WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s planned tariffs on Chinese goods are helpful for states that export coal and other ores and minerals, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday, but Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, whose state is one of the top agriculture exporters, said free trade is a better policy in the long run.
Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Manchin said steel and aluminum tariffs proposed by Trump are “definitely” good U.S. trade policy. “We have to work and make sure southern West Virginia has the ability to succeed,” said Manchin.
“There are winners and losers in every deal,” Manchin, a Democrat, said. West Virginia industries “have been hit the hardest” in the current “unfair” trade relationships, he said.
Minerals and ores were West Virginia’s top export category in 2017, according to data from International Trade Administration.
Manchin’s views – and those of most elected officials –reflect the dominant industries in their states, said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics. States that are leading exporters advocate for free trade while those like West Virginia whose industries are hurt by cheaper imports favor protections, such as tariffs, he said.
“By far, free trade is the superior policy. But free trade must be supplemented by policies that provide a safety net for impacted workers. U.S. policies in this respect are the worst among advanced countries,” Hufbauer said.
Sasse, a Republican, agreed with the need to help workers who have lost jobs but said the cause of the job loss is not free trade policies. “That is a function of technology overwhelmingly, not trade,” he said. “Free trade is usually a win-win, not zero-sum game.”
Sasse said that the government should prioritize “mid-career job retraining” to help people get prepared for technology disruption, rather than hurt U.S. trading relationships that “produced jobs.”
His home state of Nebraska is the largest U.S. exporter of beef and veal exports, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. According to Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s recent data, China was its top export market.