Staff Columnist

Trump is delivering the trade war he promised

Iowa Republicans are frustrated at Trump, but they can't say they're surprised

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Vice President Mike Pence got at least one thing right during his visit to Cedar Rapids last week.

“Since day one of this administration, President Trump has been working to keep the promises that he made to the people of Iowa and the people of this country,” Pence told a crowd of Rockwell Collins employee political action committee members last Wednesday.

Love it or hate it, Trump has been doing exactly what he told voters he would do. Nowhere is that more true than on trade policy, where Trump is delivering the global trade war he promised. The Iowa politicians who supported Trump now say they’re frustrated at his disastrous policies, but nobody can reasonably say they’re surprised.

During his Eastern Iowa visit, Pence rattled off a list of the administration’s accomplishments so far. They have slashed regulations on business, curtailed the federal government’s clean energy plan and passed a significant tax cut package, totaling more than $2 trillion in savings for taxpayers by some measures.

That’s all true, whether or not you support it.

What gave me pause listening to Pence’s remarks was his cheerful description of the destructive trade war which has escalated in recent weeks.

“We’ve also been working on expanding access to American agricultural goods around the world. We’ve taken decisive action to lower trade barriers for American agricultural exports. … The truth of the matter is the president really does believe and we all believe that for too long, American trade agreements with too many trading partners have been too one-sided,” Pence said.

Lower trade barriers? That would be news to the Iowa farmers sounding the alarm over higher trade barriers with our top international exchange partners, brought on by Trump’s protectionist economic policies.

“The announcement of additional tariffs on China is a move in the opposite direction. We’re focused on increasing trade opportunities and keeping the robust and growing Chinese market we have worked for decades to secure. Our message to the administration and lawmakers remains the same: these tariffs needlessly hurt soy growers and rural communities,” John Heisdorffer, Iowa soybean farmer and American Soybean Association president, wrote in a media release last week.

In Trump’s imagination, it works like this: The United States can increase trade barriers against countries perceived as discriminating against American imports. Those countries may respond with their own tariffs, but eventually will suffer so much they’ll be forced to reconsider their outsized trade barriers. It’s a game of international chicken, with Iowa farmers and manufacturers standing right in the middle.

“I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!” Trump posted on Twitter last Wednesday.

Here in the real world, however, the most effective way to actually reduce trade barriers is to enter multilateral and regional agreements. Trump and his economic advisers have moved in the opposite direction, displaying open hostility to such arrangements. He constantly bashes the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his first week in office.

That was an especially confusing decision, since many international experts see the TPP as a way to put pressure on China, Trump’s boogeyman of international trade, to modernize its economic policies. More recently, Trump has been pressured by U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and others to re-enter the agreement, but no deal has been struck.

Our elected Republicans have gently scolded the administration for the damage he’s inflicting on the farm economy, but they have stopped short of withdrawing their support for the administration. To the contrary, Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum both appeared alongside Pence during last week’s event.

As Reynolds said in a prepared statement released shortly after the event, “Agriculture is always the first casualty in a trade war. … No one wins in a trade war.”

That’s just as true today as it was in 2016, when Trump was nominated as the Republican candidate for president. Iowa Republican leaders quickly fell in line to support him, trade war promises and all.

Politicians are right to sound the alarm now, but they’re two years too late.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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