Trump’s stunning decision to escalate trade wars with China and Mexico signals a turning point for U.S. policy

President Trump’s plan to slap new tariffs on Mexican imports, weeks after escalating his trade war with China, leaves the United States fighting a multi-front campaign that threatens more instability for manufacturers, consumers and the global economy.

The president’s bombshell announcement that he would impose 5 percent tariffs on Mexican imports, with the possibility of raising them to 25 percent if Mexico doesn’t stop migrants from crossing into the United States, left some economists fearing there were few limits to Trump’s appetite for trade conflict.

“In our view, if the U.S. is willing to impose tariff and non-tariff barriers on China and Mexico, then the bar for tariffs on other important U.S. trading partners, including Europe, may be lower than we previously thought,” Barclays economists said in a research note. “We think trade tensions could escalate further before they de-escalate,” Barclays added.

Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called Trump’s move against Mexico a turning point for financial markets and the U.S. economy.

In global markets Friday, investors spooked by new tariff threats sought safety in German government bonds and the Euro rather than their customary dollar-denominated havens. This “seems to me an indicator that the concerns about the U.S. are rising,” Posen said.

The president’s latest move rocked business leaders who were already scrambling to reshape supply chains to avoid fallout from the U.S. confrontation with China. The added uncertainty may paralyze executives who can’t be sure their next supply chain location will be any safer than their last.

“A lot of companies feeling pressure to get out of China are looking at Mexico if they want to serve the US market, Vietnam if they’re more focused on Asia,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department trade official. “Trump’s action yesterday scrambles all those plans.”

In one example of a company caught in the crossfire, GoPro of San Mateo, Calif., last month announced it would move manufacturing of some of its cameras from China to Mexico, so that it could stop paying tariffs to import them to the United States — tariffs resulting from the U.S. trade war with China. Weeks later, GoPro now faces new tariffs to import those goods from Mexico. The company declined to comment Friday.

As U.S. companies race to find new tariff-free places to manufacture, so far few have reported returning production to the United States, despite the president’s stated aim of using trade policy to help bring jobs back home. Many are still seeking alternative locations overseas, where labor is cheaper.

Trump said he would impose the new tariffs because the Mexican government wasn’t doing enough to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom travel through Mexico from Central America. Some White House officials who support Trump’s approach believe the threat of tariffs is the only way to get the attention of Mexican leaders.

The Mexican government tried to defuse the tension Friday, saying the two sides would meet in Washington on Wednesday for high-level talks.

If no solution is found, Mexico is certain to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, with likely targets including U.S. pork, beef, wheat and dairy products, said Former Mexican diplomat Jorge Guajardo.

Some prominent Republicans, including Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, raised concerns that the new tariffs could threaten a trade agreement the Trump administration clinched only months ago with Mexico and Canada, to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Others said the about-face treatment of Mexico would damage Trump’s ability to negotiate trade deals it is pursuing with other partners, including China and Europe.

“You can’t negotiate a trade agreement with someone and then turn around and whack them,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican economist and former Congressional Budget Office director.

In late March, Trump threatened to shut the entire southern border to curb illegal immigration, but backed down a week later after an outcry. That has left some wondering how seriously they should take the latest tariff threat.

If Trump follows through with new tariffs on Mexico, it would hurt U.S. economic growth and increase the possibility of the Federal Reserve reversing course and cutting interest rates this year, economists said.

The drag to the US economy could be meaningful, especially if the tariffs reach 25%,” the upper limit that Trump has set, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists wrote Friday. Even if the tariff remains at 5 percent, the effective cost could be higher because many parts cross the border several times as products are assembled, and the tariff must be paid upon each crossing into the United States.

U.S. automakers will be among the principal casualties. Last year, the United States imported roughly $350 billion in merchandise from Mexico, including about $85 billion in vehicles and parts, according to the International Trade Administration.

A full 25 percent tax “would cripple the industry and cause major uncertainty,” according to Deutsche Bank Securities.

“The auto sector – and the 10 million jobs it supports – relies upon the North American supply chain and cross border commerce to remain globally competitive,” said Dave Schwietert, interim president of the Auto Alliance, an industry group. “This is especially true with auto parts which can cross the U.S. border multiple times before final assembly.”

“Widely applied tariffs on goods from Mexico will raise the price of motor vehicle parts, cars, trucks, and commercial vehicles – and consumer goods in general — for American consumers,” the industry group said. “The potential ripple effects of the proposed Mexican tariffs on the U.S. North American and global trade efforts could be devastating.”

Consumers could pay up to $1,300 more per vehicle if the tariffs are implemented, according to Torsten Slok, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities.

Retailers, technology companies and textile manufacturers also will be hurt. U.S. mills now ship yarn and fabric to Mexico, where it is turned into apparel and exported back to American retailers. Last year, the U.S. textile industry exported $4.7 billion in yarn and fabrics to Mexico, its largest single market.

“Adding tariffs to Mexican apparel imports, which largely contain U.S. textile inputs, would significantly disrupt this industry and jeopardize jobs on both sides of the border,” said Kim Glas, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations.

The new dispute with Mexico came as the U.S.-China trade conflict continued to deepen.

China on Friday announced it would establish a blacklist of “unreliable” foreign companies and organizations, effectively forcing companies around the world to choose whether they would side with Beijing or Washington.

The new “unreliable entities list” would punish organizations and individuals that harm the interests of Chinese companies, Chinese state media reported, without detailing which companies will be named in the list or what the punishment will entail.

Chinese reports suggested the Commerce Ministry will target foreign companies and groups that abandoned Chinese telecom giant Huawei after the Trump administration added Huawei to a trade blacklist this month, which prohibited the sale of U.S. technology to the Chinese company.

At a time when Western corporations have cut back executive travel to China after authorities detained two Canadians on national security grounds in December, the new blacklist sent another shock wave through the business community.

“I think foreign and especially U.S. firms now have to worry that China is creating a new ‘legal pretext’ to at least impose exit bans on foreign individuals who make this new list, if not worse,” said Bill Bishop, the editor of the Sinocism newsletter, referring to the Chinese practice of not allowing designated foreigners to leave China.

Aside from the new blacklist, China in recently days also escalated threats to stop selling the U.S. so-called rare earths — 17 elements with exotic names like cerium, yttrium and lanthanum that are found in magnets, alloys and fuel cells and are used to make advanced missiles, smartphones and jet engines.

Analysts said it could take years for the United States to ramp up rare-earths production, after its domestic industry practically disappeared in the 1990s. Roughly 80 percent of U.S. imports of the material come from China, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, carried a stark warning for the United States this week in an editorial about rare earths: “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

That commentary surprised China experts because the People’s Daily, which often signals official positions with subtly codified language, uses that phrase sparingly: It famously appeared before China launched border attacks against India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.

Tariffs, Mr. Trump’s Miracle Cure

The president appears to view tariffs as the solution to a wide range of foreign policy problems. It isn’t working.

So we’re going to tax Americans until Mexico stops allowing people from Central America to exercise their legal right to seek admission to the United States?

Seems pretty foolproof.

President Trump announced Thursday evening on Twitter, his preferred medium for policymaking, that he plans to impose a new tariff on all imports from Mexico, “until the illegal immigration problem is remedied.”

The tariff would begin at 5 percent on June 10 and gradually rise to 25 percent by October.

Mr. Trump persists in the falsehood that tariffs are paid by America’s trading partners. The truth is that Mexico would no more pay this tariff than it is paying for the construction of a border wall. The evidence is clear: Mr. Trump’s tariffs are taxes being paid by Americans.

This new tax would sit atop Mr. Trump’s tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, and Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports, and the bill is adding up. The United States so far has collected about $19 billion in Trump tariffs. A full 25 percent tariff on Mexican goods could add as much as $87 billion a year to that total.

Mexico would most likely respond by imposing retaliatory tariffs, which is especially bad news for the probable targets: American farmers. About two weeks ago Mr. Trump ended a tariff on Mexican aluminum and steel, and Mexico ended a tariff on American farm goods. So much for that false dawn. Farmers may need to resume the search for new markets.

Taxation is always painful, and always the question is whether the benefits outweigh the pain. In this case, Mr. Trump is using a tariff as a cudgel to induce Mexico’s cooperation in keeping immigrants from America’s southern border. While the cost of the tariff would be paid by Americans, the Mexican economy most likely also would suffer a loss of sales to the United States.

Mr. Trump might succeed in pressuring Mexico to take stronger steps on immigration. Tariffs, however, are a very crude tool. Most of the immigrants seeking to cross the southern border are fleeing problems in Central America that are beyond the control of the Mexican government. Moreover, while Mr. Trump tends to refer to all of the immigrants as illegal, many are exercising a legal right to seek asylum.

Past administrations have sought cooperation from Mexico on immigration issues without disrupting economic relations between the two countries. Mr. Trump’s decision to mix the two issues threatens to disrupt both economies because the manufacturing sectors in Mexico and the United States are tightly intertwined. About two-thirds of trade between the countries is between factories owned by the same company, according to Deutsche Bank.

Other American trading partners with whom Mr. Trump is trying to negotiate new trade deals, including Japan and the European Union, presumably are having the same thought.

Last but not least, messing with Mexico weakens the Trump administration’s hand in its dealings with China. Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods have persuaded some American companies to relocate production to Mexico from China. Those companies now face a more difficult choice. Mr. Trump and his advisers also may find it more difficult to rally international support for their efforts to persuade China to make changes in its economic policies.

Mr. Trump’s apparent determination to fight with all of America’s trading partners at once makes it harder to make progress on any particular front.

Once again, Mr. Trump is lashing out rather than acting strategically — and Americans will feel the pain.

 

China Prepares Policy to Increase Access for Foreign Companies

Some U.S. officials are likely to see Beijing’s move away from its controversial Made in China 2025 policy as more cosmetic than real

.. Odds that the new plan will go far enough in addressing U.S. complaints are long. President Xi and others in the Chinese leadership are used to exercising a strong hand in the economy. Many bureaucracies and state-owned enterprises benefit from the unfettered access to resources that come with big government initiatives and so don’t want to be hampered by the greater competition of a level playing field.

.. Officials in the Trump administration have called Made in China 2025 a threat to fair competition, saying it encourages state subsidies for domestic companies and forces technology transfer from foreign partners. Some U.S. officials are likely to see the changes as more cosmetic than real
.. A key concession under consideration would be dropping the numerical targets for market share by Chinese companies, these people said. Made in China 2025 sets defined goals of raising domestic content of core components and materials to 40% by 2020 and 70% by 2025, an increase that comes at the expense of foreign competitors.
.. President Xi’s economic adviser, Vice Premier Liu He, and other senior officials have criticized Made in China 2025 for creating waste. Cheap loans made available by various levels of government, for example, have led to extreme overcapacity among electric-vehicle battery makers in the past couple of years, making the sector less viable.

.. The Trump administration has pushed the “competitive neutrality” principle, making sure that it was part of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Under the concept, governments are prohibited from favoring state-owned companies over privately owned ones.

.. The idea was a favorite of prior U.S. administrations as well and became part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

.. Vice Premier Liu, has told his U.S. counterparts, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, that China is planning to reduce auto tariffs and boost purchases of soybeans and other crops.

 

.. But the U.S. wants structural issues like Made in China 2025 and other policies addressed in any full trade deal.

.. “Any progress on addressing global concerns regarding the Made in China 2025 plan should be benchmarked not against new slogans and broad formulations,” said Jeremie Waterman, president of the China Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It should be benchmarked against very detailed concerns regarding subsidies, standard setting, procurement and others.”

 

In Nafta Rewrite, Canada Took Cue From Mexico: Make a Big Concession

As Trump’s deadline for the negotiation neared, Canadian negotiators struggled to make the U.S. give ground

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo offered advice: Make a key concession to the U.S. to break the logjam. Mexico had bent to U.S. pressure on policies aimed at shifting auto production from Mexico back north, opening the way for Mexico and the U.S. to strike a broader deal a month earlier.

.. For Canada, the equivalent of Mexican cars was dairy. Canadian negotiators had already been thinking along the same lines, and the next day, Canada sent the U.S. a document that included detailed plans for easing curbs on American milk and cheese products, a Canadian official said.

.. Two sectors drew outsize attention in the talks—auto and dairy—that came to be dubbed by some the “cars and cows” negotiations. The path to the deal had plenty of twists and gambits that backfired over the 13 months of meetings, as Mexico and Canada at times accused each other of betraying their early oath to present a united front.

The tone for the Nafta talks was set in October 2017, when Mr. Lighthizer made a number of controversial demands that would recast the pact, such as injecting a “sunset clause” making it easier for a country to terminate the pact and weakening the mechanisms allowing challenges to American trade penalties.

Among the most controversial proposals was one requiring that half the content of cars built in North America come from the U.S. Both Canada and Mexico quickly rejected that as incompatible with the core principles of an agreement designed to tighten integration of a continentwide bloc.

.. But behind the scenes, Canadian officials thought they could work with the idea. They asked a longtime trade bureaucrat to find a creative way to satisfy U.S. goals without capitulating to U.S. demands. He put together a plan that would change the criteria for what qualifies as “North American content,” in a way that would emphasize higher-value input such as software.
.. “It became clear at that stage that Lighthizer wasn’t going to give us anything at all until he knew the outcome of negotiations for the auto sector,”
.. At the end of August, Messrs. Trump and Peña Nieto announced a deal that included the requirement that 40% to 45% of North American auto content be made by workers paid at least $16 an hour.
.. Though the Nafta dairy market is worth a fraction of the auto industry—and the U.S. runs a dairy surplus with Canada—it became an important issue for Mr. Trump after he got an earful during an April 2017 visit to Wisconsin. The president made Canadian dairy a staple of stump speeches and tweets complaining about how Canada took advantage of the U.S.
.. Mr. Kushner had come to play a behind-the-scenes role in the Nafta talks, and Canada’s negotiators wanted him to see right away a document that included Canada’s formal offer on dairy. The key concession had been made and the U.S. soon responded by giving in to some of Canada’s key demands.

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.

 

The New and Not Improved NAFTA

US President Donald Trump has called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which succeeds NAFTA, “the single greatest agreement ever signed.” In reality, it is not as good as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the US upon taking office, nor is it particularly better than the agreement it replaced.

Of course, this is Trump’s modus operandi: threaten to do something catastrophic, so people are relieved when things get only a little bit worse. That is what he did with North Korea, when he insulted its leader, Kim Jong-un, and threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on the country. Compared to nuclear conflict, his eventual meeting with Kim seemed like a triumph, even though it produced little actual progress.

.. Trump’s own mischaracterization of that meeting’s outcome – the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea, he falsely asserted, had been “solved” – is another standard Trump tactic. He callsthe USMCA “the single greatest agreement ever signed.” For Trump, all NAFTA really needed was a new name – one that, as Eswar Prasad points out, literally puts “America First” – to enable him to pretend for his supporters that he achieved something positive.

..The first change is the introduction of two measures pertaining to the auto industry. The agreement requires that, to avoid tariffs, 75% of an automobile’s content originate within North America

.. This will bring some benefits to some American autoworkers, at the expense of everybody else. Not only will consumers face higher costs for autos; the disruption of existing efficient supply chains may even leave the US auto industry as a whole worse off, as it undermines the international competitiveness of North American output.

..The second prominent change in the USMCA is its agricultural concessions, particularly Canada’s agreement to give US producers access to up to 3.6% of its dairy market.

.. But this concession, the equivalent of 0.00003% of US total exports, will have no discernible impact on the US  balance. Trump cannot truthfully claim a victory relative to the status quo he inherited – even to his mercantilist supporters. In fact, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had managed to wrest similar dairy concessions from Canada in 2015 as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the US immediately upon taking office.

.. Overall, the TPP would have been  than the USMCA

.. in the USMCA negotiations, the US agreed to give Canada increased access to its own dairy market, as well as to two of its other most highly protected agricultural areas: peanuts (and processed peanut products) and sugar

.. The third feature of the USMCA that has drawn the most attention relates to dispute-settlement mechanisms.

.. The fourth notable change in the USMCA is the introduction of a sunset clause.

.. the USMCA must be renewed every 16 years. One hopes that future reviews will take place at times when more sensible leaders are in charge, and perhaps will eliminate the automatic sunset clause.

.. Ultimately, the rebranded NAFTA is a step in the direction of the TPP that Trump so reviled. It is not as good as the TPP, nor is it an overall improvement over NAFTA. But it is better than blowing up trade in North America.

Some Things Are True Even if Trump Believes Them

One of the hardest things to accept for all of us who want Donald Trump to be a one-term president is the fact that some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them! And one of those things is that we have a real trade problem with China. Imports of Chinese goods alone equal two-thirds of the global U.S. trade deficit today.

.. he’s so weirdly obsessed with protecting “manly” industries like coal, steel and aluminum that affect our allies more than China — and he’s built such a chaotic policymaking process and unilaterally surrendered so much leverage to Beijing — that he can’t be relied upon to navigate the China trade issue in our national interest.

.. David Autor, the M.I.T. economist who’s done some of the most compelling research on the impacts of China trade

.. the “shock” that China delivered to U.S. lower-tech manufacturers in the years right after Beijing joined the World Trade Organization in 2001

.. roughly 40 percent of the decline in U.S. manufacturing between 2000 and 2007 was due to a surge in imports from China primarily after it joined the W.T.O.

.. it led to the sudden loss of about one million factory jobs in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won all of those states.

.. This “China shock,” said Autor, led not only to mass unemployment but also to social disintegration, less marriage, more opioid abuse and more people dropping out of the labor market and requiring government aid.

.. “International trade creates diffuse benefits and concentrated costs,”

..  has created identifiable losers in trade-impacted industries

.. We assumed that China would “reform and open” after it joined the W.T.O.,

.. Instead, China “reformed and closed.” So China kept a 25 percent tariff on new cars imported from the U.S. (our tariff is 2.5 percent)

.. China grew its companies behind a wall of protection, fed them with state funds and, when they were competitive enough, unleashed them on the world

..  “Chinese and foreign makers are about to start sending huge numbers of fully built cars to the U.S. We are about to see a big increase in the U.S. trade deficit in automotive in the next several years.”

.. U.S. tech firms, like Apple, that want to offer cloud services to Chinese citizens have to store the data in China on servers operated by a Chinese partner. The U.S. has no such regulation.

.. “if they don’t accept demands to partner with Chinese companies and store data in China, then they risk losing access to the lucrative Chinese market, despite fears about trade secret theft and the rights of Chinese customers.”

.. “no US auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV auto companies in the US.”

.. American electric vehicle (E.V.) companies operating in China are forced to have a Chinese partner and transfer technology to them.

.. they are also playing by a set of rules that others would be naïve to ignore.

.. So what would a smart American president do? First, he’d sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord. TPP eliminated as many as 18,000 tariffs on U.S. exports

.. focused on protecting what we do best — high-value-added manufacturing and intellectual property.

.. China was not in TPP. It was a coalition built, in part, to pressure Beijing into fairer market access, by our rules. Trump just gave it up for free.

.. “Since you like your trade rules so much, we’re going to copy them for your companies operating in America: 25 percent tariffs on your cars, and your tech companies that open here have to joint venture and share intellectual property with a U.S. partner — and store all their data on U.S. servers.”

.. Having a really tough trade negotiation with China on manufacturing and high technology, but doing it in secret, makes sense to me.

Starting a public trade war with our allies over aluminum and steel that raises the costs for our manufacturers, that doesn’t protect our growth industries and that loses allies that we need to deal with China makes absolutely no sense.

.. We needed to be, and still need to be, much more serious, and generous, about creating “wage insurance” and community reinvestment policies for people and places whose employers are suddenly wiped out by a trade shock.

.. tax incentives, Pell grants, community colleges — to create the conditions for every American to be constantly upgrading skills

.. Too much of the economic discussion of late “has been focused on the 1 percent versus the 99 percent,” observed Autor. “It’s become a kind of ‘inequality porn’

.. You lose sight of the fact that there is a dramatic rise in the economic return to tangibly acquiring skills — skills that are available and should be within everyone’s reach.”

.. The lack of real meritocracy in our country today, he added, “is not about the returns to realized skills. It is about the inequality in the ability to acquire those skills.

.. If you get educated in America today, and have a good work ethic, you are going to be rewarded.’

.. What does education do? It gives you a skill set and enables you to adapt to change better.

And cities and towns anchored by universities tend to reinvent themselves more easily; they’re engines of adaptation.