If only Donald Trump had gone to E. Rivers Elementary School on Peachtree Battle Avenue the way that he did, the president might have learned a few things about international trade before threatening the U.S.’s closest trading partners with new tariffs, Ambassador Charles Shapiro told a Kiwanis Club of Atlanta luncheon on Tuesday, March 6.
Mr. Shapiro cited his personal experience at E. Rivers by reviewing a few playground rules he learned as a kid.
“If you push somebody, they will push you back,” he said during his luncheon address. “If you trip somebody, they will trip you. And if you raise tariffs they will raise tariffs on you.”
As if on cue Thursday, a group of 11 nations including the U.S.’s allies like Japan, Canada and Australia signed a diluted version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of as soon as he assumed office.
The new deal signed in Santiago, Chile— known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership — may not be as rigorous as the original TPP. But, nevertheless, it drops tariffs drastically and establishes sweeping new trade rules in markets that represent about a seventh of the world economy.
The new agreement is widely viewed as an indication that the U.S. is no longer in a leadership position when it comes to forging new trade regulations and it is a direct rebuke of the Trump administration’s threats to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the countries that may be considered its closest friends and neighbors.
To underscore his point, Mr. Shapiro who currently serves as president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, recalled the scene in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where the high school students fall asleep during a lecture about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act which enacted a round of tariffs in 1930 that exacerbated the Great Depression.
Mr. Shapiro kept prodding individual members of Kiwanis not to fall asleep like the students in the movie as he reviewed today’s trade figures because of the dire consequences that Mr. Trump’s policies may bring into play.
Aside from having taught at Riverwood High School early in his career, Mr. Shapiro was U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 2002-04 and held numerous senior positions at the U.S. State Department including principal deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere. From 2011-2013 he was the president of the Institute of the Americas, a think tank at the University of California, San Diego.
When asked about the plight of foreign service personnel at the end of his speech, he said the most “egregious” shortcoming was that the U.S. has no ambassador to South Korea.
“All across the State Department and our embassies the offices are empty,” he said. There are people who fill in, but they don’t have the same authority.” He also referred to the absence of ambassadors to Mexico and Panama as well as assistant secretaries who have resigned from their posts.
At the very beginning of his remarks, he disclaimed partisan loyalties. “Like a lot of foreign service officers I tend to be conservative on foreign policy and liberal on domestic policy.” He defined himself as both a “Scoop” Jackson Democrat, referring to the former U.S. Senator from Washington who supported the military and took a hard line against the Soviet Union and a Nelson Rockefeller Republican, the former vice president who was considered a moderate.
In reference to President Trump’s vacillation on tariff policies, Mr. Shapiro drew a laugh from the Kiwanians when he quoted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ reaction to a Sunday television show commentator when he said, “I just said what he has said and he has said it. If he says something different, it will be different.”
In the midst of his remarks as he was explaining the national security grounds for the proposed policies regarding steel and aluminum, Mr. Shapiro couldn’t restrain from saying “This makes no sense” as if Canada and Mexico would bar exporting steel to the U.S. should it come under attack.
He also referred to the sophisticated responses that the U.S.’s current trading partners will take if the U.S. measures are implemented citing products made in the districts of various Trump supporters and in critical industries.
Mr. Shapiro was particularly defensive about the impact that the tariffs might have on Canada and Mexico, saying that NAFTA represents three countries, including the U.S., but only “one economy.”
While agreeing that NAFTA was “a senior citizen” agreement that needed to be rejuvenated, he said that the supply chains of all three are so intertwined that to pull the economies apart would be like “pulling arteries and veins and nerves apart.”