Protectionism won't lead Trump anywhere

Updated 2017-07-07 11:00:05 China Daily

U.S. President Donald Trump has changed the United States' trade policy to resort to trade protectionism, which goes against globalization and trade liberalization. Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because he believes it could undermine the interests of American workers. The U.S. president also wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and has threatened to withdraw his country from the World Trade Organization.

The Trump administration's actions can be attributed to the president's belief that globalization is responsible for the rising unemployment in the U.S. and the decline of the domestic manufacturing industry. Trump also believes that only trade protectionist policies can help the U.S. middle class flourish.

To reduce the U.S.' trade deficit, especially against China, the Trump administration has adopted a series of trade remedy measures vis-à-vis its trade partners. And it aims to reduce the U.S.' trade deficit with China by also taking trade protectionist measures against other Chinese imports.

The Trump administration uses the U.S.' domestic standards to judge the global trade system, which, in a way, is a manifestation of the unilateral trade policy the U.S. has been using for a long time. As such, Trump's protectionist measures may intensify the trade frictions between China and the U.S. in the short term.

According to data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, from January to April this year, the U.S.' trade deficit in terms of imports from China was 6.48 billion. That means the U.S.' trade deficit against China is the highest and accounts for 44.39 percent of its total trade deficit. The January-to-April data show that among the top 10 commodities imported by the U.S. which resulted in trade deficits for the country, six were from China. This suggests the Trump administration is likely to build more trade barriers against China.

The U.S. economy has been recovering, so U.S. voters now care more about improving their livelihoods and economic status and less about whether Trump is a leader with strategic insight. Perhaps that's why the Trump administration has continued to announce anti-trade liberalization policies.

That the U.S. is resorting to protectionism after its economic recovery is cause for global concern. The Trump administration's trade policies can also be seen as a compromise between the U.S. Congress and various interest groups.

The trade remedy measures the Trump administration has implemented recently show the political power the interest groups exercise in the U.S.. The U.S.' labor unions and organizations lobby the president and Congress members to seek political solutions for domestic unemployment and trade deficit problems.

And when political forces promote trade policies and legislation that favor protectionism, the interest groups can use various trade remedy measures to take on trade partners legally to protect U.S. industries and create job opportunities.

But the Trump administration should realize that protectionism can never "make America Great Again". The fundamental reason why the U.S. manufacturing industry has been suffering is the decline in labor efficiency, due partly to the increasing use of automation. It was easier to transfer labor-intensive industries from the U.S. to developing countries before the rapid development of Sino-U.S. trade. And the huge trade deficit between China and the U.S. is mainly because of Washington's refusal to export advanced technologies and technological products to Beijing.

Free global trade has the potential to optimize resource distribution through the international division of labor and connectivity, which is beneficial to exporters and importers alike. Till now the Sino-U.S. trade relationship has been mutually beneficial. And to further consolidate this relationship, both sides have to reduce their trade frictions.

The author Wang Li is a researcher with Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

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