Politicians in Washington D.C. love to talk about their support for American jobs, but talk aside, this is the season for members of both houses of Congress to create special import loopholes that prevent job creation in the USA. The more things Americans buy from overseas, the fewer manufacturing jobs there are in the United States. Yet, instead of confronting the problem, U.S. representatives and senators are working to keep unemployment high, introducing scores of bills that keep import duties artificially low.
Often, these bills escape public attention because they refer to highly technical objects or obscure chemical products. That’s not the case with H.R. 4822, “a bill to extend the temporary suspension of duty on certain shopping bags”, introduced this week by Representative Howard Berman.
Congressman Berman has depicted his legislation as a kind of environmental activism. The shopping bags that he wants to be exempted from import duties are reusable, he argues, and having them cheaply made overseas encourages more people to use reusable shopping bags, thus reducing waste. The problem with that argument is that foreign-made shopping bags are transported over great distances, requiring more energy to get to market than reusable shopping bags that are made in the USA. Also, foreign-made bags are often produced in factories that don’t have to comply with environmental regulations like what we have here in the United States.
The fact is that there are many manufacturers of reusable shopping bags right here in the United States. Yes, some of these bags are expensive, such as the cotton canvas shopping bag offered by ReUseIt, which sells for about $25 dollars, but the cost isn’t prohibitive. If one of these bags is used just 100 times, it costs just 25 cents per use. Actually, it can be used thousands of times without getting worn out.
Berman says that importing shopping bags from foreign sources instead of using American-made shopping bags is “keeping costs low”, but really, the costs are just being shifted from corporations to the American people. The low cost of foreign-made shopping bags comes at the expense of American jobs, after all. Shopping bag factories in foreign countries pay ridiculously low wages to their workers.
Besides, there are low-cost reusable shopping bags made here in the USA. ReUseIt sells a shopping bag made of a combination of recycled cotton and recycled plastic bottles for just $10. ReUSAble bags sells American-made reusable shopping bags for just 50 cents each.
With made in the USA reusable shopping bags available at low prices like this, there’s no reason, economic or environmental, for the import duties on foreign-made shopping bags to remain specially lowered.