The Amend Corner

Negotiating with our enemy, putting tariffs on our friends


Recent actions by our president have convinced me that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I realize that about 70 percent of Wyoming voters will say I’m wrong about that, and maybe they are right, but if they are correct, and he does know what he’s doing, that’s even worse.

Let me explain.

President Trump plans to meet with North Korean president Kim Jong-un this week to negotiate a deal that would put an end to Kim’s nuclear threats against us. There’s nothing wrong with that. It would be great if the negotiations succeeded. It would mean one less nuclear power in the world and less tension between the two Korean nations. If nothing else, it would be the first time our leader and North Korea’s met face to face to negotiate anything.

But while I think it would be to Trump’s credit if he and Kim did reach an agreement, I’m not sure they will. North Korea has been playing this game for a long time, and no president yet has reached a lasting agreement with them. I’m doubtful that Kim will actually agree to end his nuclear program, because it gives him the leverage he needs to keep his position of power in his own nation. Nuclear weapons are also something he might sell to other nations or terrorist groups.

Even so, Trump is taking a positive and, I think, defensible action by talking to the North Korean dictator.

But as the president is trying to avoid conflict with an enemy, what sense does it make to do the opposite with our friends? In what amounts to a declaration of a trade war, he is attempting to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, the European Union and Mexico, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum. Further, he says he may impose tariffs on all foreign automobiles.

The Trump administration says the tariffs are necessary to protect American jobs and our national security. Further, Trump says these nations are taking unfair advantage of the U.S. — thanks to trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement — because the value of the goods they export to the U.S. is greater than the value of the goods they import from us.

Apparently, Trump thinks that makes Canada, Mexico and the nations of Western Europe our economic enemies. Not surprisingly, those nations are angry, and they seem to be regarding Trump’s announcement as a declaration of economic war. Already they are listing American products they will tax in retaliation. Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said calling Canada, our second biggest trading partner, a threat to American security is an insult. Trudeau cited the history of Canadians fighting alongside of Americans, as they did on D-Day and in the current conflicts against terror.

Canadians aren’t the only angry ones out there, though. There is considerable opposition to Trump here at home, including from many Republicans in Congress. Industry leaders who make everything from automobiles to beer and even steel say the tariffs will raise their costs and are speaking in opposition. Even the very conservative Koch Brothers, who hand out millions in campaign funds to candidates they support, are planning to spend thousands of dollars to stop Trump from imposing the tariffs.

Nearly all of these opponents say the tariffs will not create jobs in the important industries Trump says they will, and they will hurt other industries. Analysts say they will cost jobs in industries that benefit from free trade, including farmers and manufacturers, and will cancel out any job gains. Moreover, the tariffs will raise the price of anything made of steel or aluminum, like cars, appliances and beer kegs. The owner of a company that uses steel told Fox News recently that the tariffs recently put on Chinese steel had pushed the price he pays for steel from 38 to 68 cents a pound, a problem for his business. Tariffs on Canadian or Mexican steel would make that worse.

For his part, Trump cites our trade deficit — the result of our importing more goods than we export. He believes it is a bad thing that he’s determined to correct. But not everybody agrees, and many trade experts and economists believe trade benefits all partners, regardless of trade deficits.

That’s why free trade has been supported by the Republican Party, which Trump supposedly belongs to, for at least the past 40 years.

This is a complex subject, but I’m out of space, and, anyway, I would have to spend some time refreshing my grasp on some things I learned three or four decades ago.

So I will end with this: While we do buy Canadian steel, we also sell Canada our steel. So if Trump puts a 25 percent tariff on Canadian steel and Canada retaliates with a similar tariff on our steel, what happens?

Obviously, we will all pay more for things made of steel. Why would the president want to do that to us?

The Amend Corner