Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — What does “Made in the USA” actually mean to the consumer?
That was the question debated at Federal Trade Commission headquarters here Tuesday. The agency is trying to get a fix on this before it decides whether it should change the rules for using this label.
The discussion was attended by 35 representatives from manufacturers and unions and spotlighted surveys with varying conclusions about the importance and interpretation of “Made in the USA.”
“Has an increased globalization of manufacturing led consumers to expect that goods promoted as ‘Made in the USA’ may contain some foreign-made parts?” asked FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky, in convening the two-day workshop. “Or has it led consumers to place an even higher premium on products made entirely in this country?”
For example, a survey presented by the International Mass Retail Association found 32 percent of Americans felt strongly about buying U.S.-made goods but in practice didn’t pay much attention to where products were made. According to a survey done for Crafted With Pride, an organization that promotes U.S.-made soft goods, nearly 50 percent of shoppers — typically those over 35 — seek out apparel with the “USA” label. In the final result, however, shoppers will make decisions based on fashion, proper sizing and price before considering country of origin, the survey said.
The idea to revisit the label surfaced after the FTC first lodged — then withdrew — charges against New Balance athletic shoes for “Made in the USA” claims. The agency in 1994 initially found New Balance to have violated the strict federal definition requiring that “all or virtually all” of a product be produced in the U.S. In several shoe styles, New Balance used imported rubber soles, not widely available in the U.S. When Pitofksy became FTC chairman last year, he decided the case should be set aside and the label issue be thrown open for debate.
At present, this discussion before the FTC is academic for the textile and apparel industries. Their products are governed under a congressional statute that would have to be changed by lawmakers. Nevertheless, any changes undertaken by the FTC regarding the label could lead to Congress amending the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act.

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