Is a Rogue Trump Appointee Trying to Deep-Six the President’s America First Agenda on Trade?


As improbable as it may seem, a high-level Trump appointee in the Commerce Department may be working against the President’s America first trade agenda. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Jeffrey Kessler is said to be slow-walking investigations into countries that may be cheating on trade deals, at the expense of American manufacturers and workers.

According to American Jobs Alliance President Dennis Black, writing for Breitbart.com in August, “Commerce recently gave itself a 110-day extension in more than 200 ongoing trade cases, ostensibly to help free up ‘resources and personnel’ to do its job during the pandemic. But that excuse doesn’t add up. Kessler’s Commerce Department is routinely granting extensions when the foreign companies charged with violating our trade laws ask for them. Kessler is also letting foreign companies delay turning over the evidence our investigators need to do their job. These delays are inconsistent with what other countries are doing during the pandemic. And when those same foreign companies try to game the system by asking to change the evidence they previously certified was accurate, Kessler plays along and says yes, sure. On top of that, the agency is now canceling audits of foreign producers. Without these verifications to hold foreign companies accountable, the Commerce Department can’t enforce the law.”

Making matters worse, since March the Commerce Department and other federal departments have been working from home.

As a result of COVID-19 delays in trade enforcement, per Black, “Over the last few months, Commerce has effectively imposed zero tariffs on various categories of unfairly priced steel dumped on our shores including Forged Steel Fluid End Blocks, Fabricated Structural Steel, Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG) and Flat Rolled Steel.”

On July 7, Assistant Secretary Kessler issued a proposed regulation in the Federal Register to supposedly “Improve Administration and Enforcement of Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Laws,” but according to Black, the opposite is occurring. Kessler is responsible for enforcing U.S. trade law with other countries and has wide latitude and authority to issue sanctions against cheaters. However, in recent months, he appears to be asleep at the wheel.

With the pandemic delays in trade remedy enforcement in recent months, at a time when more and more antidumping and countervailing cases are being filed and the U.S. is emerging from the spring COVID-19 recession, manufacturing, agriculture and Americans workers have never been more vulnerable to subsidies and illegal dumping.  The so-called 232 remedy which imposes a 25 percent  tariff on foreign steel (with exceptions for Canada and Mexico) provides only partial coverage for steel products, making anti-dumping and countervailing duty enforcement all the more important.

A big part of Donald Trump’s appeal in 2016 was his promise to restore American jobs and get tough on countries that were taking advantage of us. Kessler, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2019, presumably knew the president’s agenda when he took the job. His role as an appointee is to implement it, not block it.

American workers suffer when foreign countries cheat on trade deals. If Kessler is not willing to enforce our trade deals, and support President Trump’s America First agenda, he should resign. If workers in America’s heartland suffer because China and other countries are artificially lowering the price of steel, President Trump could suffer politically in November.

The stated COVID-19 excuse for these delays is wearing thin. Workers in America’s vital manufacturing sector are getting back to work, but somehow, D.C. bureaucrats are still stuck at home? It is time for the Commerce Department and the International Trade Administration to get back to work like the rest of America and do their jobs.

Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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