Published in The East Hampton Star 4/12/18
By Perry Gershon
Any trade policy should put American workers and small businesses first. But President Trump’s attempt to launch a trade war with China, backed by Representative Lee Zeldin, hurts American workers, farmers, and businesses.
Unfair Chinese labor practices subsidize production and
hurt United States workers in the process. The equivalent
of slave wages is paid to produce Chinese electronic
components, and American importation of these
products condones this practice. We should be trying to
correct Chinese theft of intellectual property, currency
devaluation, overproduction and dumping, subsidies for
state-run enterprises, and violations of basic labor standards. Tariffs may be used as leverage in the fight, but labor rights are not even mentioned in Trump’s goals and agenda.
Trump’s trade war will cause higher prices on goods, which will hurt U.S. consumers, but it will also affect American farmers and manufacturers since there will be less international consumption of our products. Among others, our Long Island wine producers will be directly affected. Trump threatens to tax Chinese goods, and China retaliates by threatening to tax our goods.
Trump’s defenders and enablers declare that no tariffs have been levied, so this is really just a step to reaching a “fair” deal. But U.S. agricultural exports, on which our farmers rely, are in jeopardy. Buying decisions are made in advance, and plans will assume that the threatened tariffs are a reality. Costs of steel and aluminum are already rising on just the potential for tariffs. This affects U.S. manufacturers such as Boeing and GM, as their material costs go up, and it will lead to rising consumer costs, lower sales, and less employment.
And it will affect light manufacturing here in Suffolk County.
Trump is imposing lots of pain and risking permanent damage on individual Americans for a long-term “greater good” of “freer” markets. But nowhere in the dialogue is there a demand or concern about unfair Chinese labor practices. Our leadership is ignoring the biggest problem in China altogether.
Representative Zeldin was interviewed this week singing Trump’s praises on trade. Zeldin called Trump “the ultimate dealmaker,” suggesting that new tariffs on China were part of a larger game plan “to be bringing down walls” between the two countries and create a better balance. Even if successful, this “deal” will result in higher prices to consumers, and Zeldin seems indifferent.
Is this worth risking the livelihood of American producers, who would be subject to Chinese tariffs? Trump is playing a high-stakes game of chicken with other people’s money, and Zeldin is cheering him on. Ignored are the declining values of people’s retirement accounts caused by a stock market made volatile by trade concerns. If Trump’s gamble fails, a lot of people will have been hurt unnecessarily.
Previous U.S. leaders have deemed this type of gamble unwise, but neither Trump nor Zeldin seems to care. Even if Trump wins and the Chinese back down, we must ask ourselves at what cost was victory achieved? And unfair Chinese labor practices remain unaddressed.
Going it alone is not the answer. We need an international coalition of our allies who are all directly affected by Chinese practices if we are going to properly combat the problem. The World Trade Organization may be dysfunctional, but international coalitions of affected nations can be assembled. The agenda must include trade, intellectual property, and fair labor practices.
Bluster is not going to solve the problem, and Zeldin should show more concern for his constituents than simply being among the president’s biggest defenders.
Perry Gershon is a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in New York’s First Congressional District. He lives in East Hampton.