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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, January 22, 2018

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Trump’s plan to reduce trade deficit: Sell American weapons

U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion

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U.S. - In a bid to create more jobs and bring down the U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion, the U.S. President Donald Trump is set to announce a new plan. 

The new ‘Buy American’ plan, which is set to be announced as early as February this year, will involve the Pentagon and diplomats, who would be tasked with playing a bigger role in arms sales. 

According to reports, the Trump administration is nearing completion of the new plan that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry.

U.S. officials said that those involved would have to go beyond the assistance they currently provide to fulfill the President’s mission.

According to people familiar with the plan, as early as February, Trump is expected to announce a "whole of government" effort to ease export rules on purchases by foreign countries of U.S.-made military equipment, from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery.

Trump is seeking to fulfill a 2016 election campaign promise to create jobs in the United States by selling more goods and services abroad to bring down the U.S. trade deficit, which currently stands at a six-year high of $50 billion.

Trump’s administration is also facing intense pressure from U.S. defense contractors that have been challenged due to the growing competition from foreign rivals like China and Russia.

However, if Trump’s plan to loosen the restrictions on weapons sales is announced and implemented, it would be in defiance of human rights and arms control advocates.

Both human rights and arms control advocates have argued that easing the restrictions would present a greater risk of fueling violence in already-troubled regions such as the Middle East and South Asia.

They also fear that arms could be diverted to be used in terrorist attacks.

Rachel Stohl, director of the conventional defense program at the Stimson Center in Washington said in a statement, “This administration has demonstrated from the very beginning that human rights have taken a back seat to economic concerns. And the short-sightedness of a new arms export policy could have serious long-term implications.”

A senior official was quoted as saying in a Reuters report that promoting American weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co.; easing restrictions on exports and allowing more favorable treatment of sales to non-NATO allies could create more jobs and add billions of dollars to the country’s coffers.

The senior administration official pointed out, “We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters.”

Meanwhile, a State Department officials said the new approach would give “our partners a greater capacity to help share the burden of international security, benefits the defense industrial base and will provide more good jobs for American workers.”

The plan has also been privately welcomed by Defense industry officials and lobbyists who claim they expect it will be a more sales-friendly approach.

This is not the first time such a plan has been discussed in a U.S. administration in recent years.

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, too sought to make it easier to sell to America's most trusted allies but he took a more cautious approach.

The Obama administration billed the move as a way to boost American business while keeping strict controls against more dangerous arms proliferation. 

During his tenure, foreign weapons sales soared, with the United States retaining its position as the world's top arms supplier.

Over the last five years, shares of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors, including Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon Co, General Dynamics Corp and Northrop Grumman have more than tripled and currently trade at or near all-time highs.

According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in fiscal 2017, through much of Trump's first year in office and the final months of Obama's term, foreign military sales climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year.

In the new President’s first year itself, the Trump administration has already moved forward on several controversial sales, including a push for $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.

The sale was pushed despite concerns they have contributed to civilian deaths in the Saudi campaign in Yemen's civil war and the unblocking of $3 billion in arms to Bahrain, which was also held up by human rights concerns under Obama.

The administration’s preparations to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers have faced similar concerns.

According to sources, a draft of the new policy proposals were completed recently by inter-agency teams coordinated by Trump's National Security Council.

The draft will now have to receive an approval from a select group of senior cabinet members.

 

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