Dennis A. Black: Is It China Virus, Swamp Fever, or the Inmates Running the Asylum in Washington?

Last month the US Commerce Department placed Chinese tech giant Huawei and dozens of its affiliates on an "entity list" on grounds of national security
AFP/FRED DUFOUR

The China virus has become the latest go-to excuse for everyone who opposes President Trump’s America First agenda.

Want to destroy Trump supporting small businesses? China virus!

Want to let felons out of prison? China virus!

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the mother ship of globalism, got in the act, conveniently citing the China virus as a reason to get rid of the tariffs President Trump is using to protect American workers from trade cheaters, tariffs the Chamber has opposed all along.

Now it seems the pandemic-ate-my-homework stalling tactic is surging inside the administration.

For the past three years, President Trump pro-America trade agenda was producing real results for domestic industries.

The Commerce Department aggressively enforced our laws to stop foreign companies from unfairly dumping steel and other goods in the U.S. at prices below the cost of production.

The Trump administration made full use of the legal tools at their disposal to enforce our anti-dumping (AD) laws with tariffs, known as countervailing duties (CVD).

That was then.

Now, the man in charge of enforcement at the Commerce Department, Assistant Secretary Jeff Kessler, seems to be using the China virus as an excuse to stop enforcing the laws he should be implementing.

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 they 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.
Assistant Secretary Kessler has the authority to get tough, but he refuses to use it to protect American producers where there is ample evidence of cheating by foreign bad actors.
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.

The picture we see is not a pretty one. Kessler’s failure to enforce the law is allowing cheaters to game the system, destroying the integrity of the Commerce Department and undermining President Trump’s program of aggressive trade enforcement.

This is a return to the bad old days when previous administrations let trade cases drag on for years, let American producers go broke and American workers lose their jobs.

Why is this happening?

Is it because Kessler doesn’t understand that justice delayed is justice denied?

Is it because the inmates running the asylum – are the deep state holdovers from previous administrations running Kessler rather than the other way around?

Or is it because of that special swamp fever endemic to Washington?

Remember, before Jeff Kessler was Assistant Commerce Secretary, he was a lawyer defending the very same foreign companies he’s now supposed to get tough on.

Maybe he hopes to work for them again after he leaves the Commerce Department. That’s how the revolving door works in Washington.

But whatever the reason, it appears Kessler, like so many others, is using the China virus as an excuse to thwart President Trump’s America First agenda. He is pulling punches and surrendering enforcement of the trade laws.

He needs to man up, remember who he works for – President Trump and the American people – and fix the problems in his shop.

Otherwise, American industry will suffer, American workers will suffer, and President Trump will pay a price at the ballot box this November.

Dennis A. Black is President of the American Jobs Alliance, an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization.

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