A top official at the U.S. Department of Commerce on Tuesday defended the trade wars launched by President Trump.
“They’re not bad for the economy,” said Tom Gilman, an assistant secretary at the federal agency.
“The trade wars and the tariffs are being used as a way of getting our trading partners attention.”
Gilman also said that whatever attention being paid to impeachment, including by the president, whose social media posts on that issue exceed those on trade, is not undermining trade negotiations.
His comments to reporters followed a staged event with Gov. Doug Ducey to promote manufacturing in Arizona and nationwide.
But the governor also used the opportunity to take a slap at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for failing to advance the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement even as the Democrats continue to focus on impeachment.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” Ducey said in his comments to the audience. “I’m just hopeful the speaker loves her country more than she wants to get involved in the politics of Washington right now.”
And Ducey called it “almost beyond belief” that the trade pact awaits hearings with less than three weeks left in the congressional session.
Ducey’s comments came the same day that the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council told federal lawmakers that he was so troubled with what he heard in the July call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky that he reported his concerns to a superior. That testimony by Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman could be the most serious testimony to date: Unlike the whistle blower whose complaint spurred the latest round of investigations, he actually was listening in on the conversation.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Ducey, who has been critical of the impeachment process, professed no knowledge of what was going on at the hearings on Tuesday. But he said any moves on impeachment should not hold up action on the USMCA.
“Congress can do two things at once,” the governor said. “They can walk and chew gum.”
In previous comments, Ducey has called the hearings premature, also saying they are “highly partisan and one-sided” and accused Pelosi of “playing games.
On Tuesday, though, his comments about all that were more reserved.
“If they want to conduct these investigations, I would say that’s their prerogative,” Ducey said.
“But we can also pass the largest, most important trade agreement in the history of our country,” he continued. “And so what I’m advocating is for Speaker Pelosi to put that on the floor, to put it to a vote.”
The discussion of impeachment has been front and center at the nation’s capital. And that is reflected in the president’s own tweets which largely have focused on his criticism of the entire inquiry.
But Gilman said none of that is undermining the ability of the administration to have a consistent trade policy.
“Make no mistake about it: Behind the scenes the U.S. government is solid,” he said.
“It’s running the way it should be,” Gilman continued. “There has been no stopping in the trade negotiations, no stopping in our trade policy development, no stopping in the tariffs, no stopping in trade enforcement because of impeachment.”
The trade wars that Gilman is defending have had particular effects on farmers. In Arizona that has had a particular effect on those who grow cotton and pecans as China has imposed new tariffs to retaliate for those imposed on this end on Chinese goods.
That could ease as Chinese officials said they are close to finalizing the first phase of a deal that Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping could sign next month.
But Gilman said that the tariffs – and even just the threat – can help U.S. farmers in the long run.
For example, he said, Mexico was “dumping” tomatoes into Arizona and Texas. That led to threats on this side of the border to impose duties of up to 25 percent.
“We negotiated a trade agreement that stopped that practice,” Gilman said. He said that’s just a part of his agency’s role in “trade enforcement.”
“That’s a very important part of keeping everyone honest in the approach to selling products,” Gilman said.