Monday, September 24, 2012

No, the President Will Not Extend His Favorite Protectionist Tariffs This Week (Thank Goodness)

A couple weeks ago, I openly asked why, considering how much President Obama just loves the tariffs on Chinese tires that he imposed in 2009 under "Section 421" of US trade law, they were going to expire at the end of this month.  This morning, however, the Huffington Post's Jon Ward had some pretty reasonable-sounding speculation that Obama will, in fact, extend the tariffs before they expire this Wednesday, September 26th:
President Obama plans to travel to Ohio for campaign events on Wednesday, the same day that a three-year tariff on the import of Chinese tires is set to expire.

It's not likely that Obama will let that happen, especially on a day when he is in a major tire manufacturing state, a state that is key to victory in the fall election and where many voters blame China for a long list of economic ills...

On Monday, the Obama campaign again showed its sensitivity to any attacks on the president's record on China and responded immediately with a memo from national spokesman Ben LaBolt, who pointed to the multiple investments by Romney's fund managers in Chinese companies and to the number of trade complaints brought by the administration at the WTO.

But LaBolt also mentioned the tire tariff, calling it "aggressive action against China on behalf of American tire workers."

"When he visits Toledo this week, those tire workers will welcome Romney to remind him that when it mattered most, President Obama stood up for them and he turned his back on them," LaBolt wrote.

The Huffington Post asked LaBolt last week about the tire tariff's pending expiration, but the normally responsive spokesman did not have anything to say about it. A White House spokeswoman on Monday morning also did not return an email requesting comment...

[W]ith the president headed to Ohio and the tire tariff now a gambit in the campaign, as each candidate bills himself as the most committed to "stand up to China," as the Romney campaign puts it, it seems likely that Obama is planning to announce an extension of the tariff at his campaign events in Bowling Green and Kent.
When I read Ward's blog post this morning and then saw this new Obama Campaign ad bragging about the tire tariffs (and bashing Romney's wise opposition to them), I admit that I was pretty concerned that my previous analysis of the legal basis for extending the tire tariffs was wrong.  However, after re-reading that analysis a few times and reassuring myself that the President had absolutely no legal authority to extend the tariffs at this late stage, I then became concerned that the White House was simply preparing to ignore the law's plain text.  (It wouldn't be the first time they've ignored the law on a China-related matter, and what journalist is knowledgeable enough - or willing - to call them on it?)  It turns out, however, that my concerns were misguided.  Shortly after noon today, Ward updated his earlier blog post with the following news from the White House and others:
UPDATE: 12:36 p.m. -- A White House official said Monday that the tire tariff will in fact expire, because the United Steelworkers felt that the provision had had the intended effect.

LaBolt, Obama's campaign spokesman, said in an email that "the President's action achieved its goals of saving 1,000 jobs and protecting American businesses against a surge of Chinese tires."

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. -- A senior Romney adviser, asked Monday whether the tariff should be allowed to expire or not, did not directly answer....

The tariff's expiration on the day that Obama arrives in Ohio may sound an off-note; but if the tariff's primary beneficiary, USW -- which has not requested an extension, according to the White House -- is on board, criticism of the president is likely to be minimal.

UPDATE: 1:47 p.m. -- United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in an emailed statement that the organization informed the administration in March that it would not request an extension of the tariff.

"Since [Obama's] decision, by every measure, success has been achieved: jobs have been retained and created, production has rebounded, investments in plant and equipment have been made and many companies have returned to profitability. That’s why the law was enacted, and it worked," said Gerard.

The USW added that "under an unacceptable, but existing provision of international trade law, compensation for a fourth year of relief might have had to be paid to China."

"We refused to pursue an option that could potentially reward China for their actions," Gerard said.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January, however, that the impact of the tariff was negligible because low cost tires started coming into the U.S. from other foreign countries.
And, of course, the tariffs cost at least $900k/per union job allegedly saved - but hey, that's "mission accomplished" according to Leo Gerard.  Nice work, dude.  Way to go.

But I digress.

So, as I originally reported, it looks like we'll finally be rid of the tire tariffs this week after all.  That's certainly great news for American businesses and consumers, huge protectionist costs notwithstanding.  However, I now am left wondering what President Obama has up his sleeve when he visits Ohio on the day that the tariffs expire.  Another WTO case maybe?  Something else?  Shudder to think.

We'll know soon enough, I guess.

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