specifically in that regard, but there wasn’t,” said Cass Johnson, interim president at the America Textile Manufacturers Institute.

Johnson said the administration did not offer any initiatives designed to go after China’s subsidized manufacturing, manipulated currency or tax schemes that make it so difficult for U.S. manufacturers to compete.

“This report is just a lot of rhetoric,” he said. “I don’t see any new initiatives or bold new steps to help manufacturers out of the deep trouble they are in.”

The administration reiterated many of its existing goals on trade in the report, including leveling the playing field for U.S. manufacturers by knocking down high-tariff trade barriers, combating unfair trade practices, promoting U.S. exports and enhancing the effectiveness of trade enforcement tools.Among the recommendations in the trade area, the administration called for establishing another office of investigations and compliance with the Commerce Department, and establishing another task force at Commerce to pursue the elimination of foreign unfair trade practices.

Many in the textile industry remained highly skeptical of the administration’s “new” recommendations because they claim a two-year-old interagency task force designed specifically to help the beleaguered textile industry has so far failed to produce results. The Bush administration launched the Textile Working Group in 2001 to take steps to improve conditions in the industry, but the jobs losses have continued to mount.

Textile groups claim the new report simply reiterates what they have heard time and again from the administration on aiding their industry and fails to address the real issues, such as China.

The administration did invoke safeguard quotas against three textile and apparel import categories from China in late December at the behest of the domestic textile industry

“It is clear that the U.S. government cannot adequately address the crisis in manufacturing without acknowledging that flawed trade policy is the chief cause of the problem,” said Augustine Tantillo, Washington coordinator of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

On the flip side of the debate, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which represents some domestic manufacturers and a much larger group of apparel wholesale importers, welcomed the administration’s report.

“It is a report that says manufacturing is important in the U.S. and says there is a specific agenda designed to ensure manufacturing stays competitive,” said Stephen Lamar, vice president at AAFA. “It puts in place broad structural elements for that to occur and specific policy things that I think people agree need to be done.”

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