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Politics & Government

Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Are On Hold For Some Trade Partners

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The White House last night postponed a decision on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe, Canada and Mexico - so another month of uncertainty. President Trump now has until June 1 to make a decision. Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania is watching this closely because these tariffs or even just the threat of them can have an impact on his part of the Keystone State. His district is home to Hershey's chocolate. It is right next to Yuengling beer. These are both companies that use a lot of aluminum. And Congressman Dent joins us this morning. Welcome.

CHARLIE DENT: Hey, great to be with you, David.

GREENE: Congressman, we've heard about even the mere threat of the kinds of tariffs that the president is talking about can cause prices to rise. Are companies like Hershey's and Yuengling already feeling the effects of this?

DENT: Well, there's certainly concern. I had conversations with Hershey, certainly, about the aluminum tariffs. You know, they can produce 70 million kisses a day, Hershey kisses a day, which is a lot of loving. And the kisses are each...

GREENE: That's a lot, yeah (laughter).

DENT: Each wrapped in an aluminum foil. And so this is a very real threat to them. Certainly, companies like Yuengling - and Sam Adams has a brewery in my district - use a lot of aluminum, clearly for cans, certainly would all be impacted. And then there are many other users of steel and aluminum who are watching this very, very carefully. These are important inputs for many products and commodities in my area. And so we're watching this very carefully and of course watching for potential retribution as well.

GREENE: Well, Congressman, I want to just ask you about where to find the balance, if that's what might have to be done here. I mean, Bethlehem Steel was also located in your district. Your father, I know, worked there. This is a company that was a symbol of America's manufacturing dominance, but the company had trouble competing with foreign steel. So do you recognize the need for President Trump to do something like tariffs perhaps to help the domestic steel industry?

DENT: Well, I don't think tariffs are the remedy here. What the president should be focusing on - and at times he does - what he should focus on is the real issue with China, which is intellectual property theft and coercive technology transfers. That - those are the two biggest issues. But the way the president has gone about it by imposing tariffs first directed at friends and allies - you know, Canada and the EU and South Korea and Brazil - makes no sense.

We need those countries to help us at the WTO to take China on on intellectual property theft and coercive technology transfer. We need to be partnering with them, not threatening them with tariffs. So that's why it - this doesn't make any sense. The type of tariffs that we're talking about here I think represent crony capitalism of the worst type - protecting the few at the expense of the many.

GREENE: Is it an approach that takes President Trump away from the tradition of the Republican Party? I mean, it's a party that has always been committed to free trade. Is free trade still a Republican Party priority in 2018?

DENT: Well, we all believe in fair trade, but we also believe in opening markets for American producers. I mean, the problem with these trade wars is that nobody wins here. And so the president first started off, when the EU threatened retaliation on the aluminum and steel tariffs, they threatened Kentucky bourbon to hit Mitch McConnell, Harley-Davidson motorcycle to hit Paul Ryan and Levi jeans to hit Nancy Pelosi. The president then tweeted back, well, we're going to go after German car companies. And I said, hey, stop. You know, what did the German car companies do? What's their crime? Have they invested too much money in America? You know, BMW and Daimler and Volkswagen have massive facilities here. And, frankly, BMW is the largest exporters of cars from the United States, followed by Daimler. So, I mean, that's what I mean. This is going to spiral out of control.

GREENE: Congressman, before I let you go, you made some news recently when you announced that you will be resigning from Congress soon. A pretty long list of GOP members of Congress who are deciding to call it quits this year - what does this say about your party right now?

DENT: Well, I've been in office now since 1991, and I've been thinking about this for some time. But it's true. You know, we are running in a very difficult political environment as the midterm election of the party in power of a Republican president. And typically, the party in power loses on average about 32 seats, so that's nothing surprising there. I think - I believe that Donald Trump's presidency has certainly, you know, contributed to this, you know, toxic environment. And I believe that this election will be a referendum on the president of the United States and his conduct in office - simple as that.

And for many members of Congress, you know, they're kind of in a difficult position. You know, the - if they criticize Donald Trump, some members of the base will say they're being - they're traitors and any criticism - and then if - any criticism of the president by the far left will say, oh, my goodness, they're still sycophants. You know, it's never enough. So I think many members of Congress are kind of in a - Republican members of Congress are in a difficult spot with respect to how to, you know, manage the president.

GREENE: Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, we really appreciate you joining us this morning, sir.

DENT: Thank you, David, great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.