clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

EDITORIAL: Trump’s trade war comes rolling down over Illinois

Lobster fisherman Ernie Piton looks out from his boat Risky Business in Key Largo, in the Florida Keys on July 23. Lobster fishermen in the Florida Keys fear a trade war with China could undermine storm recovery in the island chain. Lobsters are among the seafood and other U.S. goods hit by Chinese tariffs in early July, after the Trump administration put tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of Chinese goods. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Unless it can win an exemption from the Trump administration’s new tariffs on imports, a South Carolina company is about to lay off almost all its workers.

Everybody knew this was coming. Economists have warned that President Donald Trump’s tariffs would hammer many American businesses, raising costs and inviting other nations to impose punishing tariffs of their own.

But it’s sure come fast.

This is where Gov. Bruce Rauner comes in. The governor, who is nothing if not an astute businessman, understands the folly of a trade war, especially for a state like Illinois that does a massive business in agricultural exports. Rauner and every elected official on down should be stepping up demands for an end to Trump’s ever-escalating trade war.


The South Carolina company, Element Electronics, may be an isolated case. It assembles televisions and relies on parts imported from China — parts that now cost much more because of Trump’s tariffs.

But Elements Electronics is more likely an early sign of things to come. The trade war is on, with Elements Electronics among the first American casualties, and Illinois, too, is under fire. Among all states, Illinois was China’s third-biggest trading partner in 2017.

This week, China announced a new 25 percent charge on $16 billion worth of U.S. exports. That followed the announcement of a final list of $16 billion worth of tariffs to be imposed by the United States on Chinese goods. On top of that, the Trump administration is threatening to add another round of tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese products in the fall.

Some Illinois companies, such as Chicago-based ADM, appear to be profiting from the trade war. ADM has attracted new customers to take some of China’s old business. But other companies are facing higher costs and a decline in customers. Illinois, as the state that grows the most soybeans, is particularly vulnerable to the retaliatory tariff on soybeans China has imposed.

The trade war not only is sure to raise prices and hurt many businesses. It also creates greater uncertainty for state and local government finances, something Illinois and Chicago can ill afford. As jobs and businesses are lost, tax revenues will decline, though those losses could be offset by increased sales tax revenues from higher prices.

President Donald Trump says trade wars are easily won. Then again, back in March his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, confidently predicted that other nations would not even retaliate against Trump’s tariffs.

Navarro didn’t know what he was talking about, and all the evidence since says the Trump administration had no idea what it was getting into.

Illinois is looking like a Mexican pinata, which, for all we know, Trump will slap a tariff on next.

Send letters to