JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Less regulation, an insistence on fair trade and a sharp focus on China are among keys to a quick economic recovery, Republican Tennessee Senate candidate Bill Hagerty said Friday.

The former ambassador to Japan and state commissioner of Economic and Community Development said abundant job opportunities for Tennesseans will come from decreasing dependence on “countries like China that don’t have our best interests at heart.”

“I want to see us get our supply chains back home,” Hagerty said during a short interview that focused on economics, jobs and trade.

“I want to see America less dependent on these countries and I think that we’re going to be successful in doing that. And what I’d like to see from an economic standpoint are policies that make America the most competitive nation in the world. I think we’ll be able to do that.”

Senate candidate Bill Hagery during a Sept. 11, 2020 stop at WJHL.

Hagerty faces progressive Democrat Marquita Bradshaw in the general election for the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander. He said America can have a quick bounceback from the recession by further reduction of regulations and he cited a Johnson City example of “reshoring” as something he believes can accelerate with the right policies.

“One of the great stories here in Johnson City, and this was back when I served as economic development chief, is when we moved Mullican Flooring’s operations back from China,” Hagerty said. “176 jobs right here. That’s the type of movement I want to see more of.”

While News Channel 11 couldn’t get to planned followups about balancing deregulation and environmental protection, worker protection and wages, Hagerty said Tennessee was well-placed to benefit from his prescription for growth.

He cited the state’s location, logistics, business climate and fiscal stability as reasons for that and said further deregulation would accelerate job projects that are “in the pipeline” and infrastructure projects as well.

Hagerty said in addition to pushing deregulation, which he’s doing currently as a member of President Trump’s economic recovery task force, he will “take a hard look at the tax policy to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make America the most attractive nation to invest in the world.

“If we’re successful at doing that, Tennessee’s going to be at the forefront.”

Pandemic unemployment assistance ‘a disincentive’

Hagerty pointed to eliminating disincentives to economic growth — and said the unemployment component of the initial CARES Act offered an example in his opinion.

“I’m certain it was well-intended, but the addition of $400 a week of additional unemployment benefits meant that two-thirds of the people that are on unemployment right now are making more money unemployed than if they were employed,” Hagerty said. (The weekly additional benefit was $600, not $400, and ended about six weeks ago.)

“And as I talk to employers across the state many of them say they have job openings, but they’re having a hard time getting people to come back to work because of this disincentive that’s been put in place.”

Hagerty expressed a bullish outlook for economic recovery, pointing to his own optimism on COVID-19 vaccine progress. “I hope that 2021 will be the time that we’ll get the disincentives out of the way, we’ll get our health concerns addressed on a much greater basis and that we’ll see our economy take off very, very strongly.”

More on Asia, fair trade and the Marshall plan hangover

Hagerty said his “deep understanding of our foreign policy and diplomacy” would be a benefit to the Senate as China continues flexing its military and economic might in illiberal ways. He said China’s military spending increased eight-fold between a stint he had in Japan three decades ago and the day he took the ambassadorship.

“The threat situation has tremendously changed because of China,” Hagerty said. “They’ve moved into the South China Sea, the East China Sea very aggressively. We’ve got to stand up to them militarily…”

He said the Trump administration has shifted more presence there — what he called a true pivot to Asia — and that the tension and need for a strong counterbalance is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just militarily, they’re aggressive diplomatically,” Hagerty said. “Look at what they’ve done in the World Health Organization — and economically they’ve been aggressive for decades in terms of stealing our intellectual property, subsidizing their industries and really making it a very unfair playing field for our industries.”

When it comes to trade, though, Hagerty doesn’t focus solely on China. He said administrations from both political parties “have sort of looked the other way” as countries have taken advantage of a free trade notion that has its roots in the post-World War II landscape, when America was intent on helping countries leveled by war rebuild their economies.

“We made great efforts to rebuild those economies. We didn’t want those economies to turn towards socialism, we created advantageous trade terms. Look no further than the European imbalance as we look at selling a car from Europe to America versus selling a car from America to Europe.”

He cited a 2.5 percent tariff on U.S. cars sold in Europe compared to a 10 percent tariff on European cars sold here.

A Congressional Research Service research brief published a year ago showed that the U.S. tariff on European trucks is 25 percent compared to 22 percent the other way around.