Huntsman Cautions Against Tariffs, Fears Trade War

America’s former ambassador to China rejected tariffs as pandering and warned it could instigate a race to the bottom.

Republican Party presidential contender Jon Huntsman cautioned against punishing China with tariffs for its currency manipulation during a debated hosted by business channel CNBC on Wednesday. He criticized Mitt Romney, who is considered the frontrunner in the race for the nomination, for pandering.

Romney accused China of “predatory pricing” during Wednesday’s debate. “I love free trade,” he added, “but I will crack down on cheaters like China. They simply cannot continue stealing our jobs.” He proposed to levy tariffs on supposedly underpriced Chinese imports.

In his economic plan released two months ago, Romney wrote that he had “no interest in starting a trade war with China” but that he could “not accept” what he described as America’s “trade surrender.”

Huntsman, who was ambassador to China before he resigned to campaign this summer, warned that Romney would in fact instigate a “war trade” if he made it more difficult for Chinese manufacturers to sell their products in the United States. “You can throw out applause lines and you can say that you’re going to slap on tariffs — that doesn’t work.”

The two Republicans are perceived as the most centrist in the nominating contest. Huntsman, who has polled in single digits nationwide, hopes to perform well in the early primary state of New Hampshire where Romney is popular. He accuses Romney of changing positions on issues in attack ads and has tried to characterize his foreign policy as protectionist and simplistic.

According to a foreign policy white paper put out in October, Romney would seek to increase the American navy’s shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 percent per year and modernize or replace the aging inventories of the other armed services.

And he will fully commit to a robust, multilayered national ballistic missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Huntsman retorted that “advocating more ships, more troops and more weapons is not a viable path forward. We need more agility, more intelligence and more economic engagement with the world,” he suggested.