NASHVILLE - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn plans to raise concerns in a letter this week to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross regarding the impact of President Donald Trump's trade policies on Tennessee.
In a draft of the letter obtained by the Times Free Press, the Brentwood congressman cites the "grave potential for retaliatory tariffs to adversely impact industries across the state.
"Tennesseans stand to suffer disproportionate and negative consequences relative to other states given the large presence of industries that rely on international trade, such as automotive, agriculture, and distilled spirits," Blackburn says in the letter, which others are expected to sign before it's expected to be sent Wednesday to the commerce chief.
She also says that "while we support the goal of addressing unfair trade practices, we urge you to reconsider broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to Tennessee's economy and workers. We look forward to working with you in pursuing a targeted approach that achieves our common goal."
The letter represents some of Blackburn's strongest comments yet about Trump's bare-knuckled tactics in seeking to renegotiate international trade deals, not just with China but close U.S. security and trading partners including Mexico, Canada and the European Union.
Following Trump's imposition earlier this month of tariffs on steel and aluminum respectively at 25 percent and 10 percent, some countries are retaliating with their own measures, some of them impacting GOP politically dominated states like Tennessee.
Blackburn's expected Senate Democratic opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, has hit trade concerns hard. Republican U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander as well as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam have voiced concerns too.
Citing as an example Mexico's plans to slap a 25 percent tariff on U.S. whiskey, Blackburn noted that shares of Brown-Forman, owner of Lynchburg-based Jack Daniel's Distillery, dropped eight percent because foreign sales comprise 60 percent of the company's overall market share.
"Tariffs are meant to punish bad actors, not harm American businesses," Blackburn says in the letter draft.
She also points a finger of blame at China, noting the U.S.'s trade deficit in goods stood at $810 billion in 2017. The deficit with China growing more than $365 billion between 1990 and 2017. It "is correct to assert that America has been taken advantage of by foreign countries, such as China," she says.
"Americans want trade that is both free and fair. We should not accept continued intellectual property theft by the Chinese or large tariffs being placed on American exports. However, protectionist trade policies have historically failed to yield benefits for consumers."
She cites the negative impacts of then-President George W. Bush's 30 percent tariff on Chinese steel and later then-President Barack Obama's three-year tariff on car tires, saying they both "generated significantly more economic costs than benefits, and resulted in a net loss of U.S. jobs. We are concerned that negative outcomes like these may be amplified when applied on a larger scale."
Meanwhile, Bredesen went up on the air this week with a new 30-second TV spot that starts with his reiterating his stance that he will support Trump on issues when "it's good for Tennessee" but oppose him when he believes "it's something that hurts Tennessee."
"That's why I'm fine on his outreach to North Korea. He had to try. But if he proposes something that hurts Tennessee, I'll oppose it. And these new tariffs hurt us. They hurt our auto industry, our farmers and the Tennessee exports like Jack Daniel's."