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15 Jul, 2012

Olympics Uniforms: Will US Pay The Price To Be ‘Patriotic’?

By Li Yang ( China Daily)

Beijing, 2012-07-14 – Reports that the pride of America will be wearing uniforms that were made in China at the Olympic Games in London next month have produced the time-honored response from China-bashing politicians in the United States.

“This action on the part of the US Olympic Committee is symbolic of a disastrous trade policy which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and must be changed,” declared Senator Bernie Sanders.

“That is not just outrageous, it’s just plain dumb,” said US Representative Steve Israel.

“I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid said the US Olympic Committee should be embarrassed that the items were made in China, when people in the textile industry in the US are looking for jobs.

There is nothing new about such comments. Only a few days ago, on July 3, a group of activists in the US appealed to the House of Representatives to pass the All-American Flag Act arguing that all national flags should be made in the US.

The only difference this time, is Harry Reid said the USOC should burn the Ralph Lauren outfits and the USOC has been heavily criticized.

In response, the USOC declared: “The US Olympic team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors. We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company.”

Since the US Olympic team is privately funded, the sponsors, like Ralph Lauren, will naturally seek the highest financial and social returns from their sponsorship at the lowest costs. Manufacturing the uniforms in China kept the cost low and the quality high.

According to a report released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011, though manufacturing workers in China are earning more than ever before, the average hourly wage was only $1.36 in 2008, compared with the $32.26 of their counterparts in the US. Almost 66 percent of China’s manufacturing workers are now employed in town and village enterprises where the average hourly wage is only 82 cents.

So there can be two options if the US politicians want their Olympians to wear attire made in the US. The politicians can try and persuade Ralph Lauren to move its manufacturing back to the US, where labor costs will take a big bite out of its profits. Or they can introduce a patriotic Olympic attire tax to meet the costs of making the outfits in the US.

The first choice would show the patriotism of US companies, the second choice the patriotism of US citizens. Both choices would create desperately needed jobs in the US. But both would cost money.

The national flag is an even better example. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the vast majority of US flags are no longer made in America since Sept 11, 2001, when the demand for flags skyrocketed. US flag-buyers weren’t patriotic enough to pay the price to have made-in-the-US flags, instead they forced the US companies to outsource the manufacturing of the flag to reduce costs.

The message of politicians and the media in the US simply treats their audience as dupes. They choose to scapegoat China and ignore the fact that most expensive made-in-China commodities exported to the US are actually US companies’ products.

These companies enjoy the equation: cheap labor in developing countries plus rich consumers in the developed countries equals big profits. The enormous size of these profits sees them feted as iconic symbols of US’ No 1 status. However, whenever their products are attacked for being un-American, especially when China is involved, they are quick to hide behind their red, white and blue veneer.

Many national Olympic teams are sponsored by overseas sports brands. But few politicians in these countries claim their Olympians should burn their made-in-a-developing-country blazers or iPads to show their patriotism.

It is ridiculous for US politicians to politicize the Olympic Games, which are intended to bring nations together.

They should follow the example of US Olympian Nick Symmonds, who tweeted: “Our Ralph Lauren outfits for the Olympic opening ceremonies were made in China. So, um, thanks China.”

The author is a reporter with China Daily. E-mail: liyang@chinadaily.com.cn