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Beware Politicians Bearing Election-Year Trade Deals

Backers of Asian import tariffs say they save jobs. Do they?
Beware Politicians Bearing Election-Year Trade Deals
Photograph by Caspar Benson/Getty Images; Data: Compiled from U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb

Nothing engenders bipartisan harmony like the opportunity to slap duties on Asian imports—and to claim that doing so protects American jobs. On March 5, the Senate reaffirmed the right of the U.S. Department of Commerce to continue imposing anti-dumping duties on two dozen subsidized goods from China, Vietnam, and other state-run economies. A day later, the measure sailed through the House 370-39. Then the bloviating began. “China doesn’t get a free pass to violate the rules at the expense of American jobs,” said Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the bill’s co-sponsor in the Senate. Vice President Joe Biden added: “By passing this law, Congress has taken a clear stand against the unfair trade practices that have put countless American jobs in jeopardy.”

Baucus and others justify the tariffs because China and Vietnam are non-market economies that subsidize their exports to the U.S. The lawmakers acted in response to a December ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., that said Congress didn’t have the authority to levy the duties. This being an election year, though, Baucus was quick to recycle an estimate by a lobbying group that the duties imposed since 2007 had saved 80,000 jobs.