‘You are taxing US families’: Senate slams Wilbur Ross for trade war as he claims China must be put under more pressure

Ross said that the US needs to make tariff action ‘painful’ as senators warned him that he is putting US livelihoods at risk

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 1:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 3:57am

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was slammed by senators on Wednesday for pulling the US into a trade war that they said could spiral out of control and hurt Americans, as he tried to persuade them that Beijing had to be put under more pressure.

“Mister secretary, as you consider these tariffs, know that you are taxing American families,” said Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, of the tariffs and counter-tariffs that Washington and Beijing have placed on each other.

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“You are putting American jobs at risk, and you are destroying markets, both foreign and domestic, for American businesses of all types, sorts and sizes.”

But Ross, speaking two days after US President Donald Trump announced that he was prepared to add tariffs to an additional US$400 billion of Chinese imports, said years of talks with China over US intellectual property concerns have failed to yield progress.

“The president feels and I agree that now is the time for action,” Ross said.

“And unless we make it more painful for them to continue those practices than to do otherwise, unless we put that kind of pressure on, it’s unlikely we will succeed.”

Pleading for an assortment of interests – from nail manufacturers in Missouri to cherry growers in Washington state – senators told Ross US trade policies are alienating allies and jeopardising US livelihoods.

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Hatch said Trump’s threatened tariffs of 25 per cent on the auto sector would amount to a US$73 billion tax increase on American consumers and endanger 200,000 jobs and US$65 billion in annual auto exports.

Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa whose home state soybean growers are heavily dependent on exports to China, blasted the administration for pursuing “a government-run mercantilist economy as opposed to a free-market economy”.

The chorus of criticism amounted to a rare rebuke of a sitting president by the members of his own party.

Global markets have shuddered at the brinkmanship over trade between Beijing and Washington, especially after Trump’s threat of further tariffs on Monday, which would leave the door open to further retaliation by China.

Ross countered that in Trump’s view, the United States was already the loser in a long-standing trade war and was only now beginning to fight back.

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He said that, despite the hue and cry, Trump’s aggressive moves had pushed US trading partners to combat harmful supply gluts in the metals trade.

“Suddenly Europe is enacting safeguards against steel dumping into Europe. They didn’t do much before,” he said. “Canada is taking action. Japan for the first time has created an enforcement body … to deal with the problem.”

“While they’re complaining bitterly about the tariffs, the fact is they’re starting to take the kind of action which if they had taken sooner would have prevented this crisis,” Ross said.

Grassley said Iowa soybean farmers had seen prices plummet just because of market uncertainty.

“Even if farmers don’t have to sell their physical crop right now, the sudden volatility in the market can increase the cost of hedging and in some cases require margin calls for those who are long in the market,” he said, calling on the White House to tone down threats that could provoke Chinese retaliation.

When asked what the administration would do to help cushion the blow for farmers, he said that was up to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

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“I am not familiar with all the tools the secretary–,” he said, before being swiftly interrupted by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet.

“How can you not be familiar with them? You have come here and testified that is how you are going to solve the issue.”

Additional reporting by Reuters.