Tariffs ensure aluminum and steel jobs are here to stay

China’s announcement Wednesday that it plans to slap tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. products is a clear threat to President Trump after his announcement last month to impose tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel from other nations and his announcement Tuesday that he plans to impose tariffs on $50 billion in imports from China.

Already, many policymakers, Wall Street analysts and pundits have quickly jumped to doomsday scenarios over trade wars. And dozens of countries are also lobbying the president for exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs.

While I have major policy differences with President Trump and his administration, it is essential that he stay the course and not cower to China’s bullying. Our political leaders should not take this tremendous victory away from tens of thousands of America’s aluminum and steelworkers by reversing or watering down the president’s decision.

For almost two decades, I had the tremendous privilege of serving the great people of Indiana. Hoosiers are hardworking, middle-class Americans who rely on stable jobs – often in unionized, manufacturing, or blue-collar industries – to provide for their families.

The Hoosier state has one of the nation’s largest aluminum and steel production sectors supporting more than 20,000 steel and aluminum jobs. The tariffs on aluminum and steel imports ensure that these opportunities are here to stay and that working-class families across Indiana and the United States can feel more confident in the security of their jobs.

According to Bloomberg News and independent analysis, the steel and aluminum tariffs have the potential to add 19,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, the Economic Policy Institute – a well-respected think tank in Washington – also concluded that the estimates of jobs lost and harm espoused by some due to the steel and aluminum tariffs are “wildly exaggerated.”

Studies like these highlight the contributions that the aluminum and steel industries make to the United States manufacturing economy and the valuable role that primary aluminum smelters and steel mills have in towns and cities across the United States.

Prior to the issuance of these steel and aluminum tariffs, the price of aluminum crashed and aluminum imports flooded our shores. This flood of often illegal government-subsidized aluminum imports from countries like India, Russia and nations in the Middle East stole market share from U.S. producers and forced smelters across the country to slow and in many cases cease production at the expense of U.S. workers.

Since President Trump ordered the steel and aluminum tariffs, confidence in the future of primary aluminum smelters across the country has soared as facilities in communities around the nation have announced they would restart production.

The victory still comes with obstacles, and what comes next is also a challenge. Downstream consumers are stepping up their efforts to lobby Congress and influence the public by claiming that steel and aluminum tariffs will hurt the economy by increasing prices for downstream products.

These arguments are often fueled by shock-and-awe scare tactics with little actual support for such claims. Aluminum and steel are such relatively small components of most downstream items that any affects are negligible, if even noticeable at all.

These types of “free trade” at all-costs arguments fail to recognize that primary aluminum workers and other manufacturing workers have been harmed by illicit trade practices. This must stop.

The Trump administration is also considering a series of exemptions to the steel and aluminum tariffs, creating more uncertainty in the market and leaving investors anxious about the president’s next move. Decisiveness is needed, and I would urge the administration to be bold – set the final steel and aluminum tariffs and limit the exemptions.

Uncertainty does no favors for the market, and a final determination would allow markets and investors to create more American jobs in Indiana and across the nation, while adjusting to the new trade reality.

What is also important to recognize is that the issue of the steel and aluminum tariffs should not be a partisan issue as it is a remedy that benefits both Blue and Red states, Trump voters and non-Trump voters alike.

Democrats and Republicans should recognize that we all benefit from robust and vibrant domestic steel and aluminum production up and down the value chain. Until the rest of the world, including our allies, is ready to address excess capacity and the problems it has caused, tariffs are our only route to return production to sustainable levels for the steel and aluminum industries. 

Aluminum and steel are critical components in so many elements of our daily lives. As China amplifies its threats and the battle rages on Capitol Hill and the media to scare the public about the alleged negative effects of the tariffs, it is important to remember the benefit tariffs provide to tens of thousands of hardworking Americans.

Our policymakers have long talked about supporting the middle class and American industries that are the backbone of this great nation. The steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by President Trump ensure the long-term prosperity of both.

Evan Bayh served as Democratic U.S. senator from Indiana from 1999 to 2011 and as the 46th governor of Indiana from 1989 to 1997.