News & Politics

Trump Prepares Trade Crackdown

One of Donald Trump’s big selling points during the campaign was his promise to crack down on countries with unfair trading practices. Now it appears that in the next few weeks, Trump will keep that promise.

He will meet with cabinet secretaries and his advisers this week to hammer out details on an aggressive plan to punish countries that trade unfairly.


Trump is tentatively scheduled to meet with Cabinet secretaries and senior advisers as soon as this week to begin finalizing decisions on a slew of pending trade fights involving everything from imports of steel and solar panels to Chinese policies regarding intellectual property, according to one of the administration officials.

Senior aides are also laying plans to use Trump’s State of the Union address at the end of the month to flesh out the president’s trade vision and potentially preview a more aggressive posture toward China, according to the official.

Aides stressed that the specifics are still in flux, but multiple officials told POLITICO that internal conversations have moved beyond the basic question of whether Trump should take tough trade steps and are now focused on what precise measures the president should impose.

By turning to trade, Trump is returning to a key campaign pledge that many advisers worry he did not deliver on in his first year in office. And with limited prospects for passing legislation, trade is one of a handful of major policy areas on which the president can act without having to rely on Congress.

China’s trade policy toward the United States is ludicrous. Basically, anything they want to sell in the U.S. is fine while our companies have to jump through burning hoops just to get a foot in the door. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. We import four times more from China than we export. That has got to stop.

The danger is that our actions will go too far and precipitate a ruinous trade war.

The pending trade actions are controversial, with the potential to cause serious friction with U.S. trading partners and raise questions about Trump’s commitment to the rules-based multilateral trading system. But the options are also legal under U.S. trade law, and the amount of any blowback will depend on how restrictive any measure imposed by Trump is and how many countries are hit.

The first major trade action of 2018 is expected very soon, according to aides. Trump faces statutory deadlines to act by late January and early February in two cases involving solar products and washing machines under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Expansion Act. The solar decision isn’t expected this week but could come the week after, aides said.

In the solar and washing machine cases, the U.S. International Trade Commission has already determined that increased imports are “a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry.” That gives Trump the legal basis to impose temporary import restrictions to help the affected companies recover.

All four ITC commissioners recommended four years of relief — which could include tariffs or import quotas — in the solar case brought by Suniva and SolarWorld, but they disagreed on how restrictive it should be.

I think some kind of trade war with China is inevitable. The Chinese devalue their currency, put up massive government barriers to doing business, and have a protectionist attitude in several industries. While a trade war would cost American jobs, it may be necessary to rebalance the trade relationship with China.

There are other nations that take advantage of our freer market but China is key. If we get tough with the Chinese, it might make negotiations with other nations easier.

There is no harm in a little “America first” policy in international trade when the scales have been tipped against us in many countries for so long.