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.
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... 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.
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.
.. But this concession, the equivalent of 0.00003% of US total exports, will have no discernible impact on the US trade 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 better 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.
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.