TIME TO RIGHT THE SHIP
The era of President Trump has begun and early returns are … mixed. One thing is for sure: Trade is more prevalent as a household topic than at any time I can recall. Not just because Trump, in his first week, followed through on campaign promises to take a scythe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and initiate the renegotiation of NAFTA, but because of, well, all the other stuff.
Having declared his intention to be “the greatest jobs president God ever created,” and having emphasized an American manufacturing renaissance and a better trade balance as the means to achieve that divine distinction, the hopeful among us are clinging to optimism that our president has calculated the impact of how his seemingly unrelated tweets, activities and executive actions affect present and future trade negotiations.
Banning immigration from seven war-torn and/or extremism-prone nations may be legally justified and even understandable for a country grappling with terrorism, but the timing seems rushed, the plan incomplete, and the administration never controlled the message that its focus is on extremism, not religion. All of this put the nation on a collision course with trading partners who want to distance themselves from the ban’s—I hate this term—optics. Likewise, publicizing deliberations with Mexico can’t be viewed through the simple lens of harsh negotiation alone; there are repercussions. And tampering with the National Security Council is another piece of controversy not currently needed.
I support President Trump. There’s no doubt he’s controversial, but that’s what comes with great change, and great change has been needed. Much of the media coverage has been hysterical, dishonest and embarrassing for our nation—not reporting on division, but creating it. I’ve found that Trump’s statements and actions have not typically justified the sustained level of panic and outrage; but I also agree with policies that put Americans first and am therefore giving him the benefit of the doubt. Still, I do wonder if Mr. Trump has paid attention to his P&L of public opinion. It seems he may be making the rookie mistake of too much action, and Ready, Fire, Aim doesn’t work from the bully pulpit.
The problem, from this writer’s perspective, is that the first tumbler in the puzzle of unlocking American greatness isn’t taxes or regulations—it’s stabilizing the uncertainty. Americans, and businesspeople especially, want a firm foundation. To that end, the country needs to get some answers before it gets more questions—about whether their exports should expect high tariffs, whether we’ll be footing the bill for import tariffs, and whether we can hope the best parts of the TPP will be reincarnated as bilateral trade deals. Time to holster your thumbs, Mr. President, and bring your negotiations—whatever style you prefer—behind the closed doors of the Oval Office. The U.S.-based manufacturers looking to keep and expand their global presence need to know they can count on good relations with allies new and old.
In short, we need more of the President Trump we met during UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit, and much less of the showman who painted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto into a corner for all the world to see. I support the president because I believe his intentions are good, justified and right for the United States—but proper execution must follow because we know where roads paved with good intentions alone eventually lead.
On a final and unrelated note, this will be my last opportunity to regale you, dear reader, with my searing wit and charm, as I’ve made the difficult decision to step down at Global Trade and join my family’s business. In parting, let me say it has been an absolute privilege to lead a team of such talented professionals who worked mercilessly while I absconded with all the credit. From Day One, the feedback for Global Trade has been humbling and highly motivating—so my sincere thanks to our audience, to Drew Lawler and his family for this transformational opportunity, and to my brilliant team! Over and out. n