Washington - US President Barack Obama proposed on Tuesday to radically shift the US economy back to a manufacturing base after decades of ceding jobs in goods production to factory-heavy countries like China.
In a move to rebuild the weakened economy, create jobs and bolster his reelection chances in November, Obama said the US has an opportunity to wrest production from rivals like China and burnish the "Made in USA" label.
"Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that's built to last," Obama told Congress in his annual State of the Union speech.
"This blueprint begins with American manufacturing."
He proposed new policies aimed at helping manufacturing business in the US, and removing support for those who shift US jobs overseas.
They included tax breaks for more investment and job creation inside the country, support for education and research that feeds the manufacturing sector, and stepped-up protection against subsidised imports and pirated goods - naming China as the main target.
"It's time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America," Obama said.
"My message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed," he said.
Faced with an uphill battle to keep his job, Obama sought to recharge enthusiasm in the potential of an economy still struggling 30 months after a deep recession and with 13 million unemployed.
"Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores," the president said.
"We can't bring back every job that's left our shores. But right now, it's getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is more productive."
He cited his own grandmother's working in a factory assembling bombers during World War II, "part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth."
But restoring US manufacturing pride, and turning the sector into a powerful jobs machine in an economy dominated by services, will be a huge struggle.
From nearly 40% at the end of World War II, manufacturing jobs have steadily fallen to 9%, while the services sector has boomed.
In parallel, the import of manufactured goods has skyrocketed, benefitting economies and workers especially in China and Asia, and widening the US trade deficit.
Since the recession ended in June 2009 the US has added manufacturing jobs faster than the service sector. But the actual number remains small: only 199 000 manufacturing jobs were created, compared to 1.3 million in total.
Buoyed by the administration's success in reviving the US auto industry from collapse in 2008, Obama has sought to replicated that in other industries.
But targeted sectors like solar panel manufacturing and wind towers have still emigrated to China and elsewhere.
The New York Times reported last week that Steve Jobs, the late head of Apple, flatly told Obama early last year that there was no way to manufacture the company's iPhones and iPads in the United States.
Part of Obama's push though is to strengthen protection from what the administration sees are predatory trade practices, launching a new unit dedicated to stopping unfair trade practices by rivals.
"I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules," Obama said in his annual State of the Union address.
"It's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're heavily subsidised."
He also called on Congress to get behind a push to rebuild the country's sagging infrastructure, using billions of dollars saved on defense after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
"So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We've got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy," he said.
Andrew Herrmann, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said that was necessary to boost the country's overall competitiveness.
"I found that very encouraging, I just hope he can pull through on it," Herrmann told AFP.
"Infrastructure is a way to make America more efficient."