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‘Made in America’ rules are complex, confusing

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Iconic products no longer made in the U.S.
Newsweek: 12 once-All-American products that are now manufactured on foreign shores.

  Made in America
Our editorial cartoonists take a look at manufacturing in the U.S.
  FirstPerson slideshow

Kids & Cozy Coupes
We asked our readers to share photos of their little tots in Little Tikes’ Cozy Coupes. Here’s a sampling.

Are those the only rules governing labels showing where a product was made?

No. The Federal Trade
Commission regulates claims that companies choose to make in their
packaging or advertising, but other federal laws require labels for
imported products. For example, there are rules for labeling products
made from textiles, wool and fur. The Buy American Act of 1933 created
yet another set of rules for government procurement; to be “considered
American-made” for those purposes, more than half of the parts have to
be made in the U.S.

Then there’s the American Automobile Labeling Act,
which requires that every car sold domestically have a label showing
where it was manufactured, what percentage of the content was made in
the U.S. and Canada, and where the engine and transmission were made.
Those rules are enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration. (If you want to make an advertising claim about where
the car was made, you have to deal with the FTC again.)

If something is not made in America, do companies have to say so on the label?

Yes, unless your product is on a long list of exemptions.

folks at Customs and Border Protection require foreign companies that
export to the U.S. to clearly label that product’s “country of origin.”
If a product started out in one country and was “substantially
transformed” somewhere else, the second country has to be listed as the
“country of origin.” That transformation, the law says, happens when a
“new article with a different name, character and use is created.”

are even detailed rules about the markings themselves — down to the
size of the letters or the adhesive used for a stick-on label. Some
products, like watches and clocks, manhole covers and “hinged hand tools for holding and splicing wire” get their own special marking rules.

all products have to be marked, including raw materials, goods that
will be used to make other products or those that would be very
difficult or costly to mark (like an egg).

Then there’s something called the “J-list,” named for the section of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930
that grandfathered exemptions for about 100 products. Feathers are on
the list, so you may have a hard time figuring out where they came
from. Same goes for playing cards and hairnets. The list is a just one
more example of the complexity of global trade negotiations.

What happens if you don’t follow these "country of origin" marking rules?

you get caught, Customs will give you three options. You can
“re-export” the product, which means you just send it somewhere else.
You can have the products marked properly (at your expense, of course.)
Or you can have the products destroyed. Your call.

What happens if you break the rules and make a false “Made in America” claim?

have tried all sorts of ways to skirt the law with indirect claims,
like proudly displaying an American flag or the Statue of Liberty on
the product.

allowed, says the FTC. Unless the product meets the “all or virtually
all” standard, you can’t try to trick consumers by wrapping your
product in the flag.

you get caught, and the FTC decides you’ve crossed the line, you’ll get
an order to stop making the claim. Most companies who get nabbed agree
to stop making false Made in America claims without admitting or
denying they did anything wrong. If you break the rules again, you’ll
probably get hit with a heavy fine for each infraction.

the FTC doesn’t have a Made in America Police browsing store shelves
for violations. The agency relies on consumers to tip them to
infractions. If you think a company is falsely making a "Made in
America" claim, you can notify the FTC’s Complaint Assistant Web site.

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Jim Rousch