China, Trade, and West Virginia

I saw this tweet earlier today:

The article suggests that Trump is being hypocritical because a new trade deal would allow natural gas exports to China and that ultimately hurts coal miners. I understand the concept, and I understand why the WV Federation of Democratic Women would attack him on this, but ultimately it’s misguided.

Allowing natural gas imports into China is, on a net basis, a good thing for both us and China. Environmentally, it means a reduction of emissions, which improves public health in China and slows down global warming for the world (which includes us). Economically, it should also help our natural gas industry, along with the industries (esp. agriculture and financial services) from the other parts of the deals. Geopolitically, more trade with China should also be helpful in easing tensions between us and China.

Will there be losers? There always are. In this case, it’s probably going to be the coal industry. But the natural gas-coal substitution effect is not a new phenomenon, and additionally it would not be a substantial difference unless WV coal heavily relies on exporting to China. So, in theory, this works as a criticism, but it’s not a good one in practice.

Removing barriers from trade should not be criticized just because of who is in the White House. If this had happened under Obama, would this tweet have happened? Probably not. If we are going to criticize trade, we should look at the specifics, not just the negotiator.