Trump on trade: Trouble lies ahead

Published 6:48 pm Thursday, June 7, 2018


If you thought President Trump’s protectionist trade policies only hurt our enemies, look closer to home.

Trump’s tariffs against steel and aluminum, imposed last week against Canada, Mexico and the European Union, was a topic for brief discussion Monday when Bayport Polymers launched construction of an ethane cracker at Total in Port Arthur.

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Bayport is a joint effort of companies based in France, Austria and Canada — all friends to the U.S. Success of the joint venture would provide or bolster jobs mostly for Texans as the cracker uses feedstock from west Texas and Canada.

In a news conference following the brief groundbreaking ceremony, representatives of the companies involved in the $1.7 billion project — Total, Borealis and NOVA — in general dismissed the idea that the president’s latest trade interference would hamper this international collaboration taking place on Gulf of Mexico shores.

Perhaps it won’t — the project is about petrochemicals, not steel and aluminum — and the participants are astute enough to not let the president’s trade meddling derail what was otherwise a good day for all involved.

The president’s outlook and execution in boosting industry has pleased many American interests, including those involved in oil and gas. That has been good for Texas and the U.S.

But his trade policies have been another matter. The president doesn’t seem fully taken with the idea of free trade and free markets, which have long benefited this country. He keeps his own scorecard when it comes to the U.S. and the world, undermining trade agreements and endangering relationships with traditional allies.

And now, he unilaterally imposes tariffs, which have seldom been an effective means of harming our enemies, but may undercut our allies. Our allies, in turn, are planning their own trade retaliation against the U.S. Two can play the game.

Small wonder, then, that conservative Republicans are lining up against the president on tariffs. Libertarians like the Koch brothers are planning a multimillion dollar campaign against it. Republican senators like Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are seeking legislative action.

John Cornyn of Texas, though, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, is a skeptic of his colleagues’ efforts.

“I think in order to get legislation signed into law, the president’s got to sign it,” Cornyn said. In a fractured Washington, overriding a presidential veto would be nearly impossible.

Here in Port Arthur, it was business as usual Monday. Bernard Pinatel of Total talked about advantages of investing in the U.S., which include an abundance of raw material. His company has invested $6.5 billion since 2015.

Todd Karran, CEO of Canadian-based NOVA, talked about his company’s new access to the Gulf Coast.

“Our policy is one of open trade,” Karran said.

It used to be ours, too.