Free-Trade is a Two-Way Street
Secretary Wilbur Ross
The Wall Street Journal
August 1, 2017
The Trump administration last week celebrated the workers and businesses that make this country great. The purpose of “Made in America Week” was to recognize that, when given a fair chance to compete, Americans can make and sell some of the best, most innovative products in the world.
Unfortunately, many governments across the globe have pursued policies that put American workers and businesses at a disadvantage. For these governments, President Trump and his administration have a clear message: It is time to rebalance your trade policies so that they are fair, free and reciprocal.
Many nations express commitment to free markets while criticizing the U.S. for what they characterize as a protectionist stance. Yet these very nations engage in unfair trading practices, erect barriers to American exports, and maintain significant trade surpluses with us. They argue that our $752.5 billion trade deficit in goods last year was simply a natural and inevitable consequence of free trade. So, they contend, America should have no complaints.
Our major trading partners issue frequent statements regarding their own free-trade bona fides, but do they practice what they preach? Or are they protectionists dressed in free-market clothing?
In addition to tariffs, both China and Europe enforce formidable nontariff trade barriers against imports. Examples include onerous and opaque procedures for registering and gaining certification for imports; unscientific sanitary rules, especially with regard to agricultural goods; requirements that companies build local factories; and forced technology transfers. The list goes on.
Both China and Europe also bankroll their exports through grants, low-cost loans, energy subsidies, special value-added tax refunds, and below-market real-estate sales and leases, among other means. Comparable levels of government support do not exist in the U.S. If these countries really are free traders, why do they have such formidable tariff and nontariff barriers?
Until we make better deals with our trading partners, we will never know precisely how much of our deficit in goods is due to such trickery. But there can be no question that these barriers are responsible for a significant portion of our current trade imbalance.
The Trump administration believes in free and fair trade and will use every available tool to counter the protectionism of those who pledge allegiance to free trade while violating its core principles. The U.S. is working to restore a level playing field, and under President Trump’s leadership, we will do so.
This is a true free-trade agenda.