(Reuters) – Speakers at the Republican convention on Tuesday night touted President Donald Trump’s “tough-on-trade” approach as a key argument for his re-election in November, although results have been mixed, especially with a key China deal.
Top Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, a dairy farmer, a mining-town mayor and a metal-welding businessman all credited Trump’s trade policies with lifting their hopes.
“I am a lifelong Democrat, but for far too long, members of both parties allowed our country to be ripped off by our trading partners, especially China, who dumped steel into our markets and slapped tariffs on our products,” said Robert Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, an iron-ore mining town in the election battleground state of Minnesota.
“And what did so-called leaders like Joe Biden do? Nothing,” he added, referring to Trump’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election.
Trump raised tariffs on imports, including on steel, which is made from iron ore, renegotiated a deal with two of the country’s main trading partners, Canada and Mexico, and started a tariff war with China before brokering a “Phase 1” deal earlier this year.
Steel prices rallied following the tariffs imposed in March 2018, feeding optimism in U.S. steel towns. But higher prices later hurt demand from automakers, and resulted in layoffs here at United States Steel Corp.
The U.S.-China trade deal took about 18 months to negotiate, and U.S. exports to China fell by nearly 8% from 2016 to 2019, according to census data.
Since the coronavirus, first discovered in China, swept across the world, the U.S.-China relationship has worsened. More than 177,000 Americans have died, the most of any country.
China has fallen short of its pledged goals of increased purchases of U.S. goods as its own economy has suffered. Through July 2020, total Chinese imports of covered U.S. goods were $48.5 billion, about half of what the Peterson Institute for International Economics calculates here they should be at this stage.
“In pursuit of this extraordinarily weak trade deal that China is not even living up to, Donald Trump was outmaneuvered at every turn by (Chinese President) Xi Jinping,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.
Cris Peterson, whose family has a 1,000-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin, another election battleground, told the convention that new trade deals gave her confidence to rebuild after a fire destroyed her barn in 2017.
“Trump understood and again took steps to provide the supports we needed,” said Peterson. “Our entire economy, and dairy farming, are once again roaring back.”
The administration devoted here $16 billion to trade aid in 2019, much of that in direct payments to farmers.
After some dairy farmers were left without a place to sell their milk after the coronavirus closed schools and restaurants earlier this year, the administration announced here billions more in aid for farmers.