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Sen. Sherrod Brown On China's Trade Policies


President Trump talked a whole lot about China on the campaign trail, and specifically what he called that country's unfair trade policies. Now his administration is poised to do something about it. The U.S. is set to launch an investigation into China's technology trade practices. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling to Southeast Asia tomorrow to meet with allies in the region, and China's trade dominance is sure to come up.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is a Democrat, and he supports this move by the Trump administration. He's on the line now. Senator, thanks for being here.

SHERROD BROWN: Good to be back, Rachel. Thank you.

MARTIN: This is a rare point of agreement between you and President Trump.

BROWN: Yeah, it's a point of agreement. I - two days after the election I wrote to the president's new transition - the transition person on trade and offered my help on renegotiating NAFTA and enforcing steel laws like Section 232 and other things.

And so far it's mixed. I'm hopeful that - I'm very optimistic with what Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was about to do in terms of launching this trade - this investigation of a three - it's called a 301 case about technology transfer, which, if successful, means jobs in places like Cleveland and Lorain and Youngstown, Ohio. That's the good news. The bad news is they were going to do it today and there's another White House delay. And we've seen a pattern here.

MARTIN: So let's back up a little bit and talk about what this - if it happens, what this investigation would potentially unveil. What is the central question that it would try to answer?

BROWN: Well, the question is China has been gaming the system a lot of ways. One of the ways is they demand - in order to get access to their market, they demand a technology transfer. In other words, U.S. companies that want to sell in China, hey, come on in, but you've got to give us your technology to come to sell in China. And that's clearly a violation of international trade law. And Ambassador Lighthizer is self - what's called self-initiating. He didn't even wait for a company to launch a complaint, which companies would do, but that takes longer. He's moving forward.

But - so that was scheduled to happen today. It's been - I hope it's only delayed and not overridden by the White House because we see a president saying the right things on trade. We see Ambassador Lighthizer, who has been very good. He happens to be from my wife's hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, for what that's worth. And we see Secretary Ross generally doing the right thing on what's called a 232 investigation, which also will translate into U.S. jobs.

But we also see a White House that looks far too much like a corporate retreat for Wall Street executives that seems to be slow-walking or delaying or even maybe stopping some of these efforts coming from the parts of the federal government that are doing the right thing.

It's a little bit upside down, but that's why we're watching so - that's why we're so vigilant and watching and making sure that the president does what he said he'd do and allow the - his Cabinet members to do what they have started to do.

MARTIN: So - but if this investigation moves forward, I mean, this is something that experts say could lead to U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, which could in turn lead to a trade war that would then penalize American consumers. Is that concerning to you?

BROWN: Well, of course that's always a concern. But this crying out trade war every time the U.S. stands up for its interests - I mean, clearly there is no level playing field when it comes to U.S.-China trade relations. We back down time and time again. We say the right things and we back down. And I'm hopeful that's not happening here.

I trust secretary - Ambassador Lighthizer on this fully, but I'm hopeful the White House isn't gaming this like they have on some other things. So I - as I said, I want to work with them on this. To me, it's about jobs in my state. It's about American jobs. It's about standing up for fair trade.

These trade agreements have - what's happened in our country in the last 30 years is we follow - business after business has adopted a - has adopted a sort of a business plan where they shut down production in Newark or Mansfield or Toledo, Ohio, they move overseas with a tax break, and then they sell those products back into the United States. That's never really happened in economic history to the extent it's happened here. It's happening far too often, and our trade policy and tax policy in far too many cases enable that.

MARTIN: Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. He supports a proposal by the Trump administration to launch an investigation into China's technology trade practices. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning.

BROWN: Glad to be with you. Thank you, Rachel. See you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.