Despite complaining often that China has taken advantage of the United States on trade, President Donald Trump’s policies have dealt a far more significant blow to America’s allies than the president’s favorite trade villain.
Trump’s recent issuance of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union mean those friends of the U.S. are now taking a bigger hit than China.
America's allies are stunned, stocks slid on Wall Street as trade-war fears returned, and economists are warning that Americans will soon face higher prices on a wide variety of products. A slew of Republican lawmakers immediately trashed the move as bad for the economy and foreign relations.
"Europe, Canada & Mexico aren't China. You don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. Blanket protectionism is a big part of why we had a Great Depression. 'Make America Great Again' shouldn’t mean 'Make America 1929 Again.' " tweeted Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), joining an opposition that included many Republican officials and business groups.
Though Trump has warned further tariffs on another $50 billion in Chinese goods could be coming down the pike, the president often changes his mind and sometimes at a moment’s notice.
"The president has the authority unilaterally … to do anything he wishes at any point subsequent to today. There is potential flexibility going forward," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday on a call with reporters.
China is also subject to the steel and aluminum tariffs, but as noted by the Post, Chinese steel makes up a smaller percent of imports compared to U.S. allies:
"We don't buy steel and aluminum from China. We buy it from our allies," said economist Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Take a look at total U.S. steel and aluminum imports last year from various countries to understand who's affected most (data compiled by PIIE):
Canada: $12.4 billion
European Union: $7.7 billion
Mexico: $2.9 billion
China: $2.9 billion
Japan: $2 billion
Trump has often singled out China as the problem when it comes to the country dumping cheap steel into the U.S. market, but his trade adviser Peter Navarro implied this week that America’s allies are essentially no different.
"Of course, part of the problem is this huge overhang of overcapacity by China, but we've also got the same problem across other countries," said Navarro on Fox Business Network. "These countries should acknowledge that they are the ones who are also running very large trade surpluses with this country at the expense of jobs here in America."
Those opposed to the president’s trade agenda believe it would be wiser and more fruitful to persuade allies to work with the U.S. against China’s trade maneuvers, rather than punish them.
"To do tariffs in the name of national security is absurd," said Matthew Rooney, managing director of the Bush Institute, who worked for many years at the State Department. "It’s dangerous. It opens the door to other trading partners using national security as a justification to break their free-trade agreements."