July 26, 2018 / 8:26 PM / in 3 months

Republican lawmakers remain skeptical after Trump's EU deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Numerous congressional Republicans worried about jobs for constituents back home remained skeptical of President Donald Trump’s trade policies on Thursday, a day after Trump struck a surprise deal with the EU to halt further tariffs and hold talks on opening markets.

The Republican lawmakers, who face voters in congressional elections this autumn, spelled out their anxieties in a meeting at the U.S. Capitol with Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, and his economic chief, Larry Kudlow.

“Let me tell you, that was a vociferous bunch in there, and I was not the only one,” Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky told reporters after the closed-door gathering. Barr said he had sought to find out from Navarro and Kudlow what the impact of Wednesday’s deal would be on Kentucky’s bourbon industry.

Last month, the European Union imposed tariffs on bourbon, American motorcycles, orange juice and other products in response to the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration this year.

Barr said he emphasized to Navarro and Kudlow that 17,500 jobs in Kentucky were connected with the bourbon industry and “these jobs are not less important than the jobs (associated) with the aluminum and steel.”

Trump’s pursuit of aggressive measures against U.S. trading partners from China to Europe and Canada has put him at odds with the Republican free-trade orthodoxy of recent years.

After Wednesday’s pact with the EU was announced, it was not immediately clear that Trump, who has touted tariffs as key to bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, had abandoned his previous trade policies.

Republican lawmakers attending Thursday’s meeting with administration officials said the EU pact was encouraging, but “the devil is in the details,” as Representative Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said. “And the details here are a little bit sketchy.”

Republican lawmakers repeated their previous warnings against the administration levying new tariffs on auto imports, and said they were told that may not happen.

Representative Roger Williams, who owns a car dealership in Texas, said dealers were already beginning to cancel orders with manufacturers because they were fearful of tariffs as well as rising interest rates.

Another Republican lawmaker, Representative Bill Huizenga of Michigan, said the administration’s trade policies had been “painful and damaging” to auto suppliers in his state that supply both foreign and domestic cars. “Our ag (agriculture) folks are also getting squeezed with tariffs. We are kind of getting it, coming and going, in western Michigan,” Huizenga said.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Peter Cooney

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