“I’ve made my view clear. New tariffs are not the solution,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. | Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
House Speaker Paul Ryan warned Thursday that the United States risks falling behind the rest of the world because other countries are pursuing free trade deals more aggressively.
Ryan, speaking before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., also said he hoped President Donald Trump’s moves to impose tariffs on China and other nations was a negotiating tactic that would only remain in place until trade deals with those countries are worked out.Story Continued Below
At the same time, Ryan threw cold water on the idea of Congress passing legislation to bar Trump from imposing tariffs, since that would require a veto-proof majority. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a non-binding measure pushing back against Trump’s tariffs, but stricter legislation is having a tough time getting enough bipartisan backing.
Although Trump campaigned as a deal-maker, his administration has yet to embark on any new trade negotiations. It made some minor changes to a six-year-old free trade agreement with South Korea but has yet to complete a lengthy renegotiation of NAFTA. Other countries, though, have a much more active agenda.
“The other [Trans-Pacific Partnership] nations have moved forward with that agreement,” Ryan said, referring to the 12-nation pact that Trump pulled out of on his third day in office. “Any day now the EU will sign a new trade agreement with Japan. The EU has also recently initiated negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. So the point is, the world is moving ahead. They’re getting preferential agreements between themselves.”
If the United States does not begin new trade talks, “we risk having American products locked out of these new markets,” Ryan added. “We risked having jobs being moved overseas and we risk a decline in American influence. All of this matters. As our generals will tell you, these agreements are just as important for our national security as they are for our economy.”
Trump has said he prefers on-on-one deals rather than multinational deals like TPP.
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But other countries such as Japan have been reluctant to enter into free trade talks with the United States until they see how the NAFTA negotiations conclude. The Trump administration is pressing Canada and Mexico to make difficult concessions with the aim of reducing bilateral trade balances.
Meanwhile, Trump has aggressively deployed a pair of rarely used trade remedy provisions to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in the name of national security, and to impose and threaten tariffs on up to $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to get Beijing to reform its trade and industrial practices.
Ryan, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, said he agreed that China was a “bad actor” when it comes to protection of intellectual property rights. But he also repeated his opposition to Trump’s use of tariffs to try to force Beijing to change its behavior.
“I’ve made my view clear. New tariffs are not the solution,” Ryan said. “There are better ways. There are other tools we can use.”
The Wisconsin Republican argued the United States needs to offer the world an attractive alternative to the centralized state-run model represented by China or it will suffer the consequences.
“The rule book for the global economy in the 21st century is being written right now,” Ryan said, using rhetoric that sounded much like the arguments the Obama administration made for TPP.
“The question is whether the United States will be holding the pen or not, or will we cede that authority to illiberal democratic regimes? We must be there to set the tone, to set the precedents, to set the pace. More so, we must continue to demonstrate that our way of doing things still has juice, it still works,” Ryan said.
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