The impact of trade policy on Montana’s economy has never been more clear than in the last month when three major announcements came out of the Trump White House.
First, and most importantly to Northwest Montana, President Trump ordered a new tariff of up to 24 percent on Canadian softwood lumber.
This has been a necessary and long-overdue step that the U.S. lumber industry has been after for literally decades. Cheap timber supplied at little or no cost to Canadian lumber companies from crown-owned forests has resulted in a massive pricing advantage for Canadian imports. The fact that the Canadians have routinely denied that the subsidy exists just adds insult to injury.
Sens. Daines and Tester have given bipartisan support to the president, with Daines praising Trump for taking “decisive action to put America first” and Tester applauding Trump “for taking this decisive step in our effort to ensure Montana mills are getting a fair price for their quality product.”
Meanwhile, on Friday the Trump administration announced a trade deal with Beijing that will allow U.S. beef exports to China, something that several administrations have failed to bring about. The beef deal, along with other components of the pact, led U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to declare, “This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade.”
Probably hyperbole, but certainly a step in the right direction.
As for the last trade policy change announced by President Trump, it is sadly too late for Montana and Flathead County, but it is still instructive on how an engaged White House can create and save jobs.
In late April, President Trump signed an order directing an investigation into whether foreign aluminum poses a threat to U.S. national security.
It’s too late to make a difference to the Columbia Falls Aluminum plant, which has been largely dismantled and on its way to becoming a Superfund cleanup site, but it is an important reminder of how important our natural resources are not just to our economy but to our sovereignty.
Just last year alone, U.S. production of aluminum declined 47 percent as a result of pressure from foreign competition. That has meant not just a loss of lots of high-paying jobs, but also an unhealthy reliance on foreign sources for a vital commodity.
Say what you will about President Trump as a politician, there can be no doubt that in his first four months on the job, he has had a big impact on the economy. In that, we wish him well.