This is what Obama told a business round table, which comprised of top US CEOs, on Thursday:
The last thing, I think, that we have to pay some attention to is making sure that we’re not dropping back into protectionism.
While one would be tempted to agree with Obama here, the problem seems to be that the US president wants other countries to stay away from protectionism, while the US legislators continue to draw up legislation that smack of protectionism. For evidence look no further than the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 mandating the use of iron and steel and manufactured in the United States or the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) placing restrictions on H-1B visa.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Section 1110) says, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron and steel used in the project is produced in the United States”.
While recipients of TARP funds will be subjected to the same rules so-called H-1B dependent employers must follow. (An H-1B dependent employer is one whose workers brought in with that visa comprise 15% or more of the employer’s total workforce.) These rules include:
1. The employer can’t displace any similarly employed US worker with an H-1B hire within 90 days before or after applying for H-1B status or an extension of status.
2. The employer can’t place any H-1B worker at the worksite of another employer, meaning it can’t outsource a worker for a client, unless that employer first makes a “bona fide” inquiry as to whether the other employer has displaced or will displace a US worker within 90 days before or after the placement of the H-1B worker.
3. The employer has to take good-faith steps to recruit US workers for the job opening, at wages at least equal to those offered to the H-1B worker. The employer must offer the job to any US worker who applies and is equally or better qualified than the H-1B worker.
The US protectionist policies would not only erode the competitiveness of US companies, they could also lead to more other countries setting up their own trade barriers, and a tit for tat war could ensue justified by ‘See someone has put up barriers against us, and we are only retaliating against the barriers’. This would be bad for the US economy and the economy of other countries; bad for world economy as a whole.
While this statement from Obama would have been welcome under normal circumstances; under the current circumstances when the legislators are cooking up legislations to arm-twist and enforce the “Buy American” slogan, this statement comes up as being nothing more than pure hypocrisy.