Democrats questioned President Donald Trump’s trade policies Wednesday as traditional trading partners targeted with tariffs by the administration continued to threaten retaliatory taxes on U.S. goods.
“It certainly is the beginning of a trade war and I hope it doesn’t spread,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. Most allies were initially exempted from them, but President Trump recently decided to implement the taxes against imports from Mexico, Canada, and Europe.
“This is what happens when you have a sort of shoot-from-the-hip policy from the president as opposed to a thought-through, negotiated, prepared trade policy,” Connolly said.
The European Union announced Wednesday it will place tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. imports starting in July. Officials have also challenged the Trump administration’s tariffs through the World Trade Organization.
On Tuesday, Mexico announced tariffs of 15 to 25 percent on various products, including pork, apples, potatoes, bourbon, with a total market value of $3 billion.
Canadian officials have blasted Trump’s tariffs as “unacceptable” and “insulting,” and they have threatened to impose tariffs on U.S. steel, aluminum, and other products.
“It’s important we get tough on the Chinese,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. “The Chinese have routinely violated trade rules. Unfortunately, I think the Trump administration has gone much broader than that, also bringing in Canada and other countries that are our allies.”
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow downplayed the disputes at a White House briefing Wednesday as a “family quarrel,” and he insisted blame for any consequences belongs to other countries that he claimed have treated the U.S. unfairly.
“I have no doubt that the United States and Canada will remain firm friends and allies, whatever short-term disagreements may occur,” Kudlow said. “So I would say relations are very good.”
Critics say Trump has so far imposed more trade restrictions on allies than on China, which sells significantly less steel to the U.S. than Mexico and Canada. They argue China’s unfair trade practices are the real problem and merit larger penalties.
“We should be working with our allies and dealing with the problems we have in China,” Peters said.
Democrats warned the tariffs and retaliation could prove damaging to U.S. businesses and to farmers in particular who export soybeans and other crops to the countries with which Trump is escalating tensions.
“This policy makes no sense and its bound to hurt American consumers and a lot of sectors in our economy,” Connolly said.