Trump doesn't start a trade war, just fires a warning shot across the bow

Trump doesn't start a trade war, just fires a warning shot across the bow
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Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreHawaii legislature passes bill to implement automatic voter registration Libertarians elected Biden Gore believes China will 'overachieve' on emissions goal MORE, of all people, issued a reality check to Trump critics hyperventilating about a trade war.

Speaking at Davos, the former vice president and environmental impresario pushed back against criticism of the tariffs imposed on solar panels by the White House, noting correctly that China’s dumping had “put some other companies in the world out of business.”

He further reminded an audience at the World Economic Forum taking place in Davos that the skirmishing over solar exports didn’t start with Trump.


In fact, Gore could have mentioned that both the Obama administration and the EU in recent years had also imposed tariffs on solar panels to stop China from undermining local producers. The EU initially levied a 47-percent charge in 2013, above the 30 percent just announced by the Trump White House. 

That won’t keep Trump’s critics from hand-wringing about his tough stand on trade. They don’t understand that the just-announced tariffs on washing machines and solar panels are an overdue warning to our trading partners, especially China.

They signal that his administration will no longer look the other way as countries steal our intellectual property, improperly subsidize exports, intentionally undermine U.S. competitors by dumping product in our country and impose regulatory and financial barriers to American companies operating within their borders.

We will especially not take kindly to trade cheaters who undermine our foreign policy efforts. The Trump White House has exposed China as continuing to aid and abet North Korea, even though Beijing has agreed to sanctions meant to drive Pyongyang to the negotiating table. Tariffs that hurt China’s exports deliver the message. 

Don’t think for a minute that former administrations haven’t known about Beijing’s perfidy. The Treasury Department is quite capable of following the money flowing to North Korea through the shell corporations and intermediaries set up by China. 

But the Trump White House is willing to go public with pictures of Chinese oil tankers offloading crude to North Korean vessels, upping the pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to follow through on his empty promises of support. A picture is not only worth a thousand words; it is irrefutable. 

Establishment types consider this direct approach rude and slightly embarrassing, just like Trump’s hectoring of our NATO partners for not providing their promised defense spending, or calling out Pakistan for double dealing, as that duplicitous nation appears to harbor terrorists killing our soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump’s truth-telling makes the world squirm. It’s about time someone did.

The United States is like an aging rich uncle who has for too long financed his spendthrift nieces and nephews, but that suddenly recognizes that his bank account is dwindling. He needs to rein in the excesses and cancel the credit cards; his extended family is not pleased.

That’s where we are. The United States is still the richest and most powerful country in the world. But, our fiscal path forward is not pretty. We cannot support our aging population in the way we have promised while at the same time undertaking endless expensive wars and propping up the security of even our wealthiest allies, like Germany.

We especially cannot do so unless our mighty industries are given every opportunity to compete and our entrepreneurs are given the tools to innovate and grow. Our business community, constantly under attack from Democrats fearful of their influence, is our only engine of progress. It is where our future wealth must come from. It will provide the revenues to pay U.S. workers and to fund our safety net.

President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE understands this intuitively, and it has informed his policies. It was the driving force behind the GOP tax cuts, and it is the rationale for our trade policies.

His direct and unapologetic approach is jarring to many, especially to those in the corporate world who have long convinced policy makers to look the other way when countries like China appropriated important technologies or insisted on unfair trade agreements.

Too many business leaders have been starry-eyed about accessing China’s large and fast-growing consumer market. Some have been eager to take advantage of China’s low labor costs. They have tolerated cheating of all kinds and lobbied our government to do the same, worried that if they rock the boat, they will be ejected from the country.

Many have come to understand that Beijing stacks the deck against them, that the terms of doing business make investing in China simply too expensive.

The U.S. trade deficit in 2016 was $502.3 billion; through November, it was running 12 percent ahead of year-earlier levels. If current trends persist, the U.S will be importingb$500 billion more than we export. That provides the U.S. with some substantial chips on the table.

Our deficit with China, for instance, is more than $300 billion. That gives us clout, which prior administrations have been unwilling to exercise. The Trump White House has no such qualms. They intend to use all available means to level the playing field and give American companies and workers every possible advantage.

That’s what our competitors do, and what our businesses need. As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross rightly said at Davos, “Trade wars are fought every single day [but] the difference now is U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.” It’s about time. 

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. For 15 years, she has been a columnist for The Fiscal Times, Fox News, the New York Sun and numerous other organizations.