- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

President Trump said Tuesday he’s not worried about starting a trade war with Asia as he signed an executive order slapping tariffs on solar panels from China and washing machines produced mostly in South Korea.

“Our action today helps to create jobs in America for Americans,” Mr. Trump said. “When we do this, a lot of manufacturers will be coming to the United States to build washing machines and also solar. Our companies will not be taken advantage of anymore.”

He also said the administration is looking at possible trade restrictions on steel and aluminum.

The president’s action adds a 20-percent duty on the first 1.2 million imported residential washing machines, and a tax of 50 percent beyond that number in the first year. Mr. Trump said his decision was “based on the recommendation of the independent, bipartisan U.S. International Trade Commission,” which ruled late last year that a “surge” of washing machines from Samsung and LG have “seriously injured” domestic manufacturers.

It was the first major trade restriction of his presidency, and the reaction overseas was swift. South Korea said Tuesday it will complain to the World Trade Organization about Mr. Trump’s decision, calling the move “excessive.”

“It is clear that the latest safeguard measures would violate the WTO rules,” South Korea’s trade minister Kim Hyun-chong said in a meeting with industry officials. “We will actively respond to protectionist measures.”

A Chinese government spokesman also expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the new U.S. tariffs and hinted at a WTO complaint.

“Together with other WTO members, China will resolutely defend its legitimate interests,” said spokesman Way Hejun.

Mr. Trump said his order will “provide a strong incentive for LG and Samsung to follow through on their recent promises to build major manufacturing plants for washing machines right here in the United States.”

But John Taylor, a top official of washing-machine manufacturer LG Electronics, said Tuesday the administration’s “pretty dire import restrictions” will hurt the U.S. economy. He noted that the company is building a 1-million-square-foot plant in Clarksville, Tennessee, to manufacture washing machines, plans that were announced in February 2017.

“It will hinder … the ramp-up of our factory in Tennessee and threaten the 600 jobs,” Mr. Taylor said at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “We just won’t perhaps need to hire 600 people initially. We’re very concerned about the impact on our retailers, particularly iconic dealers like Sears and J.C. Penney, who depend a lot on the sale of LG washers.”

Mr. Taylor said LG has not engaged in unfair trade. He said Whirlpool, which complained about the imports, did not “keep up with innovation.”

“It’s a textbook case of how certain companies really can game the process and use the trade laws to try to accomplish what they can’t do in the marketplace,” he said.

Rather than flooding the market with “cheap” imports, Mr. Taylor said, LG washers are high-end machines that typically cost about 20 percent more than Whirlpool washers.

Paul Nathanson, senior principal at the law firm Bracewell LLP, said Mr. Trump will learn the same lesson that President George W. Bush did after imposing tariffs on imported steel in 2002 — that it was “a losing political proposition.”

“The administration thought this was an easy way to show that they were going to be tough on imports,” Mr. Nathan said of Mr. Trump. “Unfortunately for the solar guys and the washer guys, they were the first up. I think they’re going to find out just as George W. found out that there’s real consequences in the negative blowback, both by our trading partners and by consumers and by the manufacturing sector.”

The president will depart on Wednesday for a global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, where some of his counterparts might sympathize with his actions on tariffs. Last fall, the European Union imposed minimum import duties for Chinese solar modules and cells that raised their prices up to 30 percent above market levels — a tariff level about the same as Mr. Trump imposed.

At the conference, Mr. Trump will act as America’s salesman in meetings with various European corporate CEOs “to remind the world we’re open for business,” said White House economic council Director Gary Cohn. Chief among Mr. Trump’s selling points will be the new, lower U.S. corporate tax rate of 21 percent.

“We can now compete,” Mr. Cohn said. “We’re excited about where we’re going.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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