John Adams, unquestionably the most curmudgeonly if honest of America’s Founders, in 1790 described our new nation as a “commercial republic.” It’s thus unfortunate so many Americans today fail to grasp not only the stiff economic consequences of any trade war built on dueling tariffs but the folly of employing tariffs to regularly address policy disputes with our allies. This newspaper agrees with the president’s sentiments on China’s abusing free-trade principles, even if we have deep reservations about an escalating trade war to resolve this dispute. But to implement steadily mounting tariffs that punish Mexico (and, via economic fallout, Texas) over immigration is a bridge too far. We urge Texas Republican lawmakers to show spine and fight the president’s promised tariffs, set to kick in Monday.
If nothing else, it’s pretty rich blaming Mexico for failing to sufficiently fortify its southern border to block refugees fleeing oppression and violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. After all, the United States has been unable to fortify its southern border. This newspaper endorsed the president’s 2018 immigration plan, including billions for border wall construction, only to watch the president then abandon his own proposal. Reports indicate senior advisor Stephen Miller urged President Trump to use the issue instead in the 2020 re-election campaign.
Unfortunately, myopic Texans eager to stick it to Mexico and countries south fail to understand that, while a series of steeper and steeper tariffs as Trump proposes might discourage Mexican imports into Texas, it also imperils innocent Texas businesses that count on free trade and rely on such imports. Tariffs literally cost them, their customers and potentially their employees if business falters. In short, American livelihoods hang in the balance if steadily rising tariffs are added to the trade mix. Mexican officials who weren’t looking for a fight now explore the prospect of tariffs on selected U.S. goods. And if Mexico is pushed into a recession, guess where its workers will then go. Take a wild guess.
“Our country relies on a strong trading relationship with Mexico,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told colleagues this week, “and goods and services that are traded between our countries totaled more than $670 billion in 2018. Much of the trade we have is between Texas and Mexico. Mexico is far and away my state’s top trading partner. In 2018, Texas exported nearly $110 billion in goods to Mexico. That’s roughly four times the amount of exports to our No. 2 trading partner, Canada. We also imported more than $107 billion from our southern neighbor. That includes everything from motor vehicle parts to computer equipment to tractors to avocados.”
Assuming Trump doesn’t reconsider, and assuming the business of America is business, then many Texans who support this president will be hurt in further trade war with Mexico. And we can’t bail them all out as we do farmers. A robust foreign policy initiative involving not only Mexico but the Central American countries from which refugees flee sure seems a smarter approach. One helpful asset: a fully engaged president committed to real diplomacy and deal-making — not bullying our allies and again rendering our fellow citizens collateral damage.