Officials in charge of sanctions ‘defect’ as Trump’s trade war ramps up damage to the economy

Ella Macdermott / Flickr Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Unclear If Bitcoin...
Ella Macdermott / Flickr

The sanctions office within the Department of the Treasury is experiencing its own kind of shortage: people. It’s not a matter of being unable to find people knowledgeable enough about sanctions to do the work. The problem is keeping them. Because, as Bloomberg reports, those staffers are fleeing from a department that’s enacting policy sure to cause the nation harm.

As Trump has applied sanction after sanction—because, he says “trade wars are good, and easy to win”—approximately 20 staffers have fled from the office charged with putting those sanctions in place. Not only have sanctions been imposed as part of attempts to pressure other nations into trade deals, or out of Trump’s basic misunderstanding of trade deficits, but increasingly Trump has attempted to apply them as political tools. But sanctions against nations like Iran or Venezuela are only effective if they are broadly recognized and followed by many nations. By announcing unilateral sanctions, Trump has often hurt U.S. manufacturers and agriculture rather than his declared target.

Prices for wheat, corn, and soybeans are all down as Trump’s actions cause former U.S. partners to seek goods elsewhere. Trump’s trade wars have cost farmers billions, and required that the government pay out billions more to partially offset the damage done. The fiscal pressure placed on farms is likely to lead to long-term changes both in U.S. food production and in international trade. The trade wars Trump has created were directly cited by the Federal Reserve as one of the factors leading to a decreased growth rate and possible recession ahead.

When it comes to Trump’s sanction office, the depletion of staff has to do with more than just people becoming overworked by the rapid changes in rules and targets. The rising tide of tariffs and the complications represented by frequent political exemptions, kickbacks, and workarounds have created a demand for specialists at D.C.-based lobbying and law firms working with foreign companies.

The sanctions “police” working under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are literally defecting to the other side of the trade war, where they can help nations and companies avoid the Trump sanctions. That doesn’t sound good for America, but for those in Treasury making the switch, the decision probably did come easy.

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