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President Trump signs Executive Orders on U.S. trade policies

Description: On March 31, 2017, President Trump signed two executive orders focused on evaluating trade policy:

  1. Presidential Executive Order Regarding the Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits and;
  2. Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Enhanced Collection and Enforcement of Antidumping and Countervailing Duties and Violations of Trade and Customs Laws.

Fair Economy Impact: Any reexamination of U.S. trade policies and their effects on workers is welcome and long overdue. But the impact of these executive orders on U.S. workers remains unclear. The first order directs the secretary of commerce and the White House National Trade Council to identify practices that contribute to the U.S. trade deficit with different countries. The second order calls for stepping up collection of anti-dumping and countervailing duties, focusing on small fines for past unfair trade practices.

The first executive order does little beyond delay much-needed reform. The causes of trade imbalances are well known. Chief among these is the inflated value of the U.S. dollar. If the president were truly interested in adopting trade policies that would benefit U.S. workers and our economy, he would address currency valuation now instead of requesting additional evaluation of the issue.

The second executive order is similarly off the mark about protecting American workers. While enforcement of fair trade practices is critical to safeguarding U.S. workers and our economy, a focus on past unfair trade practices does nothing to ensure that trade policies are complied with in the future. And while recovering fines for past unfair trade practices will have some economic benefit, that benefit will be small compared with the U.S. goods trade deficit. Consider that the estimated total uncollected fines between 2001 and 2016 of $2.8 billion are the equivalent of a 0.1 percent tariff. It is unlikely that focusing on past unfair trade practices and uncollected fines will have any meaningful benefit for our nation’s workers and our economy moving forward.