Free trade needs strong enforcement

Donald Trump has been warning Americans about the dangers of unfair trade for years. His first major political speech in 2011 was a blistering attack on our country’s “weak and ineffective” political leaders for failing to prevent abusive trade practices by the likes of China, Mexico, and South Korea, allowing America to become “the laughing stock of the world.”

“The United States has become a whipping post for the rest of the world,” the future president told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

Trump was right then and he’s right now. Thankfully, as president, he is finally in a position to do something about it. And he has: Since taking office, the president has taken a number of steps to crack down on countries that have clearly violated our trade laws, often at the expense of American workers.

President Trump will soon be confronted with a series of more narrowly targeted trade cases that would send a strong signal to companies that have been gaming the system for years by sidestepping previous enforcement efforts by moving their production or ignoring our trade rules completely.

The cases deal with a number of divergent products, from solar panels to airplanes to washing machines. Each case is unique, but combined they give the president another avenue to prevent countries and companies from ripping off our workers by ignoring the rules to sell products at unfairly depressed prices.

The washing machine case offers the clearest example of what’s wrong with our current system. Samsung and LG have been gaming the rules for years to sell washing machines at unfairly low prices. The U.S. government has twice stepped in to prevent this bad behavior and both times the two companies just moved washing machine production to other countries that were not covered by those enforcement measures.

Think about that. Instead of selling products for a fair price, Samsung and LG spent hundreds of millions of dollars to move from Mexico and South Korea to China and then, after they got caught again, from China to Vietnam and Thailand. And the move from China to Vietnam and Thailand was immediate because they had already done it once before. That’s a lot of money and effort to keep cheating.

Companies like Samsung and LG have destroyed the fabric of too many American communities. We see the cycle again and again. The factories close. The jobs go away. Crime seeps in. The elitists in New York, Washington, and San Francisco don’t spend enough time in these places to see the heartache or grasp how lax trade enforcement is crushing communities they would never visit.

That disconnect is why most of these people were shocked by Trump’s win last fall. They couldn’t see it coming because they don’t know how bad it is in some parts of the country. Sadly, this includes some senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., who don’t appreciate Trump’s pledge to help these forgotten Americans who propelled him to the White House.

What most of this crowd doesn’t understand – and the media-industrial complex always gets wrong – is that President Trump is not anti-trade. Before winning the presidency, he ran a global empire. He understands the benefits of free-flowing commerce. But that perspective also showed him where the system is broken, where countries and companies have undercut American workers by gaming the rules. That is why he wants to crack down on these abuses.

“We don’t have free trade, we don’t have fair trade, and I’m a fair-trade believer,” Trump told the CPAC crowd more than six years ago. “I love open markets, but not when China’s manipulating their currency, not when all of these other factors are taking place.”

The good news is that Trump can reverse this bad behavior. Samsung and LG have made noise about opening factories here in the U.S., no doubt as a peace offering to a president who has vowed to crack down on their pattern of abuse. If the president sends a strong signal in the washing machine case, both companies will have a strong financial incentive to make their products here. That would be a big win for American workers and for him.

Andrew Surabian is a Senior Adviser to Great America Alliance. He is a former Special Assistant to President Trump who also worked on his campaign.

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