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Government Procurement Restrictions for Military Flatware and Dinnerware Under Consideration

By a vote of 243-187, the U.S. House of Representatives on 10 July passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorisation Act to require the U.S. Department of Defense to purchase domestically-produced stainless steel flatware and dinnerware. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a Democratic congressman whose New York district houses the only remaining U.S. flatware producer, as well as Rep. David McKinley, a Republican congressman whose Texas district houses one of the few remaining U.S. dinnerware commercial producers.

Similar amendments on flatware and dinnerware had been proposed in prior congressional sessions but they were not supported by the prior chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (a Republican from a different area of Texas). “Creating domestic jobs in industry after industry is not the primary purpose of the Department of Defense, especially without a national security reason to do so,” said Thornberry during last week’s debate. “If we’re going to say OK, DOD has got to buy their plates and cups and knives and forks and spoons from a domestic supplier in my district, what about the napkins? Where does it stop? I don’t think that we want to go down this road without a clear national security reason,” he added.

The Berry Amendment currently requires U.S. purchase of the following products for military use: (i) articles of food (except perishable food for use outside the United States); (ii) clothing and footwear made of textile products; (iii) tents, tarpaulins and covers; (iv) other textile products of cotton, synthetics, wool and natural fibres; and (v) hand or measuring tools. Brindisi pointed out that the Berry Amendment had applied to flatware under the “specialty metals provision” through 2006 although it has not previously applied to ceramic dinnerware purchases.

A 2017 Congressional Research Service report on the Berry Amendment noted that while proponents argue that “the laws serve to keep certain U.S. production lines operating, provide jobs to American factory workers, and shield the U.S. military from dependence on foreign sources for critical items that could lead to supply problems during times of war or military mobilization,” critics counter that these restrictions “may undercut free-market competition and can result in higher costs to DOD.” The report observed that the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency purchased some US$2.4 billion of products covered by the Berry Amendment in fiscal year 2016.

The NDAA will be subject to conference negotiations with the U.S. Senate before enactment into law and this amendment will only be enacted if it survives those negotiations.

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