Negotiating trade is not a crossword puzzle with a solution you can find in the back of the book.
It is the building of a house of cards. The rules are simple. Balance. Lean. Nudge. Repeat. But little things can tilt the table — weather, growth in one area, development in another.
The U.S. house of cards is getting shaky.
President Trump came into office saying America was getting the bad end of deals around the world. China, Mexico, even Canada. Everyone was taking advantage. And that was where the tariffs came in, with the president imposing fees on a variety of imported goods. The world responded in kind.
“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, his Commerce Department reported otherwise.
The numbers for 2018 show a 10-year high to the trade imbalance. Of that $621 billion chasm — up $119 billion from 2016 — most came from U.S. money going for Chinese goods. The imbalance with China is the largest it has ever been: $419.2 billion.
All of that doesn’t have to be as bad as it seems. Americans want to buy things affordably, and with a hot economy, there is money to buy them. That’s a good thing. But the impact on Pennsylvania isn’t.
“Many Pennsylvania farmers and manufacturers have already been harmed by tariffs. Additional trade barriers will only make things worse,” Beth Anne Mumford, state director of the Koch Network-backed Americans for Prosperity PA, said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Allentown, is one of the original sponsors of a bill that would limit the president’s authority to impose tariffs.
“Trade is good for America. About 1.4 million jobs in Pennsylvania are supported by international trade. But trade wars are very, very dangerous,” Toomey said in February as he announced the bill.
A month later, support is growing. Pennsylvania companies like Allegheny Technologies in Pittsburgh and Colonial Metal Products in Hermitage aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. Bipartisan support has grown to more than a dozen senators signing on and 60 business, trade and policy groups endorsing the bill.
Toomey’s stance is important for Pennsylvania, especially as a Republican who has been in the president’s corner. It shows that sometimes power is in strength, but when you are building a house of cards, the strength is in the restraint.