Editorial: Trump’s tech tariff war will hurt consumers, workers

Buyers beware. The biggest losers in President Donald Trump’s tech tariff war will be consumers.

Say goodbye to those low-priced laptops. And if you think the cost of an iPhone X is high, wait until China retaliates over Trump’s plan to impose $50 billion worth of tariffs and other penalties for its theft of technology and trade secrets.

ADVERTISING


Makers of cell phones and laptops Americans buy are dependent on Chinese factories for production. Apple’s iPhones, for example, are put together by the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, Foxconn Technology Group, which has an estimated 400,000 workers at its state-of-the-art plant in Zhengzhou, known there as “iPhone city.”

Trump tweeted March 2 that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

The opposite is true. The president’s grasp of history is weak, at best. But even he should know that the 1930 Smoot-Hawley protectionist trade policies on 20,000 imported goods exacerbated the U.S. recession into a global depression.

Of all of Trump’s blunders, this could be one of the worst of his presidency. China is without question a bad actor. But neither Trump nor the tech industry have done the work necessary to successfully pressure China to accede to U.S. demands.

That requires building a united front with our allies to fight Chinese policies that force tech companies to surrender billions of dollars in intellectual property in order to do business there.

Trump’s “America First” approach has instead repeatedly angered the European and Southeast Asian countries the United States needs most to help counter China. The president pulled out of the Paris Accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership, dissed NATO and NAFTA, and initiated a foreign policy approach that’s nearly impossible to decipher. What little is understood is universally trashed.

The tech industry has been equally inept — both at home and abroad — in cultivating support for its cause. Tech is increasingly seen as the root of all that is wrong with America.

Lawmakers are looking to force regulations on an industry that would prefer to be left alone. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made a weak apology Wednesday for the company’s mishandling of users’ information, further alienating consumers with legitimate privacy concerns. And the tech industry has repeatedly fought European countries over the EU’s scrutiny of digital misinformation and efforts to level the playing field for European competitors.

Two of the most knowledgeable members of Congress on tech issues, Bay Area Reps. Ro Khanna and Zoe Lofgren,agree that the better approach for reining in China is taking the case to the World Trade Organization, where fines and fees can be assessed for improper infringement.

ADVERTISING


“Throwing a tariff bomb at China is not the answer,” said Lofgren.

More than seven million Americans work in tech and the industry’s revenues are projected to reach a record $351 billion in 2018. The president must stop playing high-stakes poker with one of the biggest drivers of the U.S. economy.