BALTIMORE — Motorists driving the 4.3 mile length of the magnificent Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Annapolis to Maryland’s Eastern Shore often will get a first hand look at a longtime American trade problem.
When conditions are right there’s usually a cluster of three to four multi-storied freighters sitting motionless a mile or so south of the bridge waiting for permission to enter Baltimore’s historic 313-year-old port.
The freighters are bringing huge amounts of imports, chiefly from U.S. trading partners on the far rim of the Pacific Ocean as well as Europe. Over the course of a year, more than 700,000 motor vehicles enter and are unloaded in the Port of Baltimore as well as huge amounts of other big ticket items like construction equipment, refrigerators, stoves, televisions and computers.
China, which got a late start, specializes with rare minerals like lithium. Japan and South Korea send a wide range of vehicles and a bevy of other consumer goods.
Last year, China rang up a $375.2 billion trade surplus with the U.S., South Korea was second with a $69.9 billion surplus and the Japanese were a close third, selling the U.S. $69 billion more in good and services than the U.S. sold them.
A major reason the U.S. is running such whopping trade deficits with its Pacific Rim trading partners is because decades ago they starting engaging in a strategy called “dumping.”
Dumping is generally considered a violation of fair trade practices and involves the selling of goods in the U.S. market at prices lower than the prices at which comparable goods are sold in the domestic market of the exporter.
These sales obviously cause or threaten material injury to a competing U.S. industry. But they are hugely beneficial to countries like Japan because they enable its companies to operate at maximum efficiency by running round-the-clock operations with a veteran labor force.
One of the first U.S. legislators to point out the damages these unbridled policies were doing to U.S. companies and their workers was Rep. John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who died on Feb. 7 at age 92.
A master legislator, he served an amazing total of 59 years and 22 days, an all-time record for a member of the House of Representatives.
He had forcefully warned against Japanese dumping when that country’s automakers launched a huge push into the U.S. market in 1970.
Yet even a highly respected politician like Dingell was unable to persuade enough members of his party to enforce fair trading practices on U.S. trade partners even though the Democratic Party for years billed itself as “organized labor’s best friend.”
President Donald Trump saw an opening for Republicans last year and announced a series of trade tariffs aimed at leveling the playing field.
The United Steelworkers union and the AFL-CIO were among the strongest supporters of Trump’s proposal although both unions opposed him during his 2016 election campaign.
“For too long, our political leaders have talked about the problem, but have largely left enforcement of our trade laws up to the private sector,” said the Steelworkers’ statement. “This is not what hard-working Americans want from their government.” The union represents 1.2 million current steel workers and retirees.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka echoed the steelworkers saying: “We applaud the administration’s efforts to fix this problem.” The AFL-CIO represents 12.6 million workers in it 55 unions.
It’s time for other Democrats to put aside their vengeful feelings against the president and get on the union bandwagon and support Trump’s tariffs. The state of the American economy is bound to be a major issue in the 2020 presidential election.