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Foster Senn: No, Ralph Norman Wasn’t Duped On Trade Issue

Congressman is pushing back against job-killing trade restrictions …

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by FOSTER SENN || Workers in South Carolina, like people everywhere, have endured their share of downs when it comes to international trade.  But it’s unfair to suggest Congressman Ralph Norman has been “duped” in a trade matter in supporting Samsung, which is building a major factory in Newberry, as James Boyd asserted in an October 20 letter to the editor.

Countless factors can affect trade flows in unexpected ways, such as political upheaval in other countries, recessions, and natural disasters.  And yes, too often other countries run afoul of trade rules. President Donald Trump was right to call attention to this during his presidential campaign.  However, picking fights with major trading partners is not a cure for the economic difficulties too many workers face.  Whirlpool’s petition to shut out the competition from South Korea would have just the opposite effect.

South Korea has been a staunch ally of the United States since the end of World War II and remains so today.  It is an alliance forged in blood. South Koreans remember in a very personal way the sacrifice of American soldiers, and Samsung has made a long-standing commitment to supporting American veterans.  In fact, as part of that effort and in appreciation, Samsung is hosting a free luncheon on Veterans Day in Newberry for all veterans in the county and their families.

Samsung, which is one of the world’s most innovative companies, is working now to build their new factory in Newberry, tripling the size of the already-large building formerly owned by Caterpillar.  Samsung committed to nearly 1,000 jobs at their announcement in July, and we now expect that number to rise significantly over that initial commitment.

This is a part of a trend.  International companies see in South Carolina a pro-business climate and a skilled workforce.  We’re excited to be part of that and are eager to see Samsung succeed in South Carolina.
Mr. Boyd’s letter indicates he wants to do the opposite.  His support for limiting South Korean access to the U.S. market over highly debatable charges of unfair trade practices could prompt Samsung to rethink its plans in South Carolina and LG its planned facility in Tennessee, which is expected to employ 600 workers.  New tariffs would also surely lead to a less competitive marketplace where washing machines cost more for everyone, no matter the brand a consumer buys.

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(Via: iStock)

Mr. Boyd seems certain the new facility will fall short on economic benefits and eagerly points out that the Newberry factory will house the assembly stage rather than the complete manufacturing process.  Whether we like it or not, this is how manufacturing works in today’s highly-integrated system of global parts suppliers and equipment makers.  The days of unloading steel and rubber on one end of factory and having a car come out the other side are long gone.  South Carolina will be served by welcoming companies that want to create jobs here, not by balking over whether they are the kinds of jobs some places had in the good old days.

Locally, in addition to Samsung readying their factory, Samsung suppliers have contacted local economic officials in Newberry and neighboring towns about possibly locating facilities here.  That’s good for all of us.
Mr. Boyd also seems sure that Samsung would readily abandon the state as soon as economic conditions change. To be sure, there are no certainties in today’s rapidly changing economy.  This reality applies to U.S. firms as well. But let’s remember, Samsung is setting up shop in a facility closed by an American firm.  In addition, Hyundai and Kia plan to spend $3.1 billion in the U.S. in the next five years.  We have no guarantees how many people Samsung will employ in Newberry 10-20 years from now, but there might be no new jobs at all if our country is actively working to prevent Samsung from selling washing machines here.

South Carolina has been able to revive communities across the state by attracting businesses from around the country and from overseas.  If President Trump were to effectively shut out Korean-made washers and risk the investment Samsung has planned for Newberry, it would be an affront to our state’s economic development efforts.   More broadly, barring washing machine imports would also run the risk of retaliation by Korea. Before long it would be American products, made by American workers that could be shut out of Korea’s large and growing market.  This would undo the progress brought about by the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. In essence, the jobs in Newberry that would be put at risk by import restrictions could be just the tip of the iceberg in job-killing trade battles.

We appreciate Governor Henry McMaster, Congressman Norman, and the SC delegation working to make sure this doesn’t happen. We’re excited about Samsung’s future in South Carolina and look forward to 2018 when products begin rolling off the Samsung assembly line in Newberry.

Foster Senn is the mayor of Newberry, South Carolina.

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