U.S. Family Tries Living Without China

U.S. family tries living without China

Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:21AM EDT
By Cynthia Osterman
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Lamps, birthday candles, mouse traps and flip-
flops. Such is the stuff that binds the modern American family to the
global economy, author Sara Bongiorni discovers during a year of
boycotting anything made in China.

In "A Year Without 'Made in China,'" (Wiley, $24.95) Bongiorni tells
how she and her family found that such formerly simple acts as
finding new shoes, buying a birthday toy and fixing a drawer became
ordeals without the Asian giant.

Bongiorni takes pains to say she does not have a protectionist agenda
and, despite the occasional worry about the loss of U.S. jobs to
overseas factories, she has nothing against China. Her goal was
simply to make Americans aware of how deeply tied they are to the
international trading system.

"I wanted our story to be a friendly, nonjudgmental look at the ways
ordinary people are connected to the global economy," she said in an
interview before the book appears in July.

As a business journalist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bongiorni wrote
about international trade for a decade. "I used to see the Commerce
Department trade statistics, the billions of dollars, and think it
had nothing to do with me," she said.

The reality was far different.

As the year unfolded, "the boycott made me rethink the distance
between China and me. In pushing China out of our lives, I got an eye-
popping view of how far China had pushed in," she wrote.

About 15 percent of the $1.7 trillion in goods the United States
imported in 2006 came from China, economist Joel Naroff writes in the
foreword. Much of that is the manufactured stuff that fills Wal-Mart
and other retailers -- the necessities and frivolities sought by
lower- and middle-income Americans.

Lower prices have been one benefit of Beijing's rise and make it very
hard for consumers to forswear Chinese imports.

And hard it was.

For all of 2005, minor purchases required dogged detective work as
Bongiorni scoured catalogues and read labels.

She repeatedly struck out trying to buy inexpensive shoes for her
son, and even the chic local boutique that sold fancy European labels
had gone out of business. So she shelled out $68 for Italian sneakers
from a catalogue.

Broken appliances gathered dust because the spare parts came from
China. And, with the Asian country having a near lock on the toy
aisles, her 4-year-old son grew tired of taking Danish-made Legos to
birthday parties as gifts.

The family resorted to snapping mouse traps when the gentler catch
and release kind came from, you guessed it, China.

Bongiorni got a lesson in the global economy after products
advertised as Made in USA turned out to have Chinese parts. She
decided to keep a lamp with just this problem after speaking to the
manufacturer and learning how China is "eating the lunch" of the few
U.S lamp producers left.

Since the boycott's end, Bongiorni has chosen a middle ground. Her
family seeks alternatives but accepts Chinese products when most
practical. But one habit from the boycott remains: It required her to
think hard about what she buys.

"Shopping became meaningful," she said.

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