Prior to becoming a congressman in a special election two years ago, I spent 15 years starting, acquiring and growing manufacturing companies. I have experienced bad trade policy firsthand. Consequently, when Donald Trump campaigned on promises to fix our broken trade deals, like most of my colleagues in manufacturing, I was energized.
Of course, trade affects far more than manufacturing. Ohio’s 8th Congressional District is also one of the top agriculture districts in America. Though smaller and less well known, the region is an innovation hub going back further than the Wright brothers. We know how vital trade is to America’s economic power, and how critical economic strength is to military power. Indeed, before America was powerful militarily, America was powerful economically.
Many of the principles of war apply to trade. Perhaps the most basic is that, from Sun Tzu through WWII and more modern wars, multiplying your enemies never results in victory. Instead, effective strategy should multiply allies. Peter Navarro, and perhaps others, have poorly served our president and America’s national interest by employing poorly conceived means that have alienated our allies, multiplied and united our adversaries, and made victory less certain in this noble mission. Fortunately, there is a better way on trade.
First, Congress must restore its integral, constitutional role on trade. Earlier this year, I sponsored the Global Trade Accountability Act in the House. This bill keeps the president’s essential role in negotiating trade; however, it requires congressional approval within 90 days of implementation for changes to tariffs to become effective.
Were this bill already law, the administration would likely collaborate closely with Congress to make law more enduring and effective than an executive action. Collaboration would lead to better execution and better outcomes. For example, if Congress did support uniform tariffs, there would certainly be a better framework in place to approve exemptions. Presently, there are more than 20,000 companies in the queue and only six employees reviewing requests — one company at a time.
Second, like warfare, we should seek to minimize collateral damage and prevent harm to the innocent. Mr. Navarro’s flawed approach treats every country as an enemy, maximizes collateral damage and provokes harmful retaliatory strikes on otherwise well-functioning sectors (the innocent). His method is akin to fire-bombing major population centers to target a few enemy combatants.
Tariff wars not only harm our adversaries, they harm our closest allies, and they harm America’s economy (American companies and America’s consumers). Consumers are already paying higher prices, and companies that have been driving the strong growth rate are changing their plans and cancelling capital investments. Without a change of course, Mr. Navarro’s flawed approach will create a recession. Maybe that fear can work to force negotiations, but at what cost? Thankfully, there is a better way on trade.
A better way on trade would minimize the use of tariffs and unite our allies to implement targeted sanctions against bad actors. We already use this framework to target our adversaries, and it works. Using a more targeted sanctions regime instead of uniform tariffs, we could be precise enough to target companies — perhaps Chinese state-owned steel makers — and key executives.
These actions have downstream effects, but only for those directly aiding and abetting bad actors. For example, shipping companies refuse to transport the products of bad actors and banks refuse to hold and transfer their assets. Sanctions have a withering effect on targets. They are also much easier to escalate and deescalate as fast-moving negotiations warrant.
Just like modern warfare, a better way on trade is not only more just, it is also more effective. It creates allies, minimizes enemies, makes use of proven tools, and conserves resources. Applying effective strategy is how we accomplish missions. The mission of improving America’s broken trade deals should begin by uniting our allies against bad practices and against those who carry them out.
President Trump should change course now. Mr. President please part ways with Mr. Navarro, reject his flawed approach, engage with Congress and win this just cause with just and effective means — a better way on trade.
• Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, a Republican, is a former Army Ranger.
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