Trump’s North American Trade Charade

US President Donald Trump’s goals in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement were to reduce the current-account deficit and restore US manufacturing jobs. But the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement fails on both counts and will reduce US employment and weaken American producers’ position in international markets.

.. Meanwhile, US tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada remain in place.
.. Among other things, the USMCA will limit the number of vehicles that can be imported into the US, which effectively opens the door to managed trade. It is not yet clear how import quotas will be allocated; but almost any quota-allocation system will stifle competition and innovation by favoring incumbents over new market entrants.
.. Trump’s stated goals in renegotiating NAFTA – if “renegotiation” is the right word for when a bully attacks his smaller neighbors until they accede to his demands – were to reduce the bilateral US trade deficits with Canada and Mexico and “bring good jobs back home.” By those criteria, the new agreement is a spectacular failure. As any economist knows, a deficit in goods and services is a macroeconomic phenomenon reflecting a country’s domestic expenditures and savings. For the US to shrink its overall deficit, it must either reduce expenditures or increase savings. Nothing in the USMCA does that.

.. Moreover, the deal will probably destroy more US jobs than it creates. The new rules-of-origin (ROO) benchmark requiring that 75% of an imported vehicle be produced in North America (up from 62.5% under NAFTA) is likely to reduce employment by raising the costs of production.
.. In fact, automakers in Asia and Europe are probably ecstatic at the prospect of increased sales. They have gained an edge over North American producers in third countries, and perhaps even in the US market itself.
.. As for foreign-owned automakers operating in the US, they will almost certainly offshore any facilities that are producing inputs destined for foreign markets. This diversion, combined with the higher price of cars in the US, will further reduce overall US auto production, and thus auto-sector employment.
.. even if US parts producers were to expand production, they would be inclined to automate as much of it as possible, rather than hire more workers.

.. One of NAFTA’s major benefits was that it allowed for integrated supply chains across North America. US automakers gained access to labor-intensive parts at lower cost from Mexico, and Mexican producers gained access to less expensive capital-intensive parts from the US. As a result, the North American auto industry improved its competitive position internationally. The USMCA will not destroy NAFTA’s efficient supply chains, but it will raise their costs, thus undercutting that advantage.

.. in the long run, it will likely

  • reduce US employment,
  • shrink North America’s share of the global auto market, and
  • undermine America’s credibility on international trade issues –

all while failing to reduce the US current-account deficit.

.. other governments will now have to ask themselves why they should negotiate with a country that tears up settled agreements at will.

.. Even if forcing friends and allies to the negotiating table actually benefited US trade, it still would not be worth the loss of US soft power.