For years large multinational companies dominated the National Association of Manufacturers, which is the largest trade group of industrial companies in the U.S. So rather than focusing on, say, curbing foreign subsidies on goods sold in the U.S. (a small-company priority), NAM has pushed the government to open foreign markets for exports or investments (a big-company policy).

Facing more and more Chinese competition, however, small businesses that produce and sell goods domestically have begun asserting themselves in NAM's policy-making apparatus. Executives at Penn United Technology, a 630-employee precision toolmaker located in Cabot, Pa., have helped smaller NAM members that sell goods only in the U.S. form a new caucus within NAM to push their views. In February, after six months of negotiations between large members and the entrepreneurial group, NAM unveiled its 2005 trade agenda. In a break from the past, NAM called for the uncoupling of the Chinese yuan to the U.S. dollar and the addition of a duty on Chinese imports, says Bill Primosch, NAM's director of international business policy. Getting the manufacturing association to back a duty on low-priced Chinese imports was a victory for small manufacturers. "We are all free traders," says David Frengel, director of policy affairs at Penn United. "But we need a policy that doesn't allow our nation to be abused by liberalized trade."