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Retaliation over US tariffs could hurt GOP pols

By AII HEPING in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-03-19 22:54
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Kentucky has bourbon and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Wisconsin has Harley-Davidson motorcycles and cranberries and Paul Ryan, the Republican leader of the US House of Representatives.

Florida has oranges and was a key swing state for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Those products and others are on a list put together by the European Union for a 25 percent levy on around $3.5 billion worth of imports from the US if the Trump administration imposes tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

It's a list aimed directly at the home states of the two top Republican lawmakers, McConnell and Ryan, as well as states that were important to Trump's election as president and will be in his re-election effort.

Though China hasn't put out such a hit list of US products as retaliation for tariffs threatened by the US, analysts expect one of its targets would be agriculture, and that could hurt Trump's support in farm belt states, along with Republicans who represent them in Congress. Kentucky, Wisconsin and Florida are three states Trump won to become president.

Referring to the Chinese, Jim McGregor, the chairman of the greater China region for APCO Worldwide, a Washington-based independent global public affairs and strategic communications consultancy, said: "They know our system inside out. They know what companies are important to Paul Ryan. They know what companies are important to Mitch McConnell. They know which trade associations and political groups have a big voice in Washington.''

The selective tariff technique threatened now by the EU was used in 2002 during the last trade dispute between it and the US. The EU targeted orange juice produced in Florida, a state whose governor, Jeb Bush, was the brother of then-US president George W. Bush.

"We had a lot of fun because we knew it was the kind of situation where we were sure to win," Paul Defraigne, the former chief of staff for the European Trade Commissioner serving in 2002, told Politico.

Kentucky-made bourbon is an $8.5 billion industry and accounts for as many as 17,500 jobs and creates $825 million in tax revenue every year, according to the Distillers' Association. Kentucky makes 95 percent of the world's bourbon supply. Bourbon is America's only native spirit.

Cecilia Malmstrom, a Swede who serves as European commissioner for trade, confirmed bourbon was on the list of possible targets. "Very soon that list will be public," she said, so you will be "able to plan your whiskey drinking".

In Wisconsin, where Milwaukee is the headquarters of Harley-Davidson, roughly 16 percent of its sales are to Europe.

Europe also is the largest export market for US cranberries, and Wisconsin is the world's top producer. The US ships more than 95 million pounds of the red fruit a year to the 28 countries in the European Union, according to Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers. That's more than any other destination, and accounts for about 12 percent of domestic production.

As for agriculture, restrictions on legumes would hit farmers in the middle of the Trump-supporting rural Midwest.

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