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Beware of Politicians Linking Tariffs to Job Growth

Laborers work at an Iron and Steel Enterprise in Huaibei, China.
Laborers work at an Iron and Steel Enterprise in Huaibei, China.Photograph by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Nothing engenders bipartisan harmony like a bill that targets both China and American jobs. With President Barack Obama about to sign into law a measure that lets Washington impose duties on subsidized goods, the question isn’t whether China games the system by supporting key industries—it’s the impact those subsidies have on U.S. jobs.

The law will essentially uphold duties on imports of two dozen “undervalued” products from China and Vietnam, including tires, steel, aluminum, paper, and chemicals. While the $4.7 billion value of those imports is a fraction of the roughly $400 billion of goods the U.S. imported from China last year, the measures against them have apparently saved 80,000 U.S. jobs since 2007, according to proponents of the bill. As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said: “China doesn’t get a free pass to violate the rules at the expense of American jobs.” Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers, meanwhile, wrote that failing to impose such punitive measures would leave Americans “defenseless against rampant deep pocket Chinese.”