Will Trump Ever Make Up His Mind About Trade?


From the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump was very clear about his stance on China. They were a currency manipulator, they were dealing dirty on trade, and they were responsible for the gutting of the American middle class. Here’s an entertaining amalgam of the president’s China-related tweets dating back to 2012 – and while the rhetoric moves from military paranoia to some sober(ish) trade ideas, his position is unmoving.

Here’s the problem: Donald Trump doesn’t actually understand that much about trade negotiations.

For proof look no further than last week’s trade talks with China, which the administration called “historic” and a “Herculean accomplishment,” which on closer inspection don’t represent the kind of tough stance one might have expected from Trump. The reality, at least according to one former official, is that “they got played.”

The deal saw China open up to imports of US beef, as well as pledging to allow foreign-owned credit rating and credit card companies to set up shop. Both of these points had been previously pledged, the beef last September and the credit allowances in 2001, so their inclusion in the deal is of dubious importance.

For its part, the US pledged to sell more liquefied natural gas to the China, accept imports of cooked chicken and gave the Chinese government their tacit endorsement of the so-called ‘Belt and Road’ project which aims to revamp the ancient trade route from China to Europe.

Many experts were surprised that the negotiations did not feature a discussion on Chinese regulations on technology or access to information, and that the president has declared they are no longer a currency manipulator without any substantive action on that subject.

There are also fears that supplying the Chinese with cheap natural gas will allow them to continue to manufacture at a substantially reduced cost as compared to the US. This could lead to serious obstructions to the reshoring efforts championed by the Trump administration, and create what some experts call a “colonial economy” where the US supplies the raw materials for China to then manufacture goods and resell them in the same market.

There is speculation that Trump’s softening on his scorched earth China policy has a lot to do with meeting President Xi Jinping- that the Chinese president’s nuanced approach to their relationship convinced the erstwhile pigheaded Trump to reconsider. Well, that and the substantial business interest his company has in China. He realized he and his cabal were going to get screwed by his own plans, so he changed course.

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