The country is still in the early days of a multifront trade war with China, Canada and other economic partners, and the early results are proving to be painful for many American businesses.
President Trump admitted as much last week, when the administration announced $12 billion in emergency aid for farmers affected by retaliatory tariffs from other nations.
“Tariffs are the greatest!” the president tweeted, saying they are needed to ensure the U.S. gets a “fair deal” in trade negotiations.
With so many businesses affected by the trade wars, however, there won’t be enough billion-dollar bailouts to go around.
Consider the New England lobster industry, no less an American institution than heartland farming.
Wholesale lobster prices have fallen off the cliff in the weeks since China imposed a 25 percent tariff on American imports. Prices now hover around $3.75 a pound, down from around $5.25 a pound at the beginning of the summer. And increasingly, Chinese importers are turning to lobster from Canada, a country with which it is not engaged in a trade war. There’s no guarantee the market for American products will come back even if tariffs are eliminated somewhere down the road.
“It’s like any other crop or harvest with supply and demand,” Rockport lobsterman Bob Morris told The Boston Globe. “It’s always the farmer or the fisherman who ends up paying.” Overall, China imports roughly $1.3 billion in American seafood products every year.
Now, Congressman Seth Moulton is part of a group of New England legislators who want to see the region’s lobstermen get an aid package similar to the one being pushed for farmers.
“Farmworkers are not the only Americans that are losing out in this trade war with China,” Moulton and others wrote in a letter to Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “We respectfully request you give the same consideration to the hardworking fishermen and women of America who are being hurt by your policies and direct the U.S. Department of Commerce to provide emergency assistance to working families of the water.”
Moulton and fellow Reps. Chellie Pingree of Maine, Jared Huffman of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona also filed legislation that would guarantee “disaster relief” for lobstermen and fishermen affected by foreign tariffs.
To be sure, there is politicking at play here. The sponsors of the legislation are Democrats in a House dominated by Republicans. And while the letter to Ross and Trump is full of soundbites, the proposed legislation is short on details. The bill does not say who would be eligible for disaster relief or how much money should be set aside.
Nonetheless, the representatives have a valid point — if farmers are eligible for aid, why not fishermen? For that matter, what about the steel industry, or car manufacturers, or even distilleries? Yes, China and the European Union have levied 25 percent tariffs on American whiskey in what appears to be a shot at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, famous worldwide for its bourbon. The list of businesses affected by the trade war is long, and there are no plans to help each at-risk industry.
Perhaps that’s one reason why Trump’s farmer relief package is getting such a cold reception in Congress, even among Republicans.
“Tariffs are not ‘the greatest,’ Mr. President,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican. “American farmers want access to markets, not taxpayer-funded bailouts.”
We suspect lobstermen and fishermen feel the same way.