In a news conference call with reporters Wednesday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown outlined his priorities for U.S. trade policy under President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration. Sen. Brown, one of only two Democrats elected statewide, released a letter to President-Elect Trump outlining ways the new White House administration can follow through on campaign promises to make U.S. trade policy work for Ohioans and protect American jobs.
Sen. Brown will defend his seat in two years, but in the minority again following elections eight days ago, he wants to find common ground with Trump’s administration when it comes to keeping and bringing back jobs to Ohio. Among his efforts on trade was his very vocal opposition to NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] in 1993 as a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives. He followed up with CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005, one year before he moved to the Senate. Sen. Brown has made it his calling to work on trade policies that promote workers, small businesses, and manufacturers while creating jobs and expanding markets through an aggressive export promotion strategy.
Brown told reporters there are several ways that President-Elect Donald Trump can follow through on his campaign promises to usher in an era of trade policy that will work for Ohioans and protect American manufacturing jobs.
“Donald Trump made a lot of big promises during this campaign, including to overhaul our trade policy and renegotiate NAFTA within his first 100 days in office,” he said. “I’m calling on him to make good on those promises – and I’m going to hold him accountable to Ohio workers every step of the way.” Donald Trump made the economy and jobs a centerpiece of his amazing win this year, which prompted Ohio’s senior senator to send a letter to President-Elect Trump urging him to take several specific actions including: renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), resetting U.S.-China trade relations, strengthening trade enforcement, and fighting currency manipulation.
Overhauling the U.S.’s general approach to trade agreements is a good starting point, but Sen. Brown wants to go further by overhauling U.S.-China trade relations. He wants to reassess China’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and strengthen trade enforcement efforts to give American workers and manufacturers a level playing field. “Millions of American jobs have been lost since China joined the WTO in 2001,” he said, adding that thousands of workers at U.S. steel mills and in the domestic aluminum supply chain have been laid off because China’s trade violations make it impossible for U.S. companies to compete. “You [President-elect Trump] can help our manufacturers and these workers by resetting our trade relationship with China and by making trade enforcement a priority, and I urge you to take the following actions in your first 100 days in office.”
Reset U.S.-China Trade Relationship: You should seek to renegotiate China’s Accession Protocol to the WTO. China has failed to fully comply with its WTO commitments since joining the trade organization, and these violations have come at the expense of American jobs. In addition, the commitments were negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations focused on increasing profits by moving production overseas. We cannot prevent more American job losses if we do not reset our trade relationship with China.
Fight Currency Manipulation: You should instruct the Commerce Department to investigate currency manipulation in countervailing duty trade cases when alleged by U.S. petitioners. By directing the Commerce Department to treat currency manipulation as the unfair subsidy that it is, you will provide American manufacturers with additional ways to fight back against competitors who do not play by the rules.
Take Action Against China’s Unfair Trade Practices: In addition, you should bring a WTO case against China’s unfair trade practices that have contributed to an enormous oversupply of steel production capacity in the global market. China’s policies have forced thousands of America’s steelworkers out of jobs and have compelled too many of our steel mills to idle or close. The U.S. aluminum supply chain is similarly in crisis from China’s trade violations, and we need to respond aggressively to prevent more layoffs. I urge you to bring a separate WTO case against China on behalf of our domestic aluminum industry.
Maintain China’s Nonmarket Economy Status: You should commit to maintaining China’s nonmarket economy status until it has fully transitioned to a market economy. The Chinese government maintains significant control over its economy, especially in critical sectors such as the steel, aluminum, and tire sectors, among others. Giving China market economy status – for the country or for individual sectors – will dismantle U.S. manufacturers’ ability to get relief from our trade laws when Chinese competitors dump goods or sell illegally subsidized products in our market.
Stop Negotiations on the U.S.- China Bilateral Investment Treaty: You should halt all negotiations on the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty. Entering another trade deal with China when they have routinely violated existing trade commitments will invite more infractions and harm U.S. workers.
Brown observed that Donald Trump did well in Ohio in the same areas that have historically have supported the two-term senator who will try for a third term in two years. Asked for what he learned from the race between Sen. Rob Portman and Ted Strickland, Sen. Brown said he doesn’t know just yet his takeaways that can help him prepare to defend his seat in 2018. He did say that most outside money will be against him, offering an observation from Winston Churchill that “it’s exhilarating to be shot at without results.”
Brown Blasts Bannon
Talking on issues other than trade, he said Trump is off to a peculiar start despite his words of unity as he pointed to the appointment by Trump of Steve Bannon, who Sen. Brown called an “outright racist,” to Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor. Brown is party to a letter to financial services industry leaders along with Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services; Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is being supported by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) for new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“As leaders in the business community, you have a moral obligation to speak out against this appointment as contrary to the values of this country and to the values of your industry,” they wrote. “We urge you to condemn this appointment immediately and without reservation.”
Previously, Sen. Brown had said that the country could not be brought together by inviting the same bigotry and hate speech that divided us on the campaign trail into the White House. He made it clear that the issues wasn’t about a difference in policy or politics, but rather Bannon’s anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and dangerous views, “that have emboldened white nationalist forces and caused some Americans to question whether they can still feel safe in the country we all love.”
If President Trump wants to strengthen Social Security or support infrastructure, Brown is on-board like other Democrats have said they will be, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Warren. Regardless, whatever Trump’s agenda may be, Sen. Brown said a lot of it will take action from Congress to become effective.
Ready To Trade On Trade
He railed against trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership that start out with corporate agendas that don’t help workers. He doesn’t want trade agreements that are morally and economically bankrupt and not pro-worker and pro-community.
He’s also fearful of Trump taking unilateral action that will prompt countries to respond in-kind, that could end up in a trade war that hurts everyone. Imposing tariffs because the president wants to can cost lost jobs in Ohio, he said, so he’s asking to be “at the table because I know this stuff.” On that score, auto and steel are at the top of his list if tariffs are used.
If or when Trump and Republicans follow through on their promise to repeal Obamacare, Sen. Brown said they have to explain to more than 600,000 Ohioans why their health insurance disappeared. “We’re going to name the victims when they do this,” he said, noting “they have no real idea how to replace this stuff.” Crossing state lines and going after trial lawyers amounts to about two percent in changes, he said. The dog chasing the car caught “the damn car, now they don’t know what to do with it.”
Among his more enlightening comments was his statement that Hillary Clinton didn’t have a strong economic message. He said he wasn’t second guessing her, but people were clearly voting for trade, as voters in Stark and Trumbull counties showed.
Asked about Senate rules that could preclude filibusters and pass bills by simple majorities [Republicans have 52 seats now], he said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has already stolen a supreme court seat by refusing to consider President Obama’s choice to fill the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia upon his death earlier this year. Brown doesn’t know what rules McConnell will chose to follow, but in any event, he said, Trump appointees will have to undergo hearings and the release of their tax returns, something president-elect Trump managed to avoid doing this year even though it was very controversial. The process may keep more of Trump’s controversial nominees from winning approval, even though it doesn’t apply to Steve Bannon, Trump’s newly named chief strategist.
Brown also attacked Trump for saying he had a mandate, pointing to Mrs. Clinton winning the popular vote by more than two million votes so far. Trump won the Electoral College by fewer votes overall than Clinton beat Trump in Franklin County, Ohio. “If they start saying mandate, that he won easily, it was a very close election…I hope they would govern a little more cooperatively.”
He reminded reporters that Trump is behind in the nomination process, and that the Senate Banking Committee, where he is the ranking minority member, never got around to confirming 20 Obama appointees. Those were “really important jobs and Republicans just said nope…they never got punished in any way.”
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