SIDNEY — Reaching a trade deal with Canada and Mexico is one of the most important goals — and perhaps one of the few big initiatives that can be solved – for the current Congress, Reps. Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan said.
Davidson, R-8th District, and Jordan, R-4th District, spoke to manufacturers during a Miami-Shelby Manufacturing Council event Thursday afternoon at Shelby Oaks Golf Club. They both cited trade disputes with Mexico, Canada and China as some of the most pressing issues facing the United States but expressed concern about how much Congress can accomplish prior to the 2020 elections.
“People ask how’s it going? My answer recently is, ‘You know, pretty well expect for a little chaos at work.’ But the good news is that there are things that we actually agree on. The bad news is that some of the most important things are going unsolved,” Davidson said.
The good news includes the health of the economy and the low unemployment rate, but Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., remain deeply divided on most issues, Jordan said.
“It is a mess,” he said. “I don’t think a whole lot is going to happen this particular session.”
While there is a lot of pessimism, the representatives expressed hope that a United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement can be reached to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“If we can’t work together to get the USMCA done, I don’t think we’re going to get big things done,” Davidson said.
Getting the USMCA finalized is important, Jordan said, because then the United States could turn its attention solely to trade disputes with China.
“I think what will help us is if we can get the USMCA, the new NAFTA agreement, passed,” he said. “If we can get that passed, then the focus is singularly and solely on China, which frankly is where I think, or most of us think, it needs to be.”
The congressmen are concerned about China stealing intellectual property from the United States and undercutting American companies with lower prices on goods, leading to high stakes negotiations, Davidson said.
“We’re better off to trade with them, but we’ve been in a trade war, and we’ve been getting our butt kicked,” the Sidney native said. “Some of the trade issues have hit manufacturers locally harder than lots of other folks, certainly the farmers, but there isn’t as much awareness about these intermediate manufacturers that make up the supply chain.”
Davidson was one of five members of Congress who visited China for trade talks. Republicans and Democrats standing together is crucial to the success of negotiations, he said.
“Part of what helped last year is we sent five people to China — three Republicans, two Democrats — and we sent two messages,” Davidson said. “One is if you think there’s any separation between the Congress and the White House with respect to China, there is none. And the other one is if you think there’s any separation between Democrats and the Republicans with respect to China, there’s none. Now with respect to Donald Trump and Joe Biden there might be some that we can see. But that’s what we said the last Congress, and it motivated China.”
With 2020 campaigning already starting, Davidson said, China might wait to see how the elections play out and hope it can negotiate with a new American administration.
“When I was in China, their trade negotiators, their version of Peter Navarro, he just flat out said, he’s like, ‘Look, we don’t have elections. You guys do,’” Davidson said. “So that’s essentially the play they’re running. But I think the long term they see the importance in the U.S. market, and they want to have access to the market. They would rather trade as well.”
In the trade disputes with China, Canada and Mexico, President Donald Trump has used tariffs as a tool. Davidson offered a mixed view on the tariffs, saying they can be effective although he thinks there’s room for improvement in the president’s utilization of them.
“I’m not sure the Canadians were the national security risk,” Davidson, who owned a Miami County manufacturing businesses prior to joining Congress, said. “I’m not sure that some of the excesses there weren’t just rhetoric or ways to use the tools.
“The tariffs are a pretty effective tool. There are big consequences. I know some of you guys probably lost a fair bit of money.”
Davidson and Jordan said they think Trump would prefer a world without tariffs, but he views them as a way to gain leverage in negotiations.
“If you don’t have a competitive play, then you don’t have leverage,” Davidson said.
One of the few areas Jordan sees room for agreement between the Democrats and Republicans is civil liberties. He said he’s concerned about governmental surveillance.
“Where you can work with them is, with some of them, is on civil liberties,” Jordan said. “I think there’s a chance we can do something bipartisan to deal with facial recognition, which scares me.”
Another area in which Republicans and Democrats seem to find common ground is spending money, Davidson said.
“Republicans across the board, almost uniformly, campaign on some version of smaller, more accountable government, but also almost every chance across the board they vote for bigger, less accountable government unless you mean complaining on Facebook about the problem,” he said. “And I don’t mean to throw any of my colleagues under the bus, but we didn’t get here just because of one party. It’s probably the most bipartisan thing on Capitol Hill. The polite answer is probably standing with our veterans, but the reality is spending the money.”
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