Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who was appointed U.S. Secretary of Commerce by President Donald Trump, said trading partners like China and the European Union may say they’re in favor of free trade but their policies show otherwise.
“Many governments across the globe have pursued policies that put American workers and businesses at a disadvantage,” Ross wrote on opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. “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.”
Ross said China’s tariffs are higher than those of the U.S. in 20 of 22 major categories of goods such as sugar, clothing, cotton, transport equipment and machinery. The EU imposes higher tariffs than the U.S. in 17 of 22 categories such as animal products, sugar, machinery and chemicals.
“The EU charges a 10 percent tariff on imported American cars, while the U.S. imposes only a 2.5 percent tariff on imported European cars,” Ross said. “Today Europe exports 1.14 million automobiles to the U.S., nearly four times as many as the U.S. exports to Europe.”
Aside from the glaring imbalance in tariffs, there are also nontariff barriers to trade that add costs to U.S. companies seeking to do business in China and Europe. Those barriers include onerous and opaque procedures for registering and gaining certification for imports, unscientific sanitary rules, requirements that companies build local factories and forced technology transfers, among others, Ross said.
“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,” Ross said. “Comparable levels of government support do not exist in the U.S.”
The Trump administration has brought 54 trade-remedy actions to investigate unfair trade practices. The U.S. currently has 403 orders against 42 countries, consistent with rules of the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, the WTO cites a rise in trade enforcement cases as a sign of protectionism.
“The WTO should protect free and fair trade among nations, not attack those trade remedies necessary to ensure a level playing field,” Ross said. “Defending U.S. workers and businesses against this onslaught should not be mislabeled as protectionism.”
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