This Thursday, Independence Day, Americans will celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They’ll grill hot dogs, display American flags (and American flag T-shirts, paper plates, swim trunks, picnic blankets, and so on), and settle down on a patch of grass to watch fireworks.
If predictions hold true, Americans are planning to splurge this July 4, compared with previous years. According to Visa’s annual Independence Day survey, Americans will spend an average $300 each on the holiday, compared with $190 in 2012. That’s a 58 percent surge from last year, buoyed by the strengthening economy, low gas prices, and soggy weather.
The latter is a key bellwether for fireworks sales, which fell in 2012 due to extreme drought conditions (and resulting burn bans) across the country. This year, recreational fireworks sales are expected to soar, to the tune of around $600 million total.
The irony? The majority of those fireworks, as well as most of what Americans use to celebrate independence from another country is dependent on imports from another country: China.
First, fireworks. The United States imported $227.3 million in fireworks in 2012, according to US Census Bureau statistics. Of those, $218.2 million, or about 96 percent, came from China. By comparison, the US exported a paltry $11.6 million in fireworks in 2012 .
China also makes the majority of imported American flags. The US imported $3.8 million in American flags last year, with $3.6 million (94.7 percent) coming from China.
None of this should be especially surprising, since the US imports upwards of $400 billion in goods annually from the People’s Republic ($425.6 billion in 2012, to be exact). But importing the most patriotic of our holiday paraphernalia strikes some as particularly blasphemous, and at least one Congressional effort to change things is underway
The All-American Flag Act would require the US government to buy and use flags manufactured entirely in the United States. The bill was first introduced in the House of Representatives by Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley in 2010. It has been reintroduced by Representative Braley and the bipartisan group in support of the bill every year since. The bill has been passed in both the House and the Senate in previous years, but never in the same session.
“It’s simple – Americans’ tax dollars should be used to purchase flags made in the USA," Braley said in a June 13 announcement reintroducing the bill on his congressional website. “Allowing the government to purchase flags from foreign countries is embarrassing to America’s greatest symbol. There are many companies here in the US that proudly manufacture American flags, and the government should be purchasing flags from them, supporting American-made products, not importing flags from China.”
Currently, the law requires the US government to purchase American flags made with at least 50 percent American materials. The All American Flag Actwould bump that up to 100 percent.
On the economic end, the bill’s proponents see it as a representative endorsement of American manufacturing. "We should do all we can to support American manufacturing and job creation, especially when it comes to our most treasured of patriotic symbols – the American flag," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio said in favor of the bill last year. "There is no product that deserves a U.S.A. label more than American flags."
For Braley, the rationale for the bill is more symbolic than economic. “Many of those flags drape the caskets of our veterans when we send them home,” he told Fox News last week. “It’s important to me and my colleagues that those flags be truly representative of America by being made in America.”
Finding a symbolic rationale for American-made fireworks is a bit more of a stretch – their origins can be traced back to 7th-century China, after all. And the options for purchasing American-made fireworks are limited to a small handful of companies, including Diamond Sparklers.