President Xi Jinping of China was awarded a second term in office by the Communist Central Committee of China just days ago (and doubly rewarded because term limits no longer apply to Mr. Jinping) has received communication from the Trump administration that steel exports to the United States will now face a 25 per cent tariff and aluminum exports to the United States from China will have a 10 per cent tariff added.
The tariffs against China and selected other countries are scheduled to go into effect March 24, 2018.
President Donald Trump of the United States says there is a huge and historic trade imbalance between the U.S. and China and is using tariffs to counter that imbalance which has been pegged between 374 billion and 511 billion dollars, depending upon how those figures are calculated.
Further, Mr. Trump has asked President Xi to submit a plan to lower the trade deficit with the United States by 100 billion dollars as soon as possible.
Which Countries are Exempt from the Tariffs that Begin on March 24, 2018?
China has Responded to Trump’s Tariffs with Tariffs Against U.S. Goods
In response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs, China’s leader Mr. Jinping has responded with some mild tariffs against the United States.
China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, said on Thursday that Beijing would retaliate against those tariffs on about $60 billion of Chinese goods.
“We do not want a trade war with the United States or with anybody else, but we are not afraid of it,” Mr. Cui said, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. “If somebody tries to impose a trade war upon us, we will fight. We will do whatever we can to defend the legitimate interests.”
The $3 billion worth of goods that Beijing plans to penalize represent just about 2 percent of U.S. exports to China, which amounted to $130 billion last year, according to Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“It’s not devastating economically by any stretch, but it’s certainly going to hurt those interests in the United States that are trying to export,” Mr. Bown said. He pointed out that the retaliation by China sends “a negative signal, that they are not seeking to de-escalate things.” — excerpt from the New York Times
All in All, Not a Trade War
Except that two superpowers are involved (which makes for great theatre) it’s not much of a trade war.
In fact, the Trump tariffs against Chinese steel (China supplies only 2% of U.S. steel) and Chinese aluminum (supplying less than 1% of U.S. aluminum) won’t amount to mega-billions of dollars.
Still, Trump has set the tone that countries that export to, and run huge trade deficits with the United States, will be addressed at the tariff level. Back in the old days getting your way in trade disputes was done by so-called ‘Gunboat diplomacy’ instead of the much softer tariff approach.
Thank goodness we’ve matured as a species!
Further tariffs may be levied on China and other countries by the Trump White House as the president seeks to balance America’s huge trade deficit across many nations that export to the United States.
The reason China has been singled-out is that it runs triple digit trade imbalances with America — not because anyone in the Trump White House has any particular enthusiasm to embarrass or anger China.
And although Donald Trump did make the numbers known to the public and did spend some time justifying his new tariff policy, it looks like the president sincerely wants a solution to the existing problem and doesn’t want a situation that escalates without resolution. We know that because he chose his words and his tweets very carefully.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
What’s really at stake here is the long-term relationship between America and her trading partners.
China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union are America’s largest trading relationships and in order for the United States to succeed it can’t allow huge trade deficits with every country it does business with.
If every country in the world ran a microscopic trade deficit of only 10 billion dollars with America, the U.S. trade imbalance would total 2 trillion dollars!
“To put that in perspective, if you stacked 1.9 trillion $1 bills on top of each other, the pile would reach about half way to the Moon.” — CNN
Not even the mighty United States of America can survive trade deficits of that magnitude.
China’s trade imbalance of ($374 billion to $511 billion in 2017, depending how you calculate it) is simply unsustainable for America, as are the double-digit trade deficits of several other countries.
This chart (unfortunately, from 2016) shows only the countries that have double or triple-digit trade imbalances with the United States (in millions of dollars)
Note: The European Union trade imbalance with the United States is 146 billion dollars, but some of those EU nations are also listed separately in this chart.
The Best Case Scenario?
As the tariffs go into effect, the best we can hope is that cooler heads prevail and that both the American and Chinese tariffs are seen as simple corrections to segments of the economy long neglected by policymakers on both sides of the Pacific.
Several countries that export steel and aluminum to the U.S. are exempt from the tariffs so American consumers will see very little change in prices. Consumers in China may see small price increases in certain foods that are imported from the United States.
The entire situation is an example that we should be mindful of our free trade privileges with other countries, neither exploiting them too much nor allowing ourselves to be exploited by them. Triple and double-digit trade imbalances don’t ‘just happen’ overnight! And they should be mindful of their free trade privileges with us.
If this in any way presages a shift toward fair trading rules between all nations — as opposed to unrestricted free trade — it means that international trade will be much more sustainable, and frankly, more easily welcomed by every country in the future.
Let’s hope this marks the beginning of the ‘Trump Doctrine of Fair Trade’ between nations.
Another possibility is quotas.
The USA could choose to favor certain parners-NAFTA members, for example, and the UK. And squeeze out of the U.S. market Asian and/or continental European countries.
As Peter Zeihan has explained (better than I can) in various YouTube videos, the free trade regime was a way to bribe countries to be anti-Soviet bulwarks. In the case of China, trade is now empowering a bully.
What we are seeing in the USA is a revolt against globalization. This revolt includes both major political parties.
Looking at the figures for these huge trade deficits, it is obvious that the USA is headed towards destitution. The USA would eventually have to withdraw from globalization for financial survival. So don’t expect the USA to be dissuaded.
I expect the USA to squeeze Asian and continental European countries out of the U.S. market. Expect Asian and continental European countries to exclude the USA from their markets in retaliation.
Expect the USA to develop its own trade network. Latin America will be emphasized. The other likely trade partners? Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand. Conceivably, the Republic of Ireland.
Other potential trade partners would likely be ones with little industry. Ones endowed with natural resources, or some sort of asset. The USA would be negotiating bilateral deals with select countries.
Well Tim, I couldn’t agree more with your points.
While I think caution is called-for in dramatically changing trade (tariffs, trade flows and political relationships) with other countries, you are 100% right.
Sudden or onerous tariffs or big changes of any sort might trigger a catastrophic financial meltdown, so the changes must be fair, balanced and gradual enough so that markets can react and respond appropriately.
This comparatively small steel and aluminum tariff regime that excludes Australia, Canada, the UK, and the EU is more symbolic than actual, and therefore poses no threat to the global economy.
But it does start a very important conversation.
All the best! JBS
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