Work is done in 2016 in New Iberia on part of the Sasol ethane cracker project being built in Westlake.


While it is no fault of the New York-born president of the United States that he might not be able to locate the Louisiana city of Jennings on the map, he knows where New Orleans is, and it is worth a visit for him as he or his underlings contemplate new and unsettling changes to national trade policies.

In Jennings, he would find a steel plant in a region where there is unprecedented economic progress because of a rapidly expanding energy sector, in the industrial facilities in Lake Charles and at new natural gas exporting ports on the coast, and pipelines in between. But the Jennings steel mill is struggling, because of cheaper imported steel available to the builders just a few miles away.

At the Port of New Orleans, the president will find that the trade in imported steel is a big moneymaker, one of the reasons that the port is able to expand and bring more wealth and jobs.

Thus the conundrums of trade. Donald Trump was mocked for saying that health care policy is hard, but at least that is largely domestic; there are vast international implications in the president's contemplated changes for world trade.

And some of those implications would be good for Louisiana manufacturers of steel. But the implications are serious and damaging for not only ports, but for the products and facilities that are built of steel, including those in Lake Charles and in similar petrochemical sites up and down the Mississippi River.

Make steel more expensive by taxing imports, or limiting them? The costs of American-made products go up, quite a lot. There are winners but also losers domestically to a protectionist policy.

We are not sure if the president is going to dive deeply into this nest of trouble, although his appointment of nationalist critic Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative is troubling. Nor can the president easily untangle the deep commercial ties between Canada, Mexico and the United States developed since the NAFTA treaty of a generation ago.

During his first months in office, Trump signed an executive order, dubbed "Buy American and Hire American," strengthening requirements that some federal projects use domestically made products. He also has directed the Commerce Department to investigate whether steel imports are hurting U.S. national security.

Trouble is, any fair-minded assessment of world trade has to reflect the winners in the economy from trade. After all, trade has been a winner for the United States overall for decades, particularly since World War II when farsighted American leaders built an economic miracle based on trade and security from the Communist menace of the time.

That achievement is not going to be easily unwound, even for a president.