- - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

With in-person trade talks between the United States and China taking place this week in Shangai, the stakes for protecting America’s trade interests could not be higher. However, while the administration is working to defend domestic jobs on the international stage, the left is more interested in demonizing and politicizing the president’s efforts to protect American jobs. 

At the administration’s meeting with Chinese officials, it is expected that Mr. Trump will work to extend the deadline to reach a deal with China. Indeed, on July 25, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said that he “wouldn’t expect any grand deal” made with the country just yet.

While the left has already jumped to criticizing the president’s wait-and-see approach, Mr. Trump understands the severity of the situation and recognizes that the fate of America’s working class may hang in the balance.

If you had asked Democrats a decade ago what the soul of their party was, most would have said the working class. They can’t say that anymore. Liberals for years marketed themselves as advocates for the blue-collar worker with a high school education, a union job and the American dream. Nowadays, the left has become obsessed with the socialism movement of cultural Marxists and the destruction of capitalism. Nowhere else is this trend more clearly illustrated than the Democrats’ most recent attack on President Trump’s increased tariff imposition and overall trade strategy.

Unfortunately, the plight of working America is only getting more serious. For a half-century, America has ignored a growing trade imbalance with almost every international trading partner. Since the 1970s, the United States has seen imports trending higher compared to exports except for small trade surpluses from 1998 to 2001. In 2018, our nation’s exports were valued at $2.5 trillion while our imports were valued at more than $3.1 trillion, a deficit of more than $600 billion. That equates to 3 percent of our GDP.

More than $400 billion of that deficit is from our trade with China, up from $34 billion in 1990. The bulk of the rest is from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. Most of these nations’ businesses enjoy government subsidies and low labor costs. All of them levy substantial tariff taxes on most American goods and services while we levy much less or nothing on theirs. Thus, America’s appetite for cheaper foreign goods and services, although satisfying consumers, is taking jobs and higher wages from our workers. The great economy we are currently enjoying would be even more robust without the imbalance in tariffs.

While the left has been more than happy to ostracize the American worker by deriding tariffs, the Trump administration has taken the opposite approach. The president has embraced workers in domestic commerce, defending our nation’s manufacturing from the corrosive policies of our international trade partners. As a professor of economics, I have long advocated free trade on a global scale. However, when other nations establish barriers to free trade, the United States must respond in kind to remain competitive. Temporary declines in exports and imports due to our increased tariffs are a short-term price worth paying for an eventual level playing field that benefits both consumers and employees. At this early stage, the Trump administration’s actions have already proven that they are effective over the long-run. 

Here is one example. In 2018, the president approved relief for the U.S. appliance industry, specifically washing machines. After an independent investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found that “U.S. producers had been seriously injured by imports,” mostly due to dumping that violated international trade laws, the president took action. He announced tariffs on foreign-produced washers to protect domestic manufacturers and, in effect, American workers.

Liberals were quick to try to delegitimize the president’s efforts to buttress America’s labor force. Last April, a trio of academics released a study attempting to demonstrate the economic harm caused by the president’s washer tariffs. The study was all wet. The authors overlooked many glaring flaws to arrive at their preferred conclusion that the tariffs were harmful. Not only did the authors fail to consider the thousands of manufacturing jobs saved and created by the duty, but they also failed to account for the more than 15,000 jobs indirectly supported by the president’s action. The working men and women in manufacturing can understand what academics often ignore — the reality is working even when the theoretical claims it won’t.

For the Trump administration, making a trade deal with China is not a question of if; it’s a question of when. While Democrats continue to push for an agreement to be made next week, the White House has not lost sight of what is most important: the security of the American worker. It should continue its slow and steady race to victory.

• Terry Thompson was a professor of economics for John Brown University for 11 years.

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