“President Donald Trump’s declaration on March 2, 2018, that a trade war with China would be “good and easy to win” remains one of the defining moments of his four years in the White House.
That’s only because of how wrong the claim turned out to be. It deserves to live on in infamy alongside George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech and Barack Obama’s “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” promise. Like those, it oversold a complex, messy policy as simple and straightforward. Trump naturally took that presidential hubris to another level, and he paired it with unprecedented policy naivety. If winning a trade war were as simple as tweeting victory into existence with fake statistics, faulty economics, and the veneer of toughness, Trump likely would have succeeded. Unfortunately, that didn’t work.”
“Trump deserves some credit for reorienting America’s economic and foreign policies to recognize the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to freedom around the world. But his approach—which amounted to little more than levying higher taxes on $460 billion of imports and forcing Americans to foot the bill—was an abject failure.”
“China, of course, did retaliate. It drastically reduced agricultural imports from the United States. In 2017, the last year before the trade war began, China imported more than $19 billion in American farm goods, which fell to $9 billion in 2018 and rebounded weakly to $13 billion in 2019. Exports to other countries have been unable to make up the difference, leaving American farmers in the lurch.
The Trump administration responded by spending more than $28 billion in new farm subsidies to mitigate the totally predictable mess it made. By the end of 2020, federal payments accounted for one-third of all American farm income—as Trump’s trade war bailout was piled atop existing subsidies. Rolling back those payments will be politically difficult for future administrations, so they might be here to stay.”
“During his first week in office, Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed 12-nation trade agreement that was a work-in-progress holdover from the Obama administration. In 2018, Trump launched his trade war by nonsensically declaring that steel and aluminum imports from places like Canada and Europe were somehow threats to U.S. national security.
All of that made a difficult confrontation with China more complicated than it otherwise would have been. A go-it-alone strategy was meant to project America’s toughness but a multilateral approach that lowered tariffs on imports from countries that compete with China would have been more effective.
Ironically, Trump also left America less capable of standing up to China in other ways—the president was reportedly hesitant to condemn China’s takeover of Hong Kong and was unwilling to speak out against China’s abuse of Uighurs because doing so might hurt trade negotiations.”