Senate Rebukes Trade Tariffs

Resolution Overwhelmingly Passes Seeking Greater Congressional Role in Tariff Disputes

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Trump administration announced this week it would move ahead on tariffs against $200 billion more in Chinese goods, possibly later this summer. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- After the Trump administration announced it would move ahead on tariffs against $200 billion more in Chinese goods, possibly later this summer, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to include language calling for "providing a role for Congress in making a determination" of trade tariffs related to national security concerns.

The language is "non-binding" and watered down from earlier Senate demands, but the 88-11 vote still marks the first time Congress has directly challenged President Donald Trump's heightened trade conflicts not only with China, but also the European Union, Canada, Mexico and other trade partners over steel and aluminum tariffs. The vote reflects widespread concern in Congress on the impact of the Trump administration's tariffs and greater risks of retaliation.

The vote comes after the U.S. and China imposed 25% tariffs on each other last week on an array of products. That included China increasing tariffs on U.S. agricultural commodities such as corn or soybeans. The U.S. is preparing to slap tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese products this month and just Tuesday announced plans for another 10% tariffs on as much as $200 billion in Chinese goods.

The Trump administration also is considering using national security arguments to place tariffs on European auto imports.

In a pair of tweets early Wednesday, the president said he was focusing on helping soybean farmers and insisted his trade policies would benefit them in the end.

"I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers. Soy beans fell 50% from 2012 to my election. Farmers have done poorly for 15 years. Other countries' trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses. I will open...

"...things up, better than ever before, but it can't go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!" Trump tweeted.

Yet, the American Soybean Association "expressed extreme disappointment" in the Trump administration's push to consider 10% tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods. The group, representing soybean farmers, said the "action worsens the trade dispute" between the two countries. ASA said it was pushing on both the administration and Congress to rescind the current tariffs.

"The announcement of additional tariffs on China is a move in the opposite direction. We're focused on increasing trade opportunities and keeping the robust and growing Chinese market we have worked for decades to secure. Our message to the administration and lawmakers remains the same: These tariffs needlessly hurt soy growers and rural communities," said ASA President and Iowa soybean farmer John Heisdorffer.

The Senate motion was spearheaded by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., as a way to ensure Congress plays a role in setting of nation-security-designated tariffs. The Senate instructs congressional negotiators on a waterways, energy and defense infrastructure bill to include language requiring Congress to weigh in on such tariffs.

The senators also said they will continue to push for a stronger, more binding vote on legislation they introduced in June to require congressional approval of national-security-designated tariffs.

"Today, the Senate issued a clear rebuke of this administration's trade policy." said Flake. "This vote represents the strongest and most straightforward message this chamber has delivered against the administration's abuse of trade authority. Imposing tariffs on products from allies that pose no threat to our national security is just plain wrong. I will continue to push for binding legislation that requires congressional approval of national-security-designated tariffs. We have to rein in abuse of presidential authority and restore Congress' constitutional authority in this regard."

Corker said: "In today's polarized Washington, rarely do we see broad, bipartisan consensus on an issue. But today, the Senate spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly expressing support for our efforts to ensure Congress plays its appropriate role in the implementation of national-security-designated tariffs. Tariffs are a tax on the American people, and as the U.S. economy and American businesses and consumers begin to feel the damaging effects of incoherent trade policy, I believe support for our legislation will only grow. We will continue to push for a binding vote and are hopeful one will be scheduled in the near future."

Toomey said: "The administration is wrong to use 'national security' as a pretext to impose taxes on steel and aluminum from our closest allies. These taxes are hurting workers, consumers, and companies in Pennsylvania and across the country. It's time for Congress to reassert its constitutional responsibility on trade and today's bipartisan vote shows that there is a way forward to accomplish this."

The Wall Street Journal quoted House leaders who seemed split on whether to challenge Trump on tariffs at the moment.

"I don't want to hamstring the president's negotiating tactics, but I have long said I don't think tariffs are the way to go," the WSJ quoted House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Wednesday. "There are legitimate, absolutely legitimate unfair trade practices, particularly by China that we and our allies should be confronting."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, indicated a more wait-and-see attitude. He said that the plan was to wait and see how Mr. Trump's trade policy worked.

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Chris Clayton