Last month, President Donald Trump famously declared, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”
This month the complications of international trade also seem to be making themselves known.
On Friday, Trump approved the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline connecting Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to block it.
On Feb. 16, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference about an order he signed three weeks earlier regarding the pipeline.
“This took place while I was getting ready to sign,” he told CPAC. “I said, ‘Who makes the pipes for the pipeline?’ Well, sir, it comes from all over the world, isn’t that wonderful?
“I said, ‘Nope, it comes from the United States or we’re not building one.’
“American steel. If they want a pipeline in the United States, they’re going to use pipe that’s made in the United States, do we agree?”
But this turned out to be pure puffery.
Two weeks later, Trump’s spokeswoman said: “The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline.”
Therefore, she said, the Jan. 24 order didn’t apply as it regarded U.S. materials.
“The steel is already literally sitting there” waiting to be used, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
Another twist: The steel comes from a Canadian subsidiary of Russia’s Evraz company.
Cross-border investments to the south are also complicated.
Last week, the San Antonio Business Journal quoted trade experts at a local meeting saying proposals for a border tax and renegotiation of NAFTA are “causing foreign companies to place plans to expand in San Antonio on hold.”
Pro-NAFTA forces claim more than 63,200 jobs in that part of Texas owe their existence to the pact. Mexican companies are “reluctant to commit to international expansion plans,” said Democratic San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor.
Whether the concern is warranted remains to be seen.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ role in the administration has unique complications — for those to whom conflicts of interest may be a concern.
Ross is part-owner of Diamond S Shipping. The company has ties to a major Chinese investment fund and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port, as noted by the Center for Public Integrity in a report issued last week.
According to a 2014 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Diamond S said it may continue to “call on ports located in countries subject to sanctions and embargoes imposed by the U.S. government.” One of the shipping firm’s main customers recently acquired a stake in a Russian national oil company, the report added.
Ross, a billionaire equity investor, said he doesn’t consider it a conflict and in order to take the Cabinet job, he stepped down from positions in the company and “plans to be a passive investor going forward.”
Many issues are complicated. This is just another one.
And it’s not as if nobody knew.