Politics & Government

Day after stocks plunge, Graham tells SC businesses trade war will ‘cause some pain’

South Carolina businesses and consumers will feel some pain in coming months from President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade war with China, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Thursday while talking to an association of state homebuilders.

A day after Wednesday’s stock tumble, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 800 points, Graham told members of a South Carolina homebuilders and construction association that an escalating trade war with China, including tariffs, “are going to hurt.”

Then he defended the trade war, saying the feud with China is unavoidable in order to get them to change their unfair business practice.

“You’re going to feel it in your supply chain,” the Seneca Republican said Thursday in Columbia during a meeting of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. “This China dispute is going to cause us some pain. But, if we don’t pay now, we’re going to pay later.”

The Trump administration has steadily raised tariffs on about $250 billion of Chinese goods, and threatens to slap a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion worth of Chinese imports not already being taxed, including many household products.

On Wednesday, bond markets reeled and economists sounded a warning over fears U.S. economic expansion would slow or grind to a halt next year.

Trump has said he levied the tariffs in the hopes of pressuring reforms to Chinese business practices that have led to intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers that hamstring U.S. companies’ ability to compete in Chinese markets.

“They take your product and knock it off, and nobody can compete with a country like that,” Graham said. “So the president is pushing back, and it’s hurting them more than it’s hurting us economically.”

Graham could not say how long the trade war could drag on, but assured Trump is determined to reach a deal “to make sure China is a better business partner than they’ve been.”

“And there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the president to do a deal,” Graham said. “This is the last chance in my life time and your life time to get China to play by the rules. They’re too big to allow them to cheat.”

Graham: immigration key to workforce

Immigration reform — and the dependence of S.C. businesses on migrant workers — also was a topic of discussion Thursday.

Speaking to reporters, Graham said: “We’ll take a dip in the stock market, but the economy is (structurally) sound. There are more jobs than there are workers. ... This is where a rational immigration system in the future helps.’

The S.C. homebuilders said they’re having a hard time finding workers sourced from other countries.

“In the last recession, a lot of folks that were in construction got out and found other ways to find to earn a living,” Earl Mcleod, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina, told The State after the event with Graham.

“We were slow to recover ... and a lot of (the workers who left the industry) were foreign workers that went back home. That, combined with young people not pursuing opportunities in construction, created a perfect storm in terms of us having a shortage of workers.”

Mcleod said the association supports immigration reform, including increasing work visas for those in the construction industry.

Graham said he is more determined than ever to fix the nation’s immigration system, including working with Democrats. He also said he spoke with Trump by phone Thursday about an immigration deal next year that would allow a pathway to citizenship for non-felon Dreamers, and in return “get a bump in legal labor” under a “merit-based” immigration system, including work and guest visas, to aid the construction and hospitality industries in South Carolina.

A Dreamer is an immigrant who came to the United States as a child, typically with a parent or guardian who entered the country illegally.

“If we don’t change our immigration system, we’re going to run out of workers in this country,” Graham said, adding long-term, the country must find a way to allow immigrants to come here to work, “pay taxes, obey the law, make their lives better and give you a reliable workforce. All of them don’t have to stay here to become citizens.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.
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