No, the Pandemic Will Not Bring Jobs Back From China



Edward Alden | Foreign Policy

No idea has been more central to U.S. President Donald Trump’s philosophy of “America first” than bringing jobs back home. In his 2017 inaugural address, he lamented that “one by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.” Under his presidency, a newly elected Trump promised, “we will bring back our jobs.”

More than three years later and in the most unlikely of scenarios—a pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans and destroyed more U.S. jobs than any time since the Great Depression—the Trump administration finally believes its opportunity has come. The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrote earlier this month, has left U.S. companies with no choice but to “bring the jobs back to America.” Lighthizer cast the pandemic as an overdue comeuppance for U.S. companies that had offshored production to lower-wage countries in a “lemming-like desire for ‘efficiency.’” Lighthizer was echoing another top official, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who had said in January—when the new coronavirus still appeared to be confined to China—that it would “help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

The administration seems to have been working overtime to make prophets out of these two men, and it has landed some big fish. Last week, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing announced it would build a new chip fabrication plant in Arizona that will partially reduce U.S. dependence on Asia for advanced semiconductors that are critical for defense and industry. The federal government has also awarded $354 million to a Virginia start-up that will produce generic drugs and their ingredients, including those used to treat COVID-19, in the United States. Peter Navarro, the third member of Trump’s nationalist trade triumvirate, touted the production decision as “a great day for America. This has all of the elements of the Trump strategy. It’s made in the USA. It’s innovation that will allow American workers to compete with the pollution havens, sweatshops, and tax havens of the world.”

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