More broadly, imports of all kinds drive American jobs and export competitiveness. Most goods imported by the U.S. are used to make other goods. The Washington-based Trade Partnership, which studies such things, says that 62% of the $2.2 trillion of imports in 2011 were inputs for producers.

These include oil, precious metals, minerals, green coffee and lumber. But the list also includes motor vehicle parts, semiconductors, aircraft engines and parts, steel products, fertilizers, plastics and machinery and other equipment. American companies buy these products, make other things with them or add value and then sell their output at home and abroad. If they can’t buy these imports at good prices, U.S. producers can’t compete globally. …

And what about those Ralph Lauren-designed berets? Well, the American Apparel and Footwear Association says that while their industries are now dominated by imports, these two markets in the U.S. employ more than four million people in everything from design to marketing, merchandising and retail. The International Trade Commission says more than half of the value of imported apparel sold in the U.S. is American. The Commerce Department says that more than 50% of direct importing operations in the U.S. are small businesses.