Congress can’t continue to sit out Trump’s trade war

August 11, 2018

The U.S.-triggered trade war with China is about to cause more economic damage in both countries and by extension, everywhere, given the international impact the worlds two biggest economies have.

The Trump administrations motives in targeting China may have been justifiable. In fact, theres bipartisan consensus that the U.S. and other leading industrialized economies cannot allow China to continue stealing intellectual property or force foreign firms to fork over trade secrets in order to be granted access to the vast China market.

But the blunt instrument of deploying tariffs (a tax, to be exact) especially unilaterally and not as part of a coordinated, multinational movement is not only not changing Chinas behavior (exports to the U.S. jumped 13.3 percent in July despite expectations that a June surge to beat the tariffs would be followed by a slump), its hurting U.S. consumers and producers in the process.

Minnesota is particularly vulnerable, especially with its export-oriented agricultural sector. While the administration may temporarily tamp down the damage with its announced $12 billion aid package for farmers, the money isnt unlimited. And the package wont rescue related agricultural sectors, let alone other industries. Some of those sectors will soon suffer like farmers because of retaliatory tariffs that Beijing is imposing in response to the administrations plan to go forward with previously announced 25 percent tariffs on an additional $16 billion worth of Chinese exports.

The spiral may intensify. The White House is considering up to 25 percent tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese exports. China would likely respond in kind.

President Donald Trump may believe that China may be hurt more since it exports more to the U.S. than it imports. But Beijing has many options to hamper U.S. firms, which ultimately means fewer U.S. jobs. And China has already shown a willingness to purchase soybeans and other products from other markets. The Chinese may not be quick to return to U.S. producers, even if an accord between Beijing and Washington can be reached.

Congress, on a bipartisan basis, must assert its voice, and its votes, to encourage a more multinational approach to adjudicating trade disputes. This includes more rhetorical support of the World Trade Organization, which was set up to avoid the very damaging dynamic thats transpiring now. Unfortunately, the WTO is just one of many international institutions that Trump has derided.

Trump has also attacked free-trade agreements, which can promote enforceable rules and create the kind of alliances that can better respond to China or any other nation that seeks an unfair advantage in global trade.

Its time for Democrats and Republicans to refind their voices in support of a more rational approach to maneuvering through an increasingly interconnected global economy.

Update hourly