Workers and businesses in Washington could be among the first casualties of a trade war if the Trump administration keeps up its current practices, Sen. Maria Cantwell said Wednesday.
Cantwell, D-Wash., and members of the Senate Finance Committee questioned U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross during a hearing where many delegates said that tit-for-tat tariffs are hurting trade dependent states.
“Individual businesses who fight every day to get access to Asian markets, to India, to Canada, to Mexico — they believe in a trade policy that keeps moving forward,” Cantwell told Ross. “Why? Because they gain access to a middle class around the globe.”
Tariffs have shot back and forth between the United States and countries across the globe as the Trump administration tries to gain leverage in trade deals with other nations.
Apples, cherries, steel and aluminum have already landed on the list of goods facing higher taxes upon arrival in other countries. Those tariffs, Cantwell contended, endanger Washington industries and especially its small businesses.
“If you push them off the shelf space on a huge tariff and they go out of business, they’re not coming back,” she said. “Once you get whatever you think you’re going to get later, that person doesn’t refinance their company and come back. They might be out of business forever.”
Other members of the committee voiced frustrations with the administration’s trade policies as well, including Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Ross responded to criticisms by saying that the tariffs today could secure a healthier trade tomorrow for American industries, including technology firms, through which Washington has become a leader.
Otherwise, he argued, those countries could be out-competed in the future.
“The president’s objective is not to end up with high tariffs, and it is not to end up with a trade war, he’s made that pretty clear. His objective is to get to a lowering of trade barriers … and to protect intellectual property,” Ross said.
“The only way we’re going to get (other countries) to change and to protect another big industry in Washington, namely one very dependent on high-tech and very dependent on intellectual property … is to put pressure on them,” he added.
According to the Washington Council on International Trade, nearly 40 percent of Washington jobs are tied to international trade. Cantwell’s office reports about 1.5 million jobs in the state depend on international trade.