What will happen to U.S. trade under the new Trump administration? Which voices in the Cabinet and Congress will prevail? Are free trade deals dead? Will the U.S. impose high tariffs on China and Mexico? Will we become more protectionist? Will companies be punished for creating jobs overseas or rewarded for keeping jobs state-side?
Answers to these questions remain unknown. It’s still uncertain how the new presidential administration will proceed on trade. Although candidate Trump campaigned on a strong anti-trade platform targeting China, Mexico, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Trade Pact), President-Elect Trump is already softening some of his rhetoric.
AIM has been engaged in discussions with state and federal political leaders, company executives, trade organizations, Congressional staff members, and seasoned trade professionals to understand how to keep US international trade fair and unencumbered and help Massachusetts companies continue to prosper. Here’s what we know:
- Although there’s general agreement that trade is critical for jobs and the economy, employers need to do a better job telling the story of how trade has helped companies grow and create jobs.
- Manufacturing, an industry important to President-elect Trump, is a vital part of the U.S. and Massachusetts economies, responsible for millions of jobs and a significant component of GDP. Most manufacturers export or send their finished products up the supply chain to larger exporters—meaning that international trade is key to business success.
- NAFTA has been a strong driver for economic growth in the U.S., although not all parts of the U.S. have benefitted evenly. NAFTA can be renegotiated and modernized, but scrapping it would be disruptive and damaging to supply chains, investment and more.
- Job losses in manufacturing over the past several decades have been due in significant part to automation, not solely to overseas production.
- Training and re-training of displaced workers needs to be a priority on the state and federal levels through vocational schools, community colleges and other initiatives.
- Canada, Mexico and China are the three top trade partners for Massachusetts. Any disruption of trade across our northern or southern borders threatens thousands of jobs in the Bay State.
- China is a valuable import source and export destination for Massachusetts. Millions of Chinese citizens entering the middle class represent strong trade potential. High tariffs or a U.S. trade war with China would have a significant negative impact on our citizens and companies.
- Under Trump, the US Trade Representative (USTR) job may be downgraded from a Cabinet-level position to a senior-level administrator within the US Department of Commerce. This would put the U.S. at a significant disadvantage at the negotiating table.
- Trump needs early wins on trade. Recent negotiations with Ford and Carrier, who are scaling back plans to move jobs out of the U.S., may help with this. As one expert noted, Trump is perhaps less anti-trade and more “pro-good deals.”
So, what can you do?
Tell your personal stories about trade - how you identified a new market for your product, how you work with international customers to meet their needs, how you’ve grown jobs at your company because of global trade. Share these stories with your state and federal elected officials—and with AIM. Many jobs depend on trade—that message needs to be delivered to lawmakers.
Stay informed. Participate in events at which trade will be discussed. Strengthen your existing trade relationships. Communicate regularly with your international customers. Reach out to potential clients in new markets. Identify sticky trade problems that need to be solved.
Finally, remember that countries have been trading goods and services across borders since the beginning of time. Presidents and prime ministers may come and go, but trade relationships persist. Even in tough times, good companies find a way to meet customer needs and make deals happen.