Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018
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Let Trump be Trump on trade


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with President Trump, seated at right, during the G7 Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, on June 9.


The G-7 meeting in Quebec has now been eclipsed by the dramatic summit in Singapore, but it is worth reconsidering that meeting and the media meltdown over President Donald Trump’s behavior there.

The photo of Mr. Trump, arms crossed tightly across his chest while staring down German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the other heads of state at the conference was supposed to appall Americans. But many Americans think that was just Trump being Trump — the guy we elected doing what he said he would do.

Maybe he didn’t do it in the most polite, or even effective, way. It’s good to have allies you can rely on in this world.

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But Mr. Trump has been talking about the trade imbalance and unfair tariffs for almost 20 years — in almost the exact language he uses now. It is the core of his message and the thing he cares most deeply about. He has said, all along, from campaign to inauguration, that he will stand up for American jobs, and stand alone if need be — with friends as well as foes. And with friends like our friends, on the trade issue, we need no enemies.

What Mr. Trump said in Canada is what he has said for months: No tariffs at all would be preferable. But when there are tariffs, they should be the same on both sides of the transaction. The tariff on a Cadillac going to Germany should not be 10 times the tariff on a Mercedes that comes to the U.S.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which nearly destroyed America’s industrial cities, and did destroy many, many of its small towns, grants to Canada exceedingly high tariffs on U.S. dairy products. Canada levies a tariff of 241 percent on our milk, 245 percent on our cheese, and 298 percent on butter made in this country.

This is a mugging, and Americans elected Mr. Trump not to be a polite internationalist, but to stop the muggings.

Departing Canada, Mr. Trump took to Twitter: “Why should I, as president of the United States, allow countries to continue to make massive trade surpluses, as they have for decades, while our farmers, workers & taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay?”

Has anyone got an answer for that question?

In March, Mr. Trump shocked many commentators when he announced he would address the long-standing problem of Chinese steel dumping by imposing 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum. In that instance also, we were told to be appalled, but Trump was simply being Trump.

Will all this lead to a trade war? We are already in a trade war. We have been in that war for years. And we have been losing. Mr. Trump is going to fight, and that is what he was elected to do. It just might get friends and foes to the table, where we can negotiate from strength instead of weakness. If we cannot equalize tariffs, we can at least make them less unequal. We cannot be in a worse position because we fight.

Note that neither the March announcement nor the tough stance at the G-7 has spooked the stock market — to the contrary.

This — standing up for American jobs and trade that respects the ancient principle of equity — and not whether the French or Germans are miffed, or the U.S trade representative, Peter Navarro, went too far when he said there is a special place in hell for Justin Trudeau, is what matters.

The head of the United Steelworkers of America, Leo Gerard, and Democrats like Sherrod Brown, Dennis Kucinich, and Marcy Kaptur have said it is good to have a president on the side of American workers and what they build for a change. More Americans feel that way than are worried about some sort of abstract international order and the niceties that matter in that wonderland.

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