President Donald Trump said that President Ronald Reagan was his favourite president, except for one policy.
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump said that Reagan was his favourite president to have served in his lifetime, but disagreed with him on one issue: trade.
“Well, I like Reagan,” said Trump after Hannity asked which president he most admired. “I didn’t like him on trade but other than trade, I liked him very much and he was OK on trade. But not great.”
Trump also said Reagan was “not as strong on trade as I felt he should have been” and that he “disagreed with him on some things, primarily trade.”
Reagan’s record on trade is a bit mixed. In fact, Reagan first proposed a free trade agreement between the US and Mexico during his 1980 presidential run, signed off on a US-Canada deal in 1988, and inspired the idea of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In fact, in 1989, Reagan gave an impassioned defence of free trade in a letter to Congress. From the letter (emphasis ours):
“It is the primary responsibility of governments to promote sound and stable financial markets that encourage international commerce and to reduce barriers to trade at home and abroad. Reducing these barriers will allow markets, not governments, to determine the goods that society produces. Too often policies designed to preserve jobs in one industry reduce competitiveness and employment in other industries. A creative, competitive America is the answer to a changing world, not trade wars that close doors, create greater barriers, and destroy millions of jobs. We should always remember: Protectionism is destructionism. America’s jobs, America’s growth, America’s future depend on trade — trade that is free, open, and fair.“
At the same time, however, Reagan also imposed extreme tariffs against Japan — a massive trading partner with the US. Reagan restricted the number of Japanese cars that could be sold in the US, imposed a tariff on Japanese motorcycles, and even instituted a 100% tariff on Japanese electronics.
Trump has praised Reagan for his trade policies in the past, citing the Japanese tariffs.
President Reagan deployed similar trade measures when motorcycle and semiconductor imports threatened U.S. industry,” said Trump in a speech during the campaign. “I remember. His tariff on Japanese motorcycles was 45 per cent, and his tariff to shield America’s semiconductor industry was 100 per cent, and that had a big impact, folks. A big impact.”
Trump has taken a decidedly more protectionist approach, promising to renegotiate NAFTA and has pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Additionally, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, said the administration is considering a 20% border tax on Mexican goods that could eventually apply to all imports.
Trump has also said he is not opposed to “fair” trade deals and favours bilateral deals with individual countries over regional deals.
Many economists agree that Reagan’s Japanese tariffs were at least as harmful as helpful — if not more detrimental — but it seems that Trump is mostly following that part of Reagan’s trade legacy.