DiMicco talks Trump, trade and drinking the Kool-Aid

October 12, 2018

Former Nucor Corp. CEO Dan DiMicco stoutly defended the Trump administration’s aggressive foreign trade policy and tariffs at a metals convention Thursday in Charlotte. When a worried manufacturer asked how long the tariffs would last, the often prickly DiMicco declined to offer much comfort.

[John Downey | October 12, 2018 | BizJournals] 

“This issue is not going to go away until China fundamentally changes the way it does business with the world,” DiMicco said. “There’s no shortcut. All we can do is support the president until the Chinese sense our resolve.”

DiMicco, probably Charlotte’s best-known advocate of hard-line trade policies and chairman of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, was the keynote speaker for MetalCon, the metals convention and construction industry expo underway at the Charlotte Convention Center since Wednesday.

Manufacturing nation

DiMicco acknowledged President Donald Trump can be controversial — “He is not a politician, and it shows,” DiMicco said. But he contended Trump’s economic and trade policies should not be.

He told his audience the U.S. “must reassert itself as a great manufacturing nation” because it is in the midst of a 25-year-long trade war that he says China is winning. He said Trump's economic policy has the “economy firing on all cylinders” with low unemployment, strong profits, low inflation and wages showing some signs of strength.

DiMicco acknowledges there are “a lot of things people like about Trump ... and a lot that people don’t like about him.” But he argues that is not the point. “Whether you like him or not, you have to see that this is about more than one man.”

China problem

DiMicco has been sounding the alarm about China and what he calls its war on American manufacturing — not just steel, but automotive, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, intellectual property and the “technologies of the future” — since 1998.

At the core of his argument — an argument he made to Trump’s people as an adviser to the campaign and a member of the transition team — is that China has been undermining free trade since it was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001.

That was meant to foster China’s development as a market economy, but it failed, DiMicco said.

Not allies

He was questioned about why Trump’s tough trade policies and tariffs have gone beyond China and have been turned against U.S. allies, as well. He said the issues, such as oversupply of steel and aluminum, are global issues.

“And if our allies won’t join us willingly, we’re going to help them feel the same pain we are feeling,” DiMicco said. “So that they do come on board and fight the dragon out there. That’s why Canada is involved (in the tariffs). Why Mexico is. Japan is. Korea is. Europe is.”

He said they “are not our allies economically, from a trade standpoint.”

Not always friendly

DiMicco was alternately tough and amusing. His talk included a manure-based story involving a bird, a cow and a cat that ended with the punchline, “Not everyone who dumps on you is an enemy. Not everyone who digs you is a friend.”

And he was direct, if not always friendly. When one member of the audience maintained — in a series of questions — that it was hard to justify making manufacturers and other countries suffer the burden of tariffs as a tactic against China.

“It is absolutely necessary, as I already made my case for it,” DiMicco said, interrupting.

A dispute ensued in which the questioner insisted Chinese companies were a true economic player out to make profits like everybody else. DiMicco argued the government subsidizes their energy and materials costs, allows them to avoid environmental costs imposed in other countries and allows them to exploit their workers in ways that are not allowed in market economies.

“You need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid,” DiMicco went on. “We need to give the microphone to somebody else. Take the Kool-Aid away from him.” 

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