In an interview with Fox Business today, Senator Portman highlighted the positive news on trade at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina last week. Senator Portman, who was the U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration, has been a leading voice in the Senate on U.S. trade policy and serves on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues. Last week, Portman issued a statement applauding the signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. 

Portman also discussed General Motor’s decision to shut down its plant in Lordstown, Ohio in March of 2019. Portman is scheduled to meet with GM CEO Mary Barra tomorrow to urge her to keep the plant open.                                                                           

Excerpts of his interview can be found below and a video can be found here

 

PORTMAN ON TRADE DECISIONS AT THE G20 SUMMIT: 

“I think we had a very positive week in trade, let’s be honest. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the meeting at the G20 between President Trump and President Xi. It turned out to have set up a process. We know who is in charge. Bob Lighthizer will negotiate for us. We know that the Chinese are willing to make some concessions early in terms of buying more of our product. Over the longer haul they’re willing to talk about the other issues that have to be talked about in my view, which is more of the structural changes in our relationship and specifically on intellectual property. Second, Mexico signed the U.S.-Mexico free trade agreement with Canada. It has been positive. I know the markets are moving on a lot of different things but overall when the market, the Dow, hit 26 yesterday, I think that was an indication people saw the positive. Now maybe they’re seeing that it’s going to be hard. It is always hard, particularly negotiating with China. But it is important that we’re making progress. I’m very pleased with what’s happened the past few days.” 

PORTMAN ON PRESIDENT TRUMP & TRADE: 

“I have seen with regard to the NAFTA deal being revamped that he is willing to figure out how to make a deal. He has done so also with South Korea in the last several months, which didn’t get much notice, but that’s positive. Now with the EU, we have the ability to take a breather and try to negotiate something. He seems to also want to negotiate agreements with Japan and England, with the UK. So there is opportunity here, I think, to actually make progress even though the president may in fact like the idea of tariffs because in his view, it brings more revenue in. The problem with tariffs, of course, is that when we increase tariffs in other countries, they increase them on us and then you end up with an escalation that leads to a higher prices for the people who I represent when they’re trying to buy something and fewer exports for our farmers and workers in Ohio. I’m a former U.S. Trade Representative, as you know.  I’m not someone who believes it ought to be just unfettered trade. I think we ought to have strict rules that ought to be enforced but that doesn’t mean you can’t have trade on a level playing field between countries. That ought to be our objective.”  

“The president wants us to have reciprocity with other countries if they have high tariffs on our automobiles, for instance, and his notion is let’s put tariffs on theirs to get both of us to lower those tariffs. That is a good thing. That’s what we’ve seen with regard to some of these negotiations where the president has taken a tougher position but ultimately with the objective of getting tariffs down for both parties, which helps our exporters because we do have the ability here in America now to make things with our new tax legislation, the new regulatory reforms that are in place, things that he promoted. It’s made America a better place to do business. It’s made America a better place, specifically, to manufacture something to export it abroad.” 

PORTMAN ON GM CLOSING LORDSTOWN PLANT: 

“My goal is similar to what it has been really for the last several months because as you recall, they shut down one shift and then another shift, and now we have one shift left at the Lordstown plant in Ohio. This is a huge plant that produces the Cruze vehicle. I understand that the Cruze is not selling well. That is a market condition. What I don’t understand is why this plant, which has been an award-winning plant—got a JD Power Award just this year in fact for being effective and competitive—why this plant can’t continue to be used for other products. That’s what I’m talking to them about, not let’s save the Cruze, that is up to the consumer, but let’s bring in another product that can be made there. Specifically, General Motors is making over 20 new electric vehicles just in the next five years.”  

PORTMAN ON GM CEO MARY BARRA: 

“As she told me she is hesitant to raise expectations that can’t be met. She said she will keep an open mind. That is what I’m counting on, we’ve got a great workforce there, a great facility, great asset, huge community support and working together with state and local officials. My hope is that the federal government can help her to make the right decision, which is to bring electric vehicles to Ohio.” 

PORTMAN ON HOW TAX REFORM HAS HELPED GM: 

“We’ve already helped General Motors in a huge way in the same way we’ve also helped other U.S. manufacturers. We’ve lowered the corporate tax rate to make our companies competitive so they’ll make things here. We have provided for immediate expensing, which is exactly what you need to do to revamp a plant for another product. We have now the most competitive tax structure in those two areas of any of our competitors. Mexico has a 30 percent tax rate as an example. Ours is 21 percent. We also have electric vehicle credit that’s very important to General Motors. We can go either way on that as to whether we continue to help companies trying to compete with China and others. China is once again trying to corner the market on another product. They make about half the electric vehicles now sold around the world. They’ve decided to make that a priority for them. We need to be sure that America continues to be on the cutting edge of innovation and invention on electric vehicles. There are ways the federal government can help. It’s not directly in terms of tax abatements and so on that the states or local government can do, but we’ve created an environment for success. That’s exactly what General Motors ought to take advantage of by investing more in America.”

 

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