Politico: No aid planned for other sectors hurt by trade war
President Donald Trump’s top trade official took heat from Republican and Democratic lawmakers after he said the administration is not currently considering providing federal aid to small businesses, manufacturers or any sector of the economy, aside from farmers, that might be hurt by the trade war.
At a hearing on Thursday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked whether U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was currently considering providing other businesses assistance similar to the $12 billion aid package to the agriculture sector.
"Not at this time, no," Lighthizer replied.
The trade official offered a robust defense of the administration’s actions toward China amid questions over the endgame of a trade fight with Beijing. He fought back an assertion by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who said that the administration had picked "a stupid fight" with China by levying the tariffs.
The U.S. has imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports after USTR determined Beijing’s policies on technology transfer and intellectual policy have caused massive harm to U.S. companies. Trump is poised to impose tariffs on another $16 billion worth of imports and is examining penalties on yet another list of Chinese goods valued at $200 billion.
Beijing has responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, including the $14 billion worth of soybeans shipped to China last year by American farmers.
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"If your conclusion is that China taking over all of our technology and the future of our children is a stupid fight, then you are right, we should capitulate," Lighthizer fired back as he raised his voice.
"My view is that's how we got where we are. I don't think it's a stupid fight,” he added. “I don't know a single person that's read this report that thinks it's a stupid fight to say China should not be able to come in and steal the future of American industry. To me, it doesn't make any sense."
Many lawmakers, including those in politically crucial Midwestern states, have criticized the unpredictable nature of the administration's approach to trade and remedies being provided to those hurt by retaliation. Trump is traveling to Iowa and southern Illinois on Thursday in an effort to shore up his base there.
In Washington, members of Congress were quick to point out that other agricultural-related businesses harmed by tariff retaliation may not get the recently announced money being set aside for farmers.
“Alaskans are not necessarily supporting what they consider to be this bailout, but they are interested in knowing whether this would encompass them as well,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, adding that her state’s expansive seafood industry was hit by retaliatory tariffs from China.
Lighthizer defended the administration's position by noting that "a lot of people across the economy" are being hurt by "predatory practices" that have become "status quo." But he added that he would look into whether the USDA money can be applied to seafood businesses.
"It is the view of the administration that agriculture has been particularly targeted by retaliations as a result of the kinds of actions we're doing to try to level the playing field," he said. "And therefore, the president, the secretary of Agriculture put in place this program."
Multiple lawmakers pressed Lighthizer on the length of time the administration might have tariffs in place in order to achieve its trade goals.
“I think you‘re right. It creates anxiety,” he said in response to a question from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
“Is it going to take years?” Kennedy asked.
“I believe some issues will be dealt with in short periods of times,” Lighthizer said. “I think directionally we’re going to have a problem with China that’s going to go on for years. That’s not to say what we’re doing now will be in place all that [time].”
Many lawmakers and industry leaders have, however, praised the detente announced with the European Union on Wednesday as the two economies agreed to begin talks in earnest to try to smooth over trade tensions with the goal of zeroing out tariffs on both sides of the Atlantic. During the course of those talks, Trump agreed to refrain from moving forward with tariffs on automobiles, a move aimed at Germany’s car industry and the EU’s 10 percent import tariff on vehicles.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum as well as the threat of auto tariffs prodded the EU to come to the negotiating table.
“This is a real vindication that the president’s trade policy is starting to work,” Ross told reporters on Thursday on Air Force One en route to Iowa.
It remains to be seen whether the strategy proclaimed by Ross of “trying to make it more painful for the other parties” will work to restart a stalled trade dialogue with China.
Lighthizer reiterated that his goal is not to change China‘s economic system but rather its harm on the U.S. — an objective for which lawmakers pledged their support.
But China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, in a speech Wednesday challenged the U.S. view that Beijing is trying to dominate new fields of technology at the expense of American companies. The Trump administration has focused on state-backed initiatives like Made in China 2025, which are seen as industrial policies aimed at controlling new innovation.
He said there are “misunderstandings and misinterpretations” about China‘s goals and intentions with respect to a “new era“ of development China is now experiencing.
“Of course, China will have to develop itself in an open environment. We cannot close our door,” Cui said. “But this new era is mainly for China's own development, not for global dominance.“
By: Adam Behsudi and Megan Cassella