Sen. Chuck Grassley: Trade tariffs do not put America First – low barriers, expanded access do

President Trump’s America First strategy has been working. From his aggressive deregulation of burdensome and unnecessary Obama-era regulations to the continuing success of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the president’s agenda is securing much-needed economic victories on behalf of Americans. But his recent tariff proposals would stall and ultimately undermine the progress he has made.

Trade is essential to a growing, successful economy. When it’s working as it should, trade opens new markets, strengthens international relationships and increases American productivity, while securing domestic industries and American jobs.

Such benefits complement the work President Trump and his administration have already done and would help achieve continuing success for the president and the country.

The president is right to be concerned that some trade deals disadvantage the United States when other countries don’t uphold their end of the deal. Countries like China have exploited trade relationships and should be held accountable.

Putting America First means examining issues thoroughly, anticipating all potential consequences of every decision and appropriately weighting costs versus benefits.

However, imposing across-the-board tariffs would hurt America’s relationships with reliable trading partners and be detrimental to the nation’s economic success.

With Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, I introduced the bipartisan United States Foreign Investment Review Act late last year. The legislation would help fulfill President Trump’s America First commitment by equipping the president and his administration with the ability to fight back against unfair trade barriers to U.S. exports and businesses, as well as empowering them to block foreign investment that threatens the United States’ long-term economic interests.

Measures like this would strengthen and promote the president’s agenda, while keeping the country on its current positive economic trajectory. Such measures would help achieve President Trump’s goal of leveling the playing field and enhancing American industry, rather than damaging it with higher prices and an overall decrease of global competitiveness. 

Putting America First means examining issues thoroughly, anticipating all potential consequences of every decision and appropriately weighting costs versus benefits.

I detailed my concerns about tariffs – along with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Iowa Representatives David Young, Rod Blum, Dave Loebsack and Steve King – in a recent letter to President Trump.

I’ve also expressed concerns about any serious changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), because they could lead to massive job losses and harm to rural America, especially in my home state of Iowa.

Similarly, President Trump’s proposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum would significantly damage steel-dependent industries in the United States, which employ more than 6 million American workers.

Putting entire industries and millions of family-supporting jobs at risk puts us in a negotiating position we may soon be begging to get out of while inflicting real economic damage in the meantime.

In fact, America has already seen how this scenario plays out. According to data from the U.S. Labor Department, primary metals wholesale prices went from approximately 4 percent deflation to four percent inflation when then-President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002. They were also the cause of a 3 percent increase in costs and were ultimately reversed in 2003.

Since January 2017, 2.3 million jobs have been added and the unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. U.S. weekly jobless claims are at the lowest level since 1969 and consumer confidence is at its highest level since November 2000.

The economy is on the right track thanks in large part to President Trump’s leadership. But imposing tariffs could wipe away all this progress as quickly as it would take the president to sign his name.

American trade policy would benefit from a stronger position, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of good-faith negotiations with trusted and friendly partners. To truly put America First, the president and his administration need to engage in efforts to secure better, fairer deals that increase U.S. exports and will help create more good-paying jobs for American workers, while unleashing investment and ramping up American innovation.

America First means lowering trade barriers and expanding access to more markets. The positive benefits of a smart, reasonable trade policy will help grow the American economy for generations to come and leave a lasting presidential legacy.

I’m confident that President Trump and his team can negotiate fair deals that will disincentive countries from gaming the system while maintaining the important relationships America has worked hard to cultivate and preserve for decades.

Chuck Grassley is a Republican from Iowa, is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.