Opinion: Trump claims he's defending U.S. companies, businesses disagree

David Williams
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stands as President Donald Trump and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker speak in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last month, President Trump imposed a 25-percent tariff on $34 billion of Chinese goods.  The move follows his June levies on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and Europe.  

President Trump sincerely believes these tariffs will bolster American businesses. His administration has argued that taxing imports will create a "level playing field" for U.S. firms, which have been subjected to "Trade Abuse for many decades."   

Yet American firms almost unanimously oppose the tariffs. They understand that import taxes will harm workers and consumers. If the president truly wants to help U.S. firms, he should listen to them — and call off the trade war.

For months, businesses have warned that tariffs will clobber American workers. The administration has largely dismissed these concerns. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shrugged off the warnings as "hyperbole," adding that "I don't think there's really a lot for anybody to complain about." 

Secretary Ross should tell that to the 60 workers who just lost their jobs at America's largest nail manufacturer. After the administration's steel tariffs went into effect, Mid Continent Nail Co. was forced to hike prices on its steel nails by 20 percent.  Half its customers defected to cheaper sellers. The collapse in orders compelled the firm to lay off 60 employees. The company, in self-described "crisis mode,"   is weighing an additional 200 layoffs.  

The president's tariffs aren't just impacting companies that use large amounts of steel. They're wreaking havoc even in unrelated industries. American exporters worry that foreign nations' retaliatory tariffs will cripple their own businesses.

Consider powerboat manufacturer Correct Craft. The company is reconsidering its expansion plans due to fears of a prolonged trade war — Mexico, Canada, and the EU have already threatened to impose tariffs on American boats. Correct Craft's chief executive explained that "We . . . don't want to be the guy that built the factory right before the downturn." 

The energy industry also faces enormous risks. America's oil and gas producers, which support 10.3 million American jobs, will likely have to scale back production and lay off workers due to the president's tariffs.  By making steel more expensive, the tariffs will increase the cost of a typical pipeline project by $76 million, according to a study conducted by consulting firm ICF. 

Beijing has also promised to impose tariffs on imported American oil and natural gas — meaning the largest foreign buyer of U.S. crude may soon turn elsewhere for its fuel needs.  U.S. energy companies may be forced to resell up to 400,000 barrels a day of oil at a discounted rate. 

President Trump no doubt truly wants to help American businesses. But raising their cost of goods and angering trading partners isn't the way to do it. Business leaders and everyday workers can only hope the administration calls off its misguided trade war. 

David Williams is President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.