Last week, Pres. Trump in a meeting with U.S. steel representatives announced that he would impose this week a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on foreign aluminum. The impact of this decision could hit Idaho hard.
This announcement triggered a sharp stock market sell-off. But, on Friday, the president doubled down and announced that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
The reaction was swift.
The president of the European Commission said that the EU was preparing to impose retaliatory tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles, Kentucky bourbon and U.S. blue jeans, designed to pressure key U.S. lawmakers including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mexico and Canada both reacted sharply as they are the primary exporters of the both metals targeted by Trump. Other international leaders indicated that the Trump tariffs would be responded to in kind, discussing a wide array of U.S. exports to target from agriculture to aerospace.
It has been more than 80 years since we’ve seen such a harsh back and forth on trade. The last time country after country retaliated against the U.S. for its trade restrictions was the infamous Smoot-Hawley act that collapsed international trade in the 1930s and deepened the Great Depression.
Cooler heads may yet prevail. American business leaders are rallying, making it abundantly clear this a very dangerous tack by Trump. Many congressional Republicans, including the most senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, Orrin Hatch of Utah (a Trump ally), have been blunt in calling this an outright mistake. Reports are that the president’s Economic Advisor, Gary Cohn, has threatened to quit over this move, upping the pressure on the president to reverse course.
Idaho agriculture is especially vulnerable to a trade war. Farm prices are already low. One key positive note has been foreign exports, most prominently to Mexico.
Trump’s pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has already cost Idaho farmers, dairymen and ranchers access to rapidly growing markets in Asia. Idaho agriculture is nervous that the Trump administration will blow up NAFTA, which has opened substantial markets for Idaho producers to the north and to the south.
That is why Canada’s reaction to metal tariff is important. Canada reacted harshly as they would take the biggest hit from the Trump proposal. Canada is the largest exporter of both metals to the U.S., providing 50% of all U.S. aluminum and is our largest foreign source of steel. On the flipside, Canada is a significant market for Idaho farm products and semiconductors, impacting Idaho’s dairy industry, grain producers, Micron and others.
Last week both Mexico and Canada expressed skepticism that any deal could be reached to preserve the NAFTA framework, given Trump’s current course.
And, a focus on the foreign response overlooks the impact on the proposed tariffs on Idaho businesses. The tariffs are likely to boost the costs of construction materials, vehicles of all forms, farm machinery and more, hurting a wide array of Idaho businesses, including building contractors, auto dealerships, equipment dealers and many others.
Idaho’s congressional delegation, the governor and candidates for that office need to step forward and protect our state’s economy on trade.
All should make clear that they disagree with the president’s course. Sen. Crapo and Sen. Risch might want to consider legislation to restrict the president’s trade authority. Gov. Otter should prod other similarly situated state leaders to raise their voices. And, Idaho candidates need to stand up for Idaho business and Idaho jobs.