Trump has repeatedly criticized trade deals struck by his predecessors and argued that they hurt American workers. He has therefore pledged to make trade more fair to the U.S.
Kirk said that trade was a “pretty convenient whipping boy” in the country.
“Every manufacturing job that’s been lost, we tend to blame it on NAFTA or something else,” he said. “And it’s a much more difficult reality to confront the fact that the overwhelming majority of jobs lost … has been due to innovation and the introduction of robotics, and it’s going to accelerate with artificial intelligence. But it’s a lot easier to blame that on trade.”
U.S. trading partners would likely take retaliatory measures against American exporters. Already, the European Union and Canada criticized the announcement and promised countermeasures to defend their national interests. Analysts also expect China to enact its own duties that could hurt U.S. exporters.
Previous administrations have also imposed tariffs on U.S. imports to protect domestic interests — President Bush did that with steel imports, and President Obama, with Chinese tires.
“There’s nothing wrong with implementing these tariffs but they have to be done in a thoughtful way,” Kirk said. He pointed out that the Bush and Obama administrations imposed tariffs in a more targeted manner and over a specific period of time.
Still, various reports have suggested those measures ultimately did not help the American domestic economy in the manner they were intended to.
“But the challenge we have here is when you have a president that has used tariffs as part of a political agenda, more to gain political market share than to really thoughtfully address market disparities in the global trading system, it almost certainly invites retaliation,” Kirk said.
“I’m hopeful that the reality of the impact of this will soften some of the president’s actions,” he added.