08/16/2018 12:14 EDT | Updated 08/16/2018 12:14 EDT

Don't Punish All States For Trump's Tariffs — Just Those That Voted For Him

They created this mess in the first place.

When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump's imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, our natural reaction is to fight back with tariffs and countervailing duties of our own. Already Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has imposed duties on various U.S. goods to match the American penalties dollar for dollar.

What that means so far is Canadian government levies on $12.8 billion of a wide variety of U.S. goods including ketchup, sleeping bags, orange juice, ice cream and toilet paper. These retaliatory tariffs were supposedly not designed to hurt Americans, but instead are meant to defend Canada's interests and send a message to Donald Trump.

Marvin Gentry / Reuters
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Birmingham, Ala.

This is all reasonable and understandable. Trump's initial tariffs on aluminum and steel are arguably illegal. More importantly, they serve to alienate America's strongest economic ally: Canada.

If Trump wanted to go after the world's worst trade offender (namely, China), he would have been wise to create a united front with his strongest trading partners like Canada, Mexico and Europe. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump seems completely ignorant of the increasing interdependence of world trade and incapable of identifying the obvious solution.

What better way than to boycott American goods from red states only?

Yet the sad fact remains that we Canadians are left in a nasty trade war with the U.S. with no immediate end in sight. And the ultimate result of such an uneven dispute with the elephant next door is not promising, at least for us.

So it is perfectly understandable that Canadians want to strike back and do their part in this Trump-initiated trade war. And, so far, that means that individual Canadians have taken it upon themselves to boycott any and all American goods. Whether it's Heinz ketchup, Kentucky bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles or Hershey's Twizzlers, many of us have decided to stop purchasing goods coming from south of the border.

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Much as I sympathize with this approach, it seems somewhat unfair. As things now stand, our new tariffs on American goods hit certain states the hardest — states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois.

As for those first three, I say "Boycott away." After all, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania were the three key swing states that voted for Trump, which ultimately led to this whole ridiculous tariff debacle. As the U.S. state most dependent on trade with Canada, Michigan could be hit particularly hard. So if you're Canadian and you see something on your local retail store shelf coming from Altoona, Dearborn or Toledo, by all means don't buy it.

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But why in heaven's name would we punish the good folks of Illinois and New York, two states which overwhelmingly voted against Trump by margins of roughly one million and 1.7 million votes, respectively?

If we Canadians want to send a message specifically to President Trump, what better way than to boycott American goods from red states only? And the redder the state, the stronger the boycott should be.

From my perspective, the states that should suffer the most are those which voted for Trump in the 60-per-cent-plus range. That includes such candidates as Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Idaho and Kentucky.

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If you're Canadian, you're probably thinking you'll have little problem boycotting Kentucky bourbon and Idaho potatoes. But you're probably also saying to yourself, "How the heck do I boycott Wyoming, Oklahoma and Alabama?"

As for the latter two, this can be a difficult endeavor. For example, Alabama's number one export is automobile parts and Oklahoma's top export is airplane parts. Thus, you as an individual consumer would have a hard time boycotting such goods which ultimately end up in final products (namely, cars and planes) which likely don't itemize the origins of each and every individual part.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

However, both Alabama and Oklahoma are also big producers and exporters of agricultural products. So it might pay to read food labelling carefully and give a pass to anything originating in either state. And if those labels aren't specific enough, take a guess as to whether the product sounds like it might come from a red state (grits, gravy or barbecue sauce, for example). As for Wyoming, remember they have more cattle than people — so just stop buying their beef.

Now I'm not saying my proposed approach will be easy, but let's give it our best Canadian shot. Spend those few extra seconds or minutes reading product labels and identifying red-state goods. You may even have to do without some of your favourites if they come from Trump-loving states, like hot sauce and Zapp's potato chips from Louisiana, saltwater taffy from South Carolina or baked hams from Tennessee.

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Before you make that purchase of American goods, just do a quick check on your smart phone and see where in the U.S. it comes from. If it originates in a red state like Texas or Mississippi or Iowa, give it a pass. But if it's an apple-based snack from Washington state or a Brooklyn-sourced candy treat or, most importantly from my perspective, a California-made wine, go ahead and buy it. Remember; it's easy: blue means go and red means stop.

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Once you get the knack of this approach, it shouldn't be too hard. Check which state a product comes from and then see if it's a red or blue state. After awhile, you'll likely know which state is which without even checking if you don't know already. And your initial less-than-sophisticated general boycott of American goods will quickly become a refined, specifically messaged blacklist directed only at those Trump-loving folks in red states who, after all, were the ones who created this mess in the first place.

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