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Donald Trump, Ron Johnson, tariffs

President Donald Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson, right, appear at a 2017 announcement at the White House. Johnson has dialed up his opposition to Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, saying the trade war they triggered is doing "permanent damage" to businesses in Wisconsin.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is upping his public objections to President Donald Trump’s tariffs, saying the trade war they triggered is doing “permanent damage” to Wisconsin businesses.

The remarks come from a letter to Trump that Johnson, R-Oshkosh, released Wednesday. For Johnson it marked an escalation of a trade-policy dispute with Trump, whom he otherwise has generally supported.

The letter outlines concerns with Trump’s tariffs and the retaliatory measures they prompted from U.S. allies such as Canada and the European Union. It draws from testimony given by Wisconsin business officials at a meeting with Johnson this week in Milwaukee.

Johnson said Wisconsin manufacturers that rely on steel and aluminum imports are being hurt by the tariffs. He said retaliatory tariffs from other nations “will have a profoundly negative effect” on farming and food-processing businesses that rely on access to those markets. “There is already permanent damage being done to U.S. and Wisconsin businesses because of the trade war,” Johnson wrote. “The longer the negotiations last, the more irreparable harm will be done.”

Johnson said businesses that rely on steel and aluminum imports have tried to find domestic suppliers, but not all have been able to do so. Some have cancelled or delayed capital expenditures; others are considering moving operations abroad, he said.

In farming and food processing, “global markets that have taken decades to develop are drying up, and the damage could be permanent. Without overseas markets, supply will significantly exceed domestic demand causing prices to plummet and farmers to go bankrupt,” Johnson wrote.

Trump, acting under a law that allows him to act unilaterally, first levied tariffs on steel and aluminum from countries including China, Canada, Mexico and the countries that make up the European Union.

Johnson suggests in the letter that the U.S. should focus its trade efforts on China, which he describes as “the primary abuser of the global trading system.”

“The best way to obtain China’s compliance with world trading rules is by presenting a united front with our allies,” Johnson writes.

Johnson’s office noted he also is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would require congressional approval of tariffs.

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