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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo Calls For The U.S. To Counter China's Economic Power

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, pictured in June, is outlining her economic agenda. One goal is to increase U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, pictured in June, is outlining her economic agenda. One goal is to increase U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.

Updated September 28, 2021 at 4:09 PM ET

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says the Chinese government is blocking its airlines from purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of U.S.-made airplanes in the latest U.S. complaint about China's economic policies.

"The Chinese government is holding that up," Raimondo told NPR. "They are not respecting intellectual property and stealing IP of American companies. They're putting up all kinds of different barriers for American companies to do business in China."

The comments came in an interview ahead of a speech on Tuesday outlining her economic agenda, which includes countering China's economic influence and addressing longstanding U.S. issues with the Chinese government's treatment of U.S. companies.

The U.S. also needs to counter China for human rights reasons, the commerce secretary said. The Chinese government is holding 1.5 million people from the ethnic minority Uyghur group in internment camps and has effectively created a high-tech surveillance state in areas where many Uyghurs live.

Though she said last week that she would work to improve U.S. business ties with China and would lead delegations of U.S. executives there, Raimondo told NPR the Biden administration would attempt to work more with European allies to come up with regulations and technology standards with countries that "support our democratic values."

A focus on semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.

Raimondo is also pushing for more investment in U.S. manufacturing, which has fallen as companies moved jobs abroad starting decades ago. She wants more attention on shoring up supply chains that were shown to be vulnerable during the pandemic.

Her spotlight is on semiconductors specifically, which are today mostly made in Taiwan, South Korea, China and Japan. The U.S. makes 12%. Semiconductor chips are needed for smartphones and many other electronic devices to work.

"Once upon a time, America led the world in semiconductor manufacturing," Raimondo said. "In search of cheap labor, we have lost that lead. So we need to invest in America, incentivize companies to manufacture chips in America, have a trained workforce, shoring up domestic supply chains, domestic manufacturing here. That is what is critical. That is how we're going to compete globally."

Raimondo is urging the House to pass the Chips for America Act, which would direct $52 billion to help boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. The measure has already passed the Senate.

More generous family leave policies

In a wide-ranging interview with Morning Edition, Raimondo said more liberal child and dependent caregiver policies would make the U.S. more competitive economically.

"You cannot be competitive if women can't productively engage in the workforce because they don't have access to child care or care for their elderly loved ones," she said. "We can't compete globally if we're the only industrialized nation without paid family leave, which severely underpins our workers' productivity."

While it might be expected that business leaders would oppose any hint of raising corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy, Raimondo said she's heard from some who say they would be willing to pay higher taxes personally but want corporate taxes to be "competitive."

"I think there's broad recognition that some tax increases are necessary in order to pay for these investments," she said, in areas including child care infrastructure, job training, slowing climate change and increasing broadband access.

Increasing broadband access in cities and in rural areas

An issue such as broadband access has different solutions depending on where someone lives. While a higher percentage of rural residents lack broadband access — 19% of rural households compared to 14% of urban households — the majority of people without broadband live in urban areas.

In rural areas, companies haven't built the infrastructure because it's not economically viable, while in urban areas, some people can't afford to pay for internet access. "So we have to fix that," Raimondo says.

She also said the Biden administration would work to help areas that were previously supported by coal mining jobs. Coal jobs have collapsed in recent years mainly because of market forces, but the Biden administration is also pushing renewable energy.

Raimondo said the administration wants coal-mining areas to "move away from coal as fast as possible," but added: "You can't say, 'Coal's going away, you're going to lose all your jobs, good luck.' You have to be there to help people in those communities find jobs, bring new industries there."

Lilly Quiroz, Scott Saloway and Milton Guevara produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.