Most Americans understand what few in Washington seem to grasp — that the global economy is rigged against us. We open our market to countries and companies that game our trade laws and then fail to punish their bad behavior. That cheating is a big reason many Americans are so desperate for President Donald J. Trump to end this era of abuse.
[COREY R. LEWANDOWSKI | January 17, 2018 | The Hill]
President Trump was the only candidate in the 2016 campaign to question this imbalance. He won huge applause by criticizing bad trade deals and the policymakers who cut them. He has continued that fight since taking office, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and re-opening lopsided trade deals with Canada, Mexico and South Korea.
Now that President Trump has fulfilled another campaign pledge by signing his historic tax cut, he can turn his attention back to fixing this trade imbalance. President Trump can take steps before his State of the Union this month to show Americans — and other countries — that he will crack down on companies and countries that break to rules in a way that undercuts American workers.
Few issues animated President Trump’s core supporters more during the campaign than the feeling that free trade hurts American workers more than it helps, and there is definitely reason for that feeling. The U.S. has lost a third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, even with our population swelling by 50 million people in the years since. Misguided trade policy is a significant driver of that decline.
Other countries subsidize their domestic manufacturing, manipulate their currencies to make their exports cheaper and steal intellectual property to benefit domestic industries. But a generation of politicians in Washington refused to punish those abuses. Our refusal to police trade cheats just encourages more companies and countries to take advantage of us.
We should start by establishing further restrictions on foreign-made steel and aluminum that is illegally dumped in the U.S., undermining our national security and threatening our standing as an industrial power by forcing American defense contractors and other manufacturers to rely on imports from China and South Korea.
President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross were wise to launch an investigation (the results of which have been submitted to the president) into whether cheap steel imports compromise our national security. China, our biggest rival on the global stage, produces more than half of the world’s steel and regularly runs afoul of trade regulators for unfairly driving down prices. Now, South Korea is pulling the same stunt. The administration needs to take steps to ensure our defense industry doesn’t rely on foreign imports to keep Americans safe.
China poses other grave threats to the American economy. For years, the Chinese government has systematically stolen intellectual property from the American companies that line up to do business there. They pass those secrets along to domestic businesses that then rush new products to market based on that stolen information, undercutting American companies both in China and back here in the U.S.
That is why many so many Americans cheered when President Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer launched an investigation into the ongoing theft of American intellectual property by the Chinese government and Chinese businesses. China has played hardball for years by forcing companies to fork over this information. It is only fair for the U.S. to employ similar tactics as we fight these earlier abuses.
Free markets only work when all sides play by the same rules. We too often sit on the sidelines while countries and companies game those rules. Instead, we should punish those bad actors by restricting their access to the single-greatest force in the global economy — American consumers. If we don’t penalize countries and companies that break our laws, we are just encouraging others to do the same.
President Trump has a chance in the next few weeks to send the strongest possible signal by embracing tough penalties against South Korean conglomerates Samsung and LG for consistently dumping washing machines in the U.S. to hold market dominance. For that reason, the International Trade Commission has unanimously found both companies guilty of violating our trade laws three times since 2013.
Unfortunately, after the first two cases, Samsung and LG were able to avoid trade sanctions by moving production to countries that were not covered by the anti-dumping rules. President Trump can finally put an end to that trend by applying a tariff to any washing machines the two companies make outside the U.S. This would encourage Samsung and LG to establish appliance factories here in the U.S., much like how President Ronald Reagan played hardball to force Japanese carmakers to set up operations on U.S. soil.
Some business-friendly Republicans like to warn about a “protectionist backlash” if we enforce laws already on our books. But why would we unilaterally disarm if other countries are not playing by the rules? That is certainly the case with foreign-made solar panels. Chinese solar producers constantly undercut American companies by selling at a deep loss; but we can fight back. Establishing restrictions on those foreign-made solar panels would stop the devastation of the domestic market and give an edge to American solar producers on their own soil. That is not protectionism; that’s smart trade policy.
President Trump has promised to protect those jobs, and stricter trade barriers would be a good place to start. That is why he should be applauded for sticking to his guns, despite blowback from free-market zealots who value ideological purity over actual American jobs. Voters flocked to the president’s message because they knew he was right. He now has a window to prove it.