Trump signs executive orders ramping up trade enforcement

Trump signs executive orders ramping up trade enforcement
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President Trump on Friday signed two executive orders aimed at tackling concerns about trade abuses as the White House seeks to launch a major overhaul of U.S. policy.

The White House's latest executive orders kick-off a comprehensive review of U.S. trade deficits and also would start the process of implementing a framework to collect all import taxes levied on foreign exporters that break global trade rules. 

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Trump said the two executive orders would "set the stage for a great revival of American manufacturing.”

The president, who credited his tough talk on trade for his surprise election victory, said that many cities and towns he visited during the campaign were “devastated by unfair trade policies, probably one of the major reasons I’m here today, trade.”

"Nobody has ever made bad trade deals like our country has made,” Trump said during remarks in the Oval Office.

The first order directs the Commerce Department to take the next three months to review the reasons for U.S. trade deficits and all violations of trade rules that harm U.S. workers across every trading partner. 

Trump argued that trade deficits have been stripping U.S. jobs and wealth for decades.

“Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country. But these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House," Trump said.  

"Under my administration the theft of American prosperity will end," he said.

"We’re going to defend our industry and create a level playing field for the American worker, finally."

China has been at the center of Trump's ire on trade, especially on the deficit, which decreased $20.1 billion last year to $347 billion.

While he didn't chastise Beijing in his latest remarks, he mentioned Chinese President Xi Jinping's planned visit to Florida next week. 

"We're going to get down to some very serious business," Trump said. 

On Thursday, Trump tweeted that “the meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits.”

Earlier on Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is taking the lead on producing the large-scale report, called enforcement a “very primary objective of this administration on trade," during an interview with Bloomberg. 

Ross said he hoped the investigation would provide solutions on how the U.S. can reduce deficits and increase exports.

The findings of the examination will be used to take "necessary and lawful action to end those many abuses," Trump said.

Trump has tied deficits to unfair trade practices and has vowed to renegotiate major trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement to work more in favor of the United States.

But business leaders and lawmakers cautioned the White House that there are many reasons for trade deficits and they don't always reflect the  the condition of the U.S. economy.

"While trade deficits often don’t tell us much about the overall health of our economy, it is a good time to examine our various trading relationships to increase opportunities for American companies to compete on a level playing field," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue. 

“It is worth remembering that some of our best years of economic growth have produced our largest trade deficits, while the Great Recession was accompanied by a sharp reduction in the trade deficit," Donohue said. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyOvernight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform Liberal groups want Mnuchin off GOP tax group following airplane controversies MORE (R-Texas) said that “while it is important to examine the causes of our trade deficits, we know that there are many causes that have nothing to do with trade agreements, including the status of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the widespread use of the U.S. dollar internationally,” Brady said.

"In fact, our trade agreements have been successful in making it easier to sell ‘Made in America’ products and services, lowering and even eliminating our trade deficits in manufacturing and services, and frequently resulting in a trade surplus," he said. 

The second order, which is tied to trade enforcement, was part of a customs bill Congress passed last year.

After taking over at Commerce, Ross said he was “horrified” to learn that billions in countervailing duties and antidumping fines had never been collected. 

"The reason they have never been collected is because foreign exporters are very clever in setting up shell companies here so when the fine is levied there is no way to collect," Ross said.

Since 2001, $2.8 billion in import taxes have gone uncollected, according to Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council. 

To remedy the problem, the government will require those firms to provide letters of credit or cash or insurance company bonding so that there is a responsible party when the fine is levied, Ross said. 

"From now on those that break the rules will face the consequences," Trump said.

But top Democrats were skeptical about the Trump administration's trade moves. 

"Today's executive orders are an attempt to divert attention from the fact that the Trump administration currently has no plan for making America more competitive or helping American workers," said Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

 "The administration seems to favor calling for reports over taking serious action," Neal said.

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill GOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts Dems offer alternative to Trump administration's child care proposal MORE‏ (D-Pa.) commended the White House for "taking these preliminary steps on trade" but added that "it’s critical that he follow through on his promises."

"We have to crack down on countries that cheat and we must renegotiate bad trade deals," he said.