Trade: U.S. and Europe step back from war
Facing an “intensifying revolt” from businesses and fellow Republicans, President Trump last week called a quick truce in his European trade war, said Valentina Pop in The Wall Street Journal. In a scramble to prove he’d made at least some progress, Trump pledged to work with the European Commission to negotiate “a broad reduction in tariffs on industrial goods and to cooperate against unfair Chinese trade practices.” Europeans hailed the announcement as an important win. The pact with Europe reaffirms a trans-Atlantic free-trade relationship Trump has regularly questioned and heads off new auto tariffs, without major concessions. Privately, European officials called the deal “a bit of a stunt” and said they really hadn’t given up anything at all. “Trump finally seems to be realizing the political risks that tariffs pose for him,” said Josh Barro in BusinessInsider.com. Settling for a deal that’s really an agreement “to talk about having more talks,” Trump seems to have had “a change of political judgment that spares us maximum trade-war escalation.” With steel and aluminum tariffs still in place, though, it’s a change in strategy, not a change of heart.
Some details may still have to be worked out, but for Trump this is a real victory, said Irwin Stelzer in The Weekly Standard. “He has been arguing that tariffs are merely a tactic in the trade war, his way of persuading the trading partners who have been taking unfair advantage of America to come to the bargaining table.” Thanks to Trump’s belligerent stance, Europe is doing that. That makes Trump—for now—not a “mad protectionist” but a genuine champion of free trade. He did secure agreements from the Europeans to import more soybeans and liquefied natural gas, and began the process of working toward zero tariffs. More importantly, thanks to Trump the U.S. and European Union, which together make up close to half of the global economy, can turn their joint firepower against China’s trade abuses. This is all good news for the GOP’s long-muted free-trade wing, said Reihan Salam in The Atlantic. Trump has spared “red-state agriculturists a punishing reversal of fortune,” while strengthening his hand against China. For those who recognize that China—a repressive state that hopes to use trade to build technological dominance—isn’t the same as Europe, this is reason to cheer.
The truth is, Trump blinked, said Stephen Collinson in CNN.com. Sure, his latest announcement on trade with Europe “was dressed up as a huge victory,” but in reality this is a slyly disguised way for Trump to walk back his threats. “The deal appeared more of a fix for a problem Trump had created rather than a genuine breakthrough on thorny underlying issues.” The biggest concern for Trump’s team is “the unpredictable nature of the president’s diplomacy.” Nobody is certain whether he will allow the trade amnesty to last or will again become enraged and blow the whole thing up. “Be grateful for small mercies,” said John Cassidy in The New Yorker. This cease-fire may be only temporary, but “at least the meeting didn’t end with the world’s two largest economies descending into a full-scale trade war.” ■