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Trade Expert: Tariffs De-Globalizing US Economy

Posted on November 9, 2018

The Trump Administration is stretching the rules and norms of international trade in a manner that will ultimately de-globalize the United States economy and undermine the nation’s prosperity, a Harvard professor and former presidential trade adviser said yesterday.

LawrenceRobert Lawrence, the Albert Williams Professor of Trade and Investment at Harvard’s Kennedy School, told 150 people at the 2018 AIM Global Trade Symposium that the imposition of tariffs by the United States and retaliatory tariffs by China and other nations will actually harm domestic manufacturing since many of the inputs for US producers come from overseas.

“We’re raising costs for American production. It’s a counterproductive strategy,” said Lawrence, who was a member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office.

Two prominent Massachusetts employers confirmed that the deepening trade war is causing them to shift manufacturing, in some cases from the United States to overseas locations.

Lisa Hill, Vice President of Global Trade Strategies at Ocean Spray in Lakeville, said the company is moving some of its processing operations to recently acquired facilities in Chile and Canada to avoid retaliatory tariffs from China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

“We are literally on everybody’s list,” Hill said as part of a panel discussion on trade.

She told the audience that Ocean Spray has dealt with trade wars in the past but “what we are dealing with today is unprecedented.”

A similar story is unfolding at Sensata Technologies of Attleboro, which maintains operations and business centers in 12 countries around the world. Vineet Nargolwala, Senior Vice President for Performance Sensing, said that 20 percent of the high-tech sensors the company makes in China come to the United States and are thus subject to new tariffs.

The company is responding by moving international production to other sites in Southeast Asia while reserving more of its China operations to make products for the Chinese market.

“It’s definitely a new landscape we are operating in,” Nargolwala said.

Lisa Wieland, Port Director for Massport, said the peak import shipping season for Boston accelerated this year as companies tried to get product into the United States ahead of the tariffs. Massport itself, which is in the middle of an $850 million infrastructure modernization project, had to spent significant time to ensure that three massive ship-to-shore cranes made exclusively by a company in China were not included in the tariff schedule.

The comments on trade policy came as AIM and its International Business Council honored four Massachusetts companies for excellence in international trade. The recipients of the 2018 Global Trade Awards were Universal Plastics of Holyoke, John Hancock of Boston, Bennett & Company of Newburyport and nuTonomy/APTIV of Boston.

Lawrence maintained that the Trump Administration used an overly broad definition of national security to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and a similarly broad interpretation of provisions that permit tariffs when foreign governments impose unreasonable burdens on US commerce.

The result, he said, has been that the United States has ceded world trade leadership to China.

“It leaves us with a severely damaged global trading system,” he said.