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Protectionism, Dysfunction Could Hurt US Businesses, Warns Chamber of Commerce


FILE - Tom Donohue, president of U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Mexico City, Mexico, April 23, 2017.

Rising global authoritarianism, trade protectionism and the weakening of global institutions threaten U.S. businesses, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned Thursday.

In his annual address, Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said for now the U.S. economy is strong and business owners are consistently optimistic, crediting "deregulation and tax reform."

But Donohue also defended the system of alliances and multilateral institutions set up by the United States after World War II – an implicit criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" policies.

FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, presents President Donald Trump with a Milwaukee Buck basketball hat and jersey as he arrives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, April 18, 2017.
FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, presents President Donald Trump with a Milwaukee Buck basketball hat and jersey as he arrives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, April 18, 2017.

"The U.S. and our allies spent the last 70 years working to expand democracy and freedom," Donohue said. "Today, we face the task of rebuilding domestic consensus for supporting democracy abroad."

Donohue also warned against domestic political dysfunction, including the inability of U.S. lawmakers to pass immigration reform.

The comments come amid a prolonged partial government shutdown related to President Donald Trump's demand for Congress to provide funds to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.

Building the wall would fulfill a key campaign promise for Trump, who regularly portrays immigrants as a threat. Though he didn't criticize Trump directly, Donohue said immigrants are crucial to the U.S. economy.

"Employers don't have the workers they need at every skill level in key industries such as health, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation," Donohue said. "Our nation must continue to attract and welcome industrious and innovative people from all over the world."

U.S. lawmakers, he said, should reach a compromise that would provide legal protection for the so-called Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as children. He also called for Congress to approve the "resources necessary to secure the border."

Donohue also slammed Trump's trade policies, saying tariffs on China and other countries are "taxes paid by American families and American businesses, not by foreigners."

"Instead of undermining our own economy, let's work with our allies to apply pressure on China and use the tools provided by the U.S. trade and international laws that we helped create," he said.

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