Trump’s Tariffs, Once Seen as Leverage, May Be Here to Stay

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s tariffs were initially seen as a cudgel to force other countries to drop their trade barriers. But they increasingly look like a more permanent tool to shelter American industry, block imports and banish an undesirable trade deficit.

More than two years into the Trump administration, the United States has emerged as a nation with the highest tariff rate among developed countries, outranking Canada, Germany and France, as well as China, Russia and Turkey. And with further trade confrontations brewing, the rate may only increase from here.

On Tuesday, the president continued to praise his trade war with China, saying that the 25 percent tariffs he imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would benefit the United States, and that he was looking “very strongly” at imposing additional levies on nearly every Chinese import.

I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. We’re in a very strong position,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the White House lawn. “Our economy is fantastic; theirs is not so good. We’ve gone up trillions and trillions of dollars since the election; they’ve gone way down since my election.”

He called the trade dispute “a little squabble” and suggested he was in no rush to end his fight, though he held out the possibility an agreement could be reached, saying: “They want to make a deal. It could absolutely happen.” Stock markets rebounded on Tuesday, after plunging on Monday as China and the United States resumed their tariff war.

Additional tariffs could be on the way. Mr. Trump faces a Friday deadline to determine whether the United States will proceed with his threat to impose global auto tariffs, a move that has been criticized by car companies and foreign policymakers. And despite complaints by Republican lawmakers and American companies, Mr. Trump’s global metal tariffs remain in place on Canada, Mexico, Europe and other allies.

The trade barriers are putting the United States, previously a steadfast advocate of global free trade, in an unfamiliar position. The country now has the highest overall trade-weighted tariff rate at 4.2 percent, higher than any of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, according to Torsten Slok, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. That is now more than twice as high as the rate for Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, and higher than most emerging markets, including Russia, Turkey and even China, Mr. Slok said.

[A trade war with China could be long and painful.]

The shift is having consequences for an American economy that is dependent on global trade, including multinational companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, Caterpillar and other businesses that source components from abroad and want access to growing markets overseas.

While trade accounts for a smaller percentage of the American economy than in most other countries — just 27 percent in 2017, compared with 38 percent for China and 87 percent for Germany, according to World Bank data — it is still a critical driver of jobs and economic growth.

Mr. Trump and his economic advisers say the administration’s trade policy is aiding the American economy, companies and consumers. And despite the tough approach, the administration continues to insist its goal is to strike trade agreements that give American businesses better trade terms overseas.

At a briefing last week, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, praised the president’s trade policies for helping economic growth thus far and said the administration supports “free and fair reciprocal trade.”

But if the goal really is freer trade, the administration has never been further from achieving that goal than it is today, said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“They’re heading in the opposite direction,” Mr. Bown said.

Beyond an update to the United States agreement with South Korea, no other free trade deals have been finalized. Mr. Trump’s revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico still await passage in Congress, while trade talks with the European Union and Japan have been troubled from the start, with governments squabbling over the scope of the agreement.

Mr. Trump came into office fiercely critical of the failure of past administrations and global bodies like the World Trade Organization for failing to police China’s unfair trade practices. He withdrew the United States from multilateral efforts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multicountry trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama, and the Paris climate accord.

That shift has created an opening for other countries to step forward as global leaders, including Europe, Japan and China, despite its position as one of the world’s most controversial economic actors. On Tuesday, China submitted its proposals for overhauling the World Trade Organization, including broadening the privileges of developing countries, a status that China claims for itself.

Advocates of free trade fear that governments in India, China, South Africa and elsewhere might find Mr. Trump’s model of protectionism appealing and erect even higher barriers to foreign companies.

While the United States and China could still strike a trade deal that would roll back many of their tariffs, that likelihood has appeared to diminish in recent weeks.

Progress toward a deal came to a sudden halt this month when China backtracked on certain commitments and Mr. Trump threatened to move ahead with higher tariffs.

“We had a deal that was very close, and then they broke it,” he said on Tuesday.

The two sides continue to disagree over whether the deal’s provisions must be enshrined in China’s laws. But they are also arguing over Mr. Trump’s tariffs, which were intended to prod the Chinese to agree to more favorable trade terms for the United States. China insists those tariffs must come off once a deal is reached, but the Trump administration wants some to remain in place, to ensure China abides by its commitments.

In an interview on Tuesday on CNBC, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, supported the administration’s tactics.

“Ideally, you wouldn’t have tariffs,” he said. But the United States already faces “all kinds of impediments” to gaining access to the Chinese marketplace, including tariffs, subsidization of industries and theft of intellectual property.

“We already have a series of hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese penalties against the United States which are threatening our long-term viability,” Mr. Rubio said.

Canada and Mexico have repeatedly pressed the administration to lift its tariffs on steel and aluminum now that negotiations over the Nafta revision are done. The three countries signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in November, but the pact awaits passage in all three legislatures.

The Trump administration still views the tariffs as a source of leverage in case it needs to demand final changes to the deal from Canada and Mexico. But Canadian and Mexican officials — as well as many in Congress — say the levies are actually an impediment because all three legislatures will refuse to finalize the deal while they are in place.

A similar standoff could soon unfold with the European Union, which Mr. Trump has accused of being a “brutal trading partner” and being “tougher than China.”

The president, who wants Europe to open its markets to American farmers and companies, has already imposed tariffs on European metals and is threatening to levy a 25 percent tax on imports of European cars and car parts if the bloc does not give the United States better trade terms.

Europe has absorbed Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs without too much damage. But car tariffs would strike the most important industry in Germany, which has the Continent’s biggest economy. European officials would regard car tariffs as a breach of a truce they worked out last year with Mr. Trump, and they have said they would refuse to negotiate as long as car tariffs were in place.

Cecilia Malmstrom, the European commissioner for trade, repeated on Monday that the European Union had prepared a list of American products worth $22.5 billion — including ketchup, suitcases and tractors — that would face immediate retaliatory tariffs.

“We’re prepared for the worst,” Ms. Malmstrom said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Germany.

European officials still hold out hope that Mr. Trump will see them as allies and not geopolitical rivals like the Chinese. And he could ultimately delay the decision and extend the Friday deadline for countries that are in trade talks with the United States.

But the president shows no signs of backing away from his stance that tariffs have helped the United States.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that tariffs had rebuilt America’s steel industry and were encouraging companies to leave China, making it “more competitive” for buyers in the United States.

“China buys MUCH less from us than we buy from them, by almost 500 Billion Dollars, so we are in a fantastic position,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Make your product at home in the USA and there is no Tariff.”

Trump’s Cracked Afghan History

His falsehoods about allies and the Soviets reach a new low.

President Trump’s remarks on Afghanistan at his Cabinet meeting Wednesday were a notable event. They will be criticized heavily, and deservedly so. The full text is available on the White House website.

Mr. Trump ridiculed other nations’ commitment of troops to fight alongside America’s in Afghanistan. He said, “They tell me a hundred times, ‘Oh, we sent you soldiers. We sent you soldiers.’”

This mockery is a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died. The United Kingdom has had more than 450 killed fighting in Afghanistan.

As reprehensible was Mr. Trump’s utterly false narrative of the Soviet Union’s involvement there in the 1980s. He said: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”

Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.

The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.

 

 

 

 

Trump to Dictators: Have a Nice Day

Watching President Trump recently accuse Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stabbing him in the back prompted me to Google a simple question: How many Canadians were killed or wounded since April 2002 fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan? The answer: 158 were killed and 635 wounded.

.. And yet, when their prime minister mildly pushed back against demands to lower Canada’s tariffs on milk, cheese and yogurt from the U.S., Trump and his team — in a flash — accused Trudeau of “betrayal,” back-stabbing and deserving of a “special place in hell.”

A special place in hell? Over milk tariffs? For a country that stood with us in our darkest hour?That is truly sick.

.. Everything is a transaction: What have you done for ME today?

The notion of America as the upholder of last resort of global rules and human rights — which occasionally forgoes small economic advantages to strengthen democratic societies so we can enjoy the much larger benefits of a world of healthy, free-market democracies — is over

.. “Trump’s America does not care,” historian Robert Kagan wrote in The Washington Post. “It is unencumbered by historical memory. It recognizes no moral, political or strategic commitments. It feels free to pursue objectives without regard to the effect on allies or, for that matter, the world. It has no sense of responsibility to anything beyond itself.”

.. But what’s terrifying about Trump is that he seems to prefer dictators to our democratic allies everywhere.

.. As Trump told reporters about the North Korean dictator on Friday: “He speaks, and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

.. Trump later said this was a joke. Sorry, no U.S. president should make such a joke, which, alas, was consistent with everything Trump has said and done before: He prefers the company of strongmen and, as long as they praise him, does not care how leaders anywhere treat their own people

.. Harb, an enormously decent British-educated surgeon, was imprisoned merely for tweeting mild criticism of Sisi’s crackdown on dissent... “The message is clear that criticism and even mild satire apparently earn Egyptians an immediate trip to prison.”

.. “For the second consecutive year, more than half of those jailed for their work around the world are behind bars in Turkey, China and Egypt

.. in once pro-Western Poland, the country’s most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is trying to replace the independent judiciary with judges selected purely for their loyalty to him and his party, snubbing his nose at the European Union’s liberal, rule-of-law values.

.. Trump doesn’t even have ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia today to whisper.

.. “In America, we’re going to survive Trump,” says Michael Posner, director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at N.Y.U. Stern. “We have strong institutions and plenty of people committed to maintaining our democratic processes. But places like Egypt, Turkey or the Philippines are fragile states where activists for decades relied on the U.S. to stand up and say, ‘There are consequences for your relations with the U.S. — trade, aid, military, investment — if you crush peaceful dissent.’

.. Today, we have a president who is not only not critical, he actually congratulates leaders on their fraudulent elections and seems to endorse their bad behavior.

.. Remember: These leaders are not repressing violent radicals, Posner adds; they are literally “criminalizing dissent and debate.” And their citizens now think that we’re O.K. with that.

If that stands, the world will eventually become a more dangerous place for all of us.

 

Has Trump finally gone too far?

Up until now, Trumpism has been a largely victimless crime. Or, to be exact, one whose victims were largely speculative and unnamed.

President Trump has been doing great damage to the fabric of our democracy with his venomous attacks on the free press (“Our Country’s biggest enemy”), the FBI (a “den of thieves and lowlifes”), people of color (who hail from “shithole countries” and “maybe shouldn’t be in the country” if they don’t stand for the national anthem), the political opposition (traitors who don’t “seem to love our country very much”) and other favorite targets. He has been doing just as much damage to America’s international standing by attacking our allies (e.g., calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest & weak”) and praising our enemies (e.g., calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “tough,” “smart,” “talented,” “funny”) while launching trade wars and tearing up international agreements.

.. his barbarous policy of separating the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents, Trump has finally provided vivid, camera-ready examples of how his policies are destroying the lives of ordinary people.

.. The suffering of adults — and adult men at that — doesn’t pique popular sympathy the way that the mistreatment of children does.

..Why would Trump do something so evil? Because he is desperate.

.. for all of Trump’s “fire and fury,” he has not managed to secure the border. Failing at his top task, he is lashing out at defenseless mothers and children in the hope that his inhumanity will scare other immigrants from coming.

.. not a single Republican has signed on. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the most liberal member of the Senate GOP caucus, is willing to criticize the family-separations policy but won’t support the effort to repeal it.

.. Republicans, seeing the fate of Trump critics such as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) — who was just defeated in his primary after the president tweeted an endorsement of his opponent — are so petrified of crossing the vengeful strongman in the White House that they are voluntarily separating themselves from their sense of right and wrong.

.. His GOP enablers are so craven, so soulless, so abject in their dishonor that they will allow any amount of human suffering rather than risk suffering the wrath of Trump.

.. he won’t be forced to act by Congress.

.. If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards — that would truly enhance America’s greatness.

Trump’s Canada Feud Signals Weakness, Not Strength

Picking a fight with Justin Trudeau on the eve of the North Korea talks sent the wrong message to America’s enemies.

..  White House trade adviser and apparent theologian Peter Navarro said on Fox News Sunday that “there’s a special place in Hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

Navarro was talking about Trudeau’s decision to hold a press conference in which he calmly, quietly, and politely — which is to say, Canadianly — explained that America’s neighbors to the north would be responding to the White House’s imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs with tariffs of their own, something the Canadian government had said it would do all along.

.. Kudlow, a friend of mine (who suffered a thankfully mild heart attack Monday night), went on to claim that the real reason Trump attacked our ally was to offer a show of strength before the Singapore summit.

.. “POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around,” Kudlow told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea. . . . Kim must not see American weakness.”

.. Traditionally, the president of the United States is considered the leader of the free world. Well, being the leader of a coalition of powerful and rich countries is a stronger position than leader of America alone.

.. By throwing Canada under the bus — with language we rarely use about our actual adversaries — Trump and his subalterns were sending a message of American weakness, not strength.

Sucking up to Russian president Vladimir Putin while hippie-punching Trudeau doesn’t make Trump himself look stronger, either.

..  One unnamed senior Trump adviser told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the Trump Doctrine could be summarized as “We’re America, Bi***.” That may not be an official policy statement, but that is the impression our allies are getting.

.. Trump is profoundly unpopular and distrusted among the electorates of many of our allies. When Pew asked about public confidence in Trump’s ability to handle world affairs, 22 percent of Canadians expressed confidence in the president (compared with 83 percent for Obama). In Germany, only 11 percent trust Trump.

That’s not a problem if you think we don’t need allies, because they’re all going to Hell anyway. But don’t be surprised if other world leaders decide it’s in their interest to behave antagonistically toward America now that Trump has decided it’s in his interest to do so to them.

 

Trump: Trying to Remake America in His Own Image

 his Justice Department quietly indicated last week that it would not defend major parts of the Affordable Care Act that pro-Trump forces, having failed to kill it in Congress, are now trying to kill through lower courts. And this includes the requirement that insurance companies guarantee access to coverage without bias against people with pre-existing medical conditions.

The implications? Senator Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who voted against repealing Obamacare, put it best: The decision not to defend key provisions of Obamacare — in a suit filed by Texas’ attorney general and 19 other states — “creates further uncertainty that could ultimately result in higher costs for millions of Americans and undermine essential protections for people with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.”

.. Trump just picked a fight with our closest NATO allies, including Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who Trump’s team said “stabbed us in the back” after Trudeau’s mild-mannered defense of his own country’s trade policy on dairy imports. This after Trump has had nary a word of censure for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who stabbed us in the chest with the biggest cyberattack on our democracy ever.

.. But in the case of climate change — where an overwhelming majority of scientists in Trump’s own government say human-induced climate change is 100 percent real and we need to join with the other major industrial powers in the Paris climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions to avoid the unmanageable aspects of climate change and manage the unavoidable ones — Trump chose to scrap Paris, throw away any insurance and move to revive coal... Sure, if climate change turns out to be a hoax, it won’t matter that we have a president who doesn’t believe in science. And sure, if we get consecutive years of exceptionally high growth, and no recession, maybe we’ll grow out of the massive increase in the national debt Trump took on with his corporate tax cuts.

Maybe China, Canada and our European allies will indeed bend to our will on trade and it really will be easy to win multiple trade wars at once. Maybe if another 9/11, or global recession like 2008, never materializes we won’t need allies and we really can cozy up to Putin. And, sure, if health care costs miraculously drop on their own, it won’t matter that Trump destroyed Obamacare without putting anything in its place, let alone something better and cheaper, as he vowed.

In Diplomacy, Trump Is the Anti-Reagan

another take is that it’s the Plaza Redux, meaning the 1988 real estate debacle in which Trump hastily purchased New York’s Plaza Hotel because it looked like an irresistible trophy, only to be forced to sell it at a loss a few years later as part of a brutal debt restructuring.

.. “Like Reagan, he seems to sense that the nuclear technicalities matter less than the political relationship.”

.. First, Trump isn’t Reagan.

  • Reagan generally acted in concert with allies. Trump brazenly acts against them.
  • Reagan’s negotiation method: “Trust but verify.” Trump’s self-declared method: “My touch, my feel.”
  • Reagan refused to give in to Soviet demands that he abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative. Trump surrendered immediately to Pyongyang’s long-held insistence that the U.S. suspend military exercises with South Korea while getting nothing in return.
  • Reagan’s aim was to topple Communist Party rule in Moscow. Trump’s is to preserve it in Pyongyang.

Second, Kim isn’t Gorbachev.

  • Gorbachev was born into a family that suffered acutely the horrors of Stalinism. Kim was born into a family that starved its own people.
  • Gorbachev rose through the ranks as a technocrat with no background in the regime’s security apparatus. Kim consolidated his rule by murdering his uncle, half brother and various ministers, among other unfortunates.
  • Gorbachev came to office intent on easing political repression at home and defusing tensions with the West. Kim spent his first six years doing precisely the opposite.