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'Made in the World' vs. 'Made in America': What Does It All Mean?

Written By: A. Coffin

Have you heard about the proposed new "Made in the World" labels? No? If you haven’t, you’re not alone; an informal poll of friends and colleagues generated such comments as, "Is this really a thing?" The World Trade Organization (WTO) initiative is indeed a real thing. Made in America

According to the Huffington Post, the WTO’s thought about the subject is as follows:

"… in 2008, the WTO and Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) began cooperating with other stakeholders to provide data that would shed lights on what is called "trade in tasks" i.e., the domestic value added content of trade. While traditional statistics are necessary, they don't identify the contribution of each trade partner to the total value of the final good in the supply chain. By contributing to specific segments of a global value chains, trade partners are actually "trading tasks" rather than trading final products."

The WTO has a brochure that explains the position, using the manufacturing of a Boeing aircraft as a prime example. While the aircraft is assembled in the US, its design and manufacture of components come from all over the world. This is not uncommon, as the WTO relates in the brochure:

"Today, companies divide their operations across the world, from the design of the product and manufacturing of components to assembly and marketing, creating international production chains. More and more products are 'Made in the World' rather than 'Made in the UK' or 'Made in France'. The statistical bias created by attributing the full commercial value to the last country of origin can pervert the political debate on the origin of trade imbalances and lead to misguided, and hence counter-productive, decisions."

 WTO and Made in the World
WTO and Made in the World

The purpose, then, according to the WTO, is to acknowledge that a product really isn’t totally made in the country that last handled the product, and to 'even the score,' and give credit to the other countries involved in the product. These other countries, the WTO reasons, should be credited for their value-added tasks.

What About 'Made in America?'

Sadly, as we’ve seen in other articles regarding the content of American parts in American cars, 'Made in America' doesn’t exactly mean what you think (or hope) it does. First of all, according to the Federal Trade Commission, who governs 'Made in America' regulations,

U.S. content must be disclosed on automobiles and textile, wool, and fur products. There’s no law that requires most other products sold in the U.S. to be marked or labeled Made in USA or have any other disclosure about their amount of U.S. content. However, manufacturers and marketers who choose to make claims about the amount of U.S. content in their products must comply with the FTC’s Made in USA policy.

Products are divided into two categories in the US. If they are in the first category, like automobiles and textiles, they must be labeled according to actual percentage of their content.

In the other category, which includes everything else, labeling is completely voluntary. In that category, we as Americans rely on the businesses voluntarily making the claims, and of course, websites like Back In the USA to help us understand if these products truly are 'Made in America.' If they make the claim to be made in the U.S., they must abide by FTC standards, but as we’ve seen before, that is not policed unless consumers really complain.

A Little 'Made in Somewhere' Story

While we as Americans may be the most vocal about wanting ‘Made in America’ products, we’re not the only ones who have expressed belief in our country’s manufacturing superiority.

Long before the 'Made in America' label, the 'Made in England' label was created for very specific reasons. According to the New Yorker, in 1887, they passed a law forcing foreign companies to make their origin clear, to fight copycats who had been imitating their fine Sheffield cutlery. Germany was one of the main offenders. Britain wanted to stigmatize those inferior imitations by labeling them 'Made in Germany.'

Ironically, by the late 19th century, the quality of German manufacturing skyrocketed, and today, knives and cutlery made in Germany are prized. It speaks to the idea of the fairness of the country of origin labels; if anything, they can increase competition in the marketplace.

 At the end of August, Germany celebrated an obscure birthday: the Made in Germany label turned a hundred and twenty-six years old. The label originated when England, in 1887, passed a law forcing foreign companies - which had been manufacturing copycat British products - to make the origins of their products clear.
At the end of August, Germany celebrated an obscure birthday: the "Made in Germany" label turned a hundred and twenty-six years old. The label originated when England, in 1887, passed a law forcing foreign companies - which had been manufacturing copycat British products - to make the origins of their products clear.

So How About What the WTO is Saying?

Today, the WTO believes that changes in how products are made is a complete paradigm shift, and 'Made in the World' is an accurate moniker. And maybe that’s true in Europe and Asia. Globalization of companies in the U.S. has changed things here, too; of that, there is no doubt.

But in the U.S., we want to know where a product is made, all of it, every component. If it’s made in Asia or Europe, even partially, we want to know. We want to make the informed decision about whether where it comes from makes a difference to us on any given product we purchase. That’s how we Americans are.

Where the WTO sees a paradigm shift and getting rid of country of origin labels as the solution, we can see another possible outcome – that of everything carrying a label similar to food labeling, detailing what’s in the product and how much of it came from where.

That’s Allan Uke’s idea, which he outlines in his book, Buying America Back, a Real-Deal Blueprint for Restoring American Prosperity. He believes that required individual country of origin labels, requiring information on sourcing of each component and product, along with that country’s trade balance with the U.S., on every product, could change consumer behavior and revive American manufacturing. It’s an interesting idea, and if you think about those German knives, one that gives everyone a level playing field on which to compete.

For now, we rely on companies to share their information about being made in the U.S., and sites like Back in the USA to investigate and communicate that information to all of us. By the way, Back in the USA – it’s 'Made in America.'


Other Articles of Interest:

Homegrown Goes Gangsta: Fixing our Food Supply with Co-ops and Urban Gardens

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Is Our Food Killing Us? A Murder Mystery about Gluten, GMOs, and our Food Supply

Cities and States Pick Up FAA's Slack on Drone Safety Regulations

Cotton Products "Made in China:" Is Your Baby Safe?


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