As President Donald Trump continues implementing and touting the merits of protectionist trade policies, the United States moves closer to “becoming a highly developed Third World country” – all in the name of benefiting Trump politically and under the guise of “fair trade”.
Michael Schuman describes in a Bloomberg News piece how Trump’s quest for political advantage is disempowering the United States, pushing away American allies, strengthening China, and jeopardizing seven decades of a relatively stable global economic order.
From imposing tariffs on key American allies and trade partners to haggling over how much of which American products China will buy – while sidelining critical issues “such as the protection of U.S. intellectual property and China’s market-distorting industrial policies” – Trump has clearly lost sight of the larger picture.
Connecting the dots across these trade negotiations reveals a simple common denominator: politics. Trump is arm-twisting trading partners for concessions to aid and protect a small number of industries—steel, automobiles, agriculture, and energy—that just so happen to prevail in states that voted for him.
Other threatened actions have the same aim. Trump wants to hike tariffs on imported cars in the name of “national security,” a transparent attempt to force automakers to manufacture more cars inside the U.S.
In that regard, his trade policies aren’t about “fair” trade at all. They’re about solidifying his political base and rewarding his supporters.
The president’s own mercantilist ways are unmistakable, and he has – intentionally or otherwise – traded an opportunity to work with U.S. allies in pressuring China to change its ways for what he perceives as big wins for his political base.
What he’s doing is strikingly similar to the way China behaves—using state power to manipulate trade in favor of certain special interests. Jörg Wuttke, a former president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, notes that Trump is badgering the Chinese state to intervene to redirect customer-determined flows of trade toward the U.S. and away from other countries—including close allies. “All he’s doing is moving the furniture,” Wuttke says, “and that’s our furniture.”
Schuman notes that some in the business world are concerned where such policies will eventually lead:
“If we continue down this path of focusing on reducing the deficit by selling China more food and fuel,” says Jim McGregor, chairman for greater China at consulting firm APCO Worldwide LLC, “we are headed toward becoming a highly developed Third World country that supplies China with natural resources and in the future can license technology from them.”
In the end, the U.S. is unlikely to emerge victorious, and Trump’s own goals are unlikely to be met, Schuman said.
Without U.S. support, the entire global order, which has produced so much growth and wealth over the past 70 years, could well crumble, clearing a path for the very thing that Trump claims to be striving to prevent: a dominant China and a diminished U.S. That’s something the world may never “get over.”