Made in the USA (Not to Mention China, Haiti, Mauritius . . . )

In the United States, just about anything you buy, even a ball of string, has a country-of-origin label affixed to it. These days, it’s often “Made in China,” although a “Made in USA” label can still be unearthed by the determined shopper.

In the European Union, however, country-of-origin labels are not required. That could soon change, The Wall Street Journal reported today, because the EU Parliament and the European Commission have both approved a proposal to require companies to place “Made in” labels on goods sold across the continent. Many non-European countries are unhappy about this, fearing it will raise their costs and reduce the competitiveness of their exports.

“Similar tags are mandated around the world, including in Japan and China, as a way to help domestic producers compete against foreign manufacturers,” the Journal explained. “The U.S. has had origin labeling since the 1930s. Roughly a quarter of consumers make choices based on where a product was made, according to EU surveys.”

While Peter Drucker would surely have understood the temptation to affix such labels, he liked to point out that country-of-origin categorizations were rapidly becoming nonsensical. In fact, he was on to this as early as 1977, in a speech he delivered at Utah State University.

[EXPAND More]“Take the shoes you and I are wearing,” Drucker told his audience. “The hides come from this country because we are the largest producer of cows, and the hide is a by-product of the cow. It’s tanned increasingly in Brazil. . . . Then some of those tanned hides go to Haiti where they are being made into uppers, and some are sent to the British Virgin Islands where they are made into soles. Later the shoes are assembled in Puerto Rico and sold in Logan.”

In such a system—which Drucker called “shared production”—“Made in USA” (although the proper legal label) simply doesn’t mean very much. “The tension between an economy to which national economic terms no longer apply and a policy that has to be national is going to increase and increase,” Drucker predicted.

What do you think: Does country-of-origin labeling actually mean anything in such an interconnected world?[/EXPAND]