Richard Wagner responds to Wilbur Ross’s Oped defending Trump’s trade agenda. 

“Politicians are all talk, no action” – Donald Trump

Sec. of Commerce Wilbur Ross wrote an Oped for the Wall Street Journal defending Trump’s platform on trade. It repeats many of the points echoed by candidate Trump in 2016, points that have been made by free trade critics all across the spectrum since Ross Perot ran for President in 1992.  Unfortunately, the entire Oped only defends Trump’s rhetoric, and shows no results, or even specific intentions during Trump’s 7 months as President.

All Talk

Sec. Ross rightly points out “When it comes to trade in goods, our deficits with China and the EU are $347 billion and $146.8 billion, respectively.”  The article includes multiple examples and statistics to show that the US is clearly losing.  Some would refute this argument by saying that this is just the consequence of “free trade”.  But as Ross also shows, we don’t actually have free trade.  What we have are nations using direct and indirect means of protectionism against the US.  

As Ross shows, “China’s tariffs are higher than those of the U.S. in 20 of the 22 major categories of goods.”  Ross further explains:

“The EU charges a 10% tariff on imported American cars, while the U.S. imposes only a 2.5% tariff on imported European cars. Today Europe exports 1.14 million automobiles to the U.S., nearly four times as many as the U.S. exports to Europe. China, which is the world’s largest automobile market, has a 25% tariff on imported vehicles and imposes even higher tariffs on luxury vehicles.”

While Ross makes an excellent case in favor of the US countering these predatory trade practices, he makes no call to action.  Ross is the Secretary of Commerce, not an oped columnist.  While he has written an oped column in this case, as Sec. of Commerce, he and President Trump have an obligation to voters to show what they plan to do about this.

Where are the results?

Ross’s Oped ends with these words – “This is a true free trade agenda.”

Other than getting US out of TPP, the Trump administration has not taken any major steps to reduce our trade deficit.  China continues to beat the US 4 to 1, as it has since Bill Clinton signed a bill to “normalize” trade relations with China, and it took full effect by 2006.  Since Trump became President, nothing had changed on this front.  As the US Census Bureau shows, in May of this year, China exported over $41 billion worth of goods to the US, while importing only $10.1 billion.  This is about the same 4 to 1 ratio we see for every month since Trump took office in January, and it is no different than the trends we saw during the Obama and Bush years.

Stopping TPP at least prevented the US from getting into even more of these lopsided trade relationships, but it did nothing to remedy the problems we already have.  China was actually against TPP, because they like having the largest trade surplus with the US, and didn’t want to compete with smaller developing countries in Asia.  So, getting out of TPP actually had the unfortunate side effect of benefiting China’s predatory trade agenda.

Trump still has plenty of time

We’re only 7 months into a 4 year term.  Trump was put into office in large part because of his trade policies.  It was blue collar Democrats in the rust belt states that really put him over the top.  Sometime between now and 2020, Trump needs to take some more serious steps to fulfill his campaign promises.  Those blue collar Democrats and Independents voted for Trump over Clinton because they’re sick of politicians who are all talk and no action.  If Trump wants to keep his new base, he needs to take action.

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Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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