What others say: Steel tariffs a bad move for economy

As federal trade policy shifts and wobbles toward a somewhat uncertain endgame, one thing remains crystal clear: Today’s smart trade pacts have unquestionably benefited this state and country.

The five Republicans who make up our state’s congressional delegation understand this, with Sen. Ben Sasse and Rep. Adrian Smith strongly condemning the implementation of tariffs – most recently, on imported steel and aluminum – and the negative impact those will have on business and consumers alike.

Many columnists on this page have correctly noted that tariffs represent a tax on American consumers, with the duty applied at the border ultimately paid by the end user. They’re just bad business and compound the flat-out wrong rhetoric President Donald Trump used last week when saying trade wars are “fun” and “easy to win.”

That’s a dangerous game to play, one with costs far too great to trifle with.

The history books are littered with cautionary tales of protectionism gone wrong, from the disastrous tariffs instituted around the Great Depression to the shortsighted withdrawal from trade pacts that cost Nebraska beef producers both access and sales to Asian markets at a time of already low commodity prices.

The White House seems to focus its attention on trade deficits, an imperfect means of measuring these deals’ benefit, as a win-or-loss metric. Even though the truth is much more nuanced than using that as the only yardstick, Nebraska still comes out way ahead, turning a $2.8 billion trade surplus in 2016.

A prime example of how free trade maximizes efficiencies and improves all participants’ lots comes from a readily apparent source in Nebraska – agriculture.

Compared to the U.S., Canada has relatively few manufacturers that produce major farm implements and machinery. Meanwhile, our northern neighbor specializes in the production of young livestock, as a delegation that included Canada’s deputy ambassador to the U.S. and its Minneapolis-based consulate general pointed out when meeting with the editorial board.

It’s no coincidence that these two fields represent Nebraska’s single greatest export to ($218 million) and greatest import from ($105 million) Canada in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, it’s a $47.2 billion relationship that supports 9 million jobs stateside, including $2.4 billion and 57,400 jobs in Nebraska.

And Canada was merely Nebraska’s second-largest trading partner from 2016, as Mexico – the third partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement and a major consumer of Nebraska agricultural goods – held the top spot that year.

Protectionism, tariffs and other anti-free-market steps threaten the widespread benefits of such agreements, needlessly jeopardizing jobs and industries. Nebraska, and the U.S. as a whole, benefit from free trade agreements.

—The Lincoln Journal Star, March 14, 2018

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