Peterson Institute publications
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan
research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. More › ›
RSS News Feed Search

Policy Brief 09-2

Buy American: Bad for Jobs, Worse for Reputation

by Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Peterson Institute for International Economics
and Jeffrey J. Schott, Peterson Institute for International Economics

February 2009

View full document [pdf]


audio Listen to related interview with coauthor Jeffrey J. Schott
Jeffrey J. Schott

On January 28, 2009, the US House of Representatives passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Out of the bill's 700 text pages, a small half-page section attracted enormous media attention: the section requiring that all public projects funded by the stimulus plan must use only iron and steel produced in the United States. The US Senate draft includes a broad Buy American provision that goes further than the House bill, expanding the requirement to all manufacturing products.

Based on economic and legal analysis, the authors conclude that the Buy American provisions would violate US trade obligations and damage the United States' reputation, with very little impact on US jobs. They estimate that the additional US steel production fostered by the Buy American provisions will amount to around 0.5 million metric tons. This in turn translates into a gain in steel industry employment equal to roughly 1,000 jobs. The job impact is small because steel is very capital intensive. In the giant US economy, with a labor force of roughly 140 million people, 1,000 jobs more or less is a rounding error. On balance the Buy American provisions could well cost jobs if other countries emulate US policies or retaliate against them. Most importantly, the Buy American provisions contradict the G-20 commitment not to implement new protectionist measures—a commitment that was designed to forestall a rush of "beggar-thy-neighbor" policies.

What should be done? The best result would be to simply delete the Buy American provision in the House-Senate conference. Next best would be to keep the House version, applying the Buy American restriction only to iron and steel, but stating explicitly—in either the statutory text or in the legislative history—that the public interest waiver is intended to be used to avoid violations of US trade obligations. The third option is a presidential statement—preferably before legislation is finalized—that the United States will respect its international obligations when it applies the Buy American provisions.


 

RELATED INTERVIEWS

Will Buy American Produce Jobs for America? February 4, 2009


RELATED LINKS

Book: Understanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership January 2013

Book: The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Asia-Pacific Integration: A Quantitative Assessment November 2012

Policy Brief 12-21: How Can Trade Policy Help America Compete? October 2012

Policy Brief 11-20: The United States Should Establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia November 2011

Policy Brief 11-8: What Should the United States Do about Doha? June 2011

Book: The Long-Term International Economic Position of the United States April 2009

Op-ed: Trade: An Opportunity About to Be Lost? May 20, 2011

Op-ed: New Imbalances Will Threaten Global Recovery June 10, 2010

Op-ed: How Best to Boost US Exports February 3, 2010

Op-ed: Cooling the Planet Without Chilling Trade November 13, 2009

Paper: Submission to the USTR in Support of a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement January 25, 2010

Working Paper 09-2: Policy Liberalization and US Merchandise Trade Growth, 1980–2006 May 2009

Paper: Report to the President-Elect and the 111th Congress on A New Trade Policy for the United States December 17, 2008

Book: American Trade Politics, 4th edition June 2005

Op-ed: The Payoff from Globalization June 7, 2005

Policy Brief 08-5: World Trade at Risk May 2008