Free Trade

In His Final Days, Is Trump's Approach to China Changing for the Better?

On his first day in office, Donald Trump tore up the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His administration is now seeking to put together something similar.

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On literally his first week in office, President Donald 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.

Now Trump might spend his final days in office trying to undo that initial mistake.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the latest Trump administration plan to confront China's unfair trade practices seeks to "create an informal alliance of Western nations to jointly retaliate when China uses its trading power to coerce countries." If China boycotts imports—as it recently did to Australian coal—or otherwise applies economic pressure to a trading partner, the allied nations would be able to execute a coordinated response. An unnamed administration official tells the paper that "the West needs to create a system of absorbing collectively the economic punishment from China's coercive diplomacy and offset the cost."

A collective, rather than unilateral, approach to pressuring China? Wow, things are getting really crazy in the Trump White House these days.

Creating an informal economic alliance to counterbalance China in the Pacific was, of course, one of the TPP's primary goals. Like all trade agreements, the TPP was not without its warts, but Trump's criticism of the proposed pact was rooted in ignorance. He railed against the TPP during the 2016 campaign, condemning it as a "horrible deal" that was "designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone"—even though it was designed to do exactly the opposite.

Tearing up the never-ratified deal on his first day in office was not just a fuck-you to the Obama administration but a more broadly symbolic gesture. Trump was sending a signal that America would stand up to China one-on-one while seeking unilateral trade deals with some of the countries, like Japan, that would have been part of the TPP.

Four years later, it's safe to say that the Trump strategy has not succeeded. There have been a few small victories, of course, like the "phase one" trade deal that the U.S. and China inked late last year. But those wins are small potatoes compared to the overwhelming costs of Trump's go-it-alone strategy, which has foisted billions of dollars of tariff costs on American importers and consumers. The administration has spent $28 billion bailing out farmers hurt by the trade war—a massive self-inflicted wound. And that doesn't even get into the other damage caused by Trump's haphazard escalations of trade tensions with longtime U.S. allies.

It's far too late for the president to change course now, but there is a certain satisfying symmetry to this final shift in Trump's views on trade.

"Forming a large coalition of like-minded countries to confront certain Chinese trade and investment practices makes a lot of sense," says Clark Packard, a trade policy counsel with the pro-market R Street Institute. "The United States does not have sufficient market power alone to force substantial changes to Beijing's economic practices, but it can increase its leverage over such practices with a larger coalition."

President-elect Joe Biden supported the TPP as a member of the Obama administration, but he has sent mixed messages about how his incoming administration might approach some of these thorny trade issues. Still, he has signalled an interest in stepping back from Trump's go-it-alone formula. "We need to be aligned with the other democracies," Biden said at a press conference last week, "so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town."

Trading with other nations is, by definition, not something you can do by yourself. Whether coming from Biden or from the final days of the Trump administration, these are welcome signs that America is ready to put some of the economic foolishness of the past four years behind it.

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  1. Fuckin’ asshole Der DonaldFuhrer FUCKED IT ALL UP for us! Free trade rules; Protectionism drools! Hey Donald! PLEASE just GO AWAY! Forever! And don’t come back! Asshole! Donald the Lame-Duck, STEP ASIDE!

    What have your trade wars EVER done for us?

    And THAT is how I feel about THAT!

    1. #DumpDrumpf
      Why have expensive manufacturing jobs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Michigan when you can send them to China and save BIGLY! No unions, no OSHA, no EPA, and no political instability (i.e. democracy).

      1. Let’s pay people $50/hour to smear dog shit on the walls, to make them happy, and get them to vote for Der TrumpfenFuhrer! No one wants to buy their dog-shit-on-the-walls “art”? Well! We can make up for THAT! Let’s pay farmers (who have been put out of an honest living selling food to China) on AMERICAN WELFARE instead! Woo-hoo, NOW we’re cooking with gas! STUPID gas from the ass of Der TrumpfenFuhrer, that is!

        1. I would rather watch you as you’re burned alive. But not quickly. Slowly, oh so slowly.

          I’m su RE you would say many witty things as your flesh burnt off of you. You should try it. Maybe do a live stream on the net and raise money for a new shit bucket.

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        2. Notice how his first instinct is always shit-smearing?

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    2. We’ve never had free trade with China you ignorant fuck.

      1. So name me ONE thing that is COMPLETELY and TOTALLY perfect then, Oh Great Wise Wonder? Your 10th grade education maybe?

        1. We’re all superior to you. Have you ever considered what a stupid person you are?

        2. Yeah Jesse, don’t let international communism be the enemy of the good!

    3. Ah SQRLSY, the official “crazy homeless guy” here at Reason.

      1. Wow, what clever wit! Did your mommy help you write that?

        1. Good comeback you midwit.

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    5. Free trade doesn’t work between economies with disparate labor laws and costs. Oh, and valium.

  2. I’ll tell you what was wrong with the TPP and what is wrong with this proposal: they both try to bind nations to collective action which nothing prohibits them from doing individually now.

    If all these boycotts and bans and such are noble and good, why do nations have to bind each other in treaties to do them?

    Fuck me. Unilateral zero tariffs would do a whole lot better, regardless of what other countries do. Imports have to equal exports, by the very nature of fiat currencies and the economics of trade If the Chinese ban imports, they have to hurt themselves even more by cutting down on exports.

    What a bunch of collective poppycock everybody is spouting!

    1. There is a problem with non binding agreements. Smart nations, like China, will selectively pick off weaker competitors on products that are harder to support. Looking to crack the non binding agreement. So you ended up with country saying, you did not support me when I was under trade pressure, why should I support you.

      Make no mistake about China, they are very smart and they will find the cracks.

  3. “Whether coming from Biden or from the final days of the Trump administration, these are welcome signs that America is ready to put some of the economic foolishness of the past four years behind it.”

    Yeah, we need to go back to the old standard economic foolishness of the last 30 years!

    1. What some Reason writers and commenters have forgotten is no matter how much Trump shook up Washington DC politics, he was a one shot wonder who didn’t give a shit about liberty. The little bit of deregulating, the little bit less warring, and even his good judicial picks, are not about liberty, and their incidental effects on liberty will not last long.

      Going back to the TPP is an awful idea. It stank to high heaven.

      1. Please recite chapter and verse of its terrible evil. I haven’t read it in full.

    2. Estimated 3% of GDP stolen, increased security costs for our companies…. all with a shrugged shoulders and an “oh China” and a wagging finger.

      So much better.

      God forbid we recognize other atrocities like the Muslims or slave labor. By God you deserve the slightly cheaper goods at the expense of other humans. That is truly the libertarian way. Exploitation of others for your benefit.

      1. JesseBahnFuhrer and other Trumpist Minions want to dictate to us all, who we can and cannot trade with, by calling everyone that they do not like, “IP thieves” and “Slave laborers”.

        Hey JesseBahnFuhrer! Name me ONE DAMNED BIT OF GOOD that Trump’s trade wars have done for ANYONE, other than over-paid fat-cat CEOs of protected industries in the USA!

        Clear-cut case below, showing the UTTER FAILURE of protectionism in general, and Trumpist protectionism specifically:

        Meanwhile in the real world…
        https://reason.com/2019/04/22/trumps-washing-machine-tariffs-cleaned-out-consumers/
        Trump’s Washing Machine Tariffs Cleaned Out Consumers
        A new report finds the tariffs raised $82 million for the U.S. Treasury but ended up increasing costs for consumers by about $1.2 billion.
        PROTECTIONISM DOESN’T WORK!!! DUH!!!
        Protect American washing-machine makers from Chinese competition? The FIRST thing that American washing-machine makers do, is jack UP their prices… AND the prices of dryers to boot, too! To SOAK the hell out of all of us consumers!!!
        From the above-linked Reason article about washing machines…
        “All told, those tariffs raised about $82 million for the U.S. Treasury but ended up increasing costs for consumers by about $1.2 billion during 2018 … (deleted). Although the trade policy did cause some manufacturers to shift production from overseas to the United States in an effort to avoid the new tariffs, the 1,800 jobs created by Trump’s washing machine tariffs cost consumers an estimated $820,000 per job.”
        Summary: Nickels and dimes to the USA treasury; boatloads of pain for consumers. USA jobs created? Yes, at GREAT expense! Putting these 1.8 K workers on a super-generous welfare program would have been WAY better for all the rest of us! Plus, you know the WORKERS don’t make super-huge bucks (no $820,000 per job for THEM); the goodies flow to the EXECUTIVES at the top of the washing-machine companies! The same ones who play golf with The Donald, and join him for gang-banging Stormy Daniels! Essentially at our expense!

        Trump’s trade wars have done NOTHING for the Uighurs, Tibetans, or the people of Hong Kong! Prove otherwise, TrumpTards!

        1. You ought to have a heart to heart with Joe Biden.

          Because you both lack brains.

          1. I’ll wager Biden shares a similar passion for eating his own shit. And I’m sure both Biden and Squirrelly shit their Depends.

        2. Aye.

          You cannot change those human rights issues with trade tariffs. It did not work and never will. If anything it makes things worse.

          Four years has not accomplished anything. Trump is weeks away from becoming an irrelevant has been.

          1. If anything it makes things worse.

            Yeah just look how China blossomed into a thriving capitalist democracy under Clinton, Bush and Obama before Trumpy poo ruined everything!

            1. China is their own nation. They don’t report to Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trumpy poo. It is NOT OUR JOB to fix China! And it is not YOUR job, to tell me whose products I may or may not buy! Fuck off, slaver!

    3. “MIDDLE CLASS WAGES HAVE INCREASED?!? WE, LIBERTARIANS, OPPOSE SUCH POPPYCOCKERY!”

      Weird how all of this “massive wealth” we got from foreign trade didn’t really benefit most people

  4. No taxation without representation!

    Each and every tax must be voted on by the legislature. Fuck China, fuck Australia, fuck Bush, Obama and Trump. The only ones who can raise or lower taxes is Congress. No treaty or law can change that.

    1. Apparently you missed the tariffs clause in that dusty old parchment.

  5. A conservative friend wonders if Trump had had friendlier relations with China they might have been more forthcoming and cooperative with the U.S. back when the chicom-19 got loose on the world.

    1. ….yes, it’s Trump’s fault China poisoned the world with COVID.

      Your friend is a fucking moron.

  6. Say Eric, should trade policy always be decided by whoever releases biological weapons first?

    1. No it should be decided by elected politicians. The rest of us are not competent enough to decide whom or what to buy and sell with all by ourselves.

  7. Trump is far too late in the game to fix his mistakes at this point. He needs to think about redecorating his place.

    One thing I saw was some of his car collection is going up on the auction block. The Rolls and the Ferrari. He has said he missed driving. Now he can do that again.

    1. “He has said he missed driving.”

      How can he SAY that? He has been driving me crazy! Me and 79,823,827 + 485,798 + ??? other people who voted AGAINST Trump! For 4 full YEARS he has been driving us crazy!

      1. Maybe you should just kill yourself. So we can all find peace.

        No, you should DEFINITELY kill yourself.

        1. What reward do you think that you’re earning for yourself, with your worship of the Evil One, Evil One Junior?

          1. Swoon over extreme murderous warmonger Obama, give me my free ObamaPhone. Obama’s equally-murderous lab assistant QuidProJoe is now in charge. Gimme my free ‘lectric car.

          2. Your suicide is it’s own reward, for the entire human race.

  8. I remember early on when Trump referred to the TPP as Obama’s trade deal with China – he had no idea what TPP was but he knew it was an Obama deal so it must be bad. There may have been some bad parts of the TPP, but given that it was, in effect, a low-level war against China, the costs of the trade agreement to the US were arguably worth it. Trump blew that shit up because he wanted to deal with each nation separately and each aspect of trade separately, because that’s how you make great deals. Given that Trump’s deal-making skills are somewhat, shall we say, greatly exaggerated just as almost everything else about him is, this did not work out well. That Trump has finally recognized this – or, more likely, has given up on being President and is allowing his subordinates to run things – is a good thing. Or would be if it weren’t far too little and far too late given that China has seized the initiative and signed it’s own trade deal with many of those same countries. And the idea that Biden might take a get-tough-with-China stance is ludicrous given that he’s on their payroll.

    1. It seems that this RCEP deal means that China and the other signatories are bound together to resist American action against China. Trump has given China, a communist country with a commitment to low tariffs and free trade, a golden opportunity to set the terms of Asian trade.

      1. It also seems that you’re a communist shill for Red China.

        1. Some of us are good people.

  9. lost me with the F Y
    is the editor sleeping?

  10. The hilarious part of quitting the TPP is that all the other eleven members, including six we already have free trade agreements with, went ahead and signed the CPTPP, which is the TPP minus all the particular provisions only the US wanted. The CPTPP has been ratified by seven countries now, including four that have FTAs with the US already.

    So, the biggest effect of Trump pulling out of TPP has been to create an incentive to move US manufacturing to Australia, Canada, Mexico, and Singapore, which already have free trade access to the US market under other trade agreements, and get access to the Japanese market under CPTPP.

  11. It appears that this RCEP deal approach that China and the other signatories are bound collectively to face up to American action towards China. Trump has given China, a communist us of a with a dedication to low tariffs and free trade, a golden opportunity to set the phrases of Asian trade.

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    1. Your sock puppet already sad that in those exact words.

  12. It should be noted that trade treaties forced onto the citizenry by the state is not an example of a free market – though you will have a hard time getting @reason to admit that.

  13. Reason dipshits. The outcome would have been vastly superior had the slimy Dems not legalized voter fraud. But since it appears they’re going to get away with it, Trump has to dial back the strategy.

    Fuck you communist sympathizers. We already have the CCP publicly issuing “instructions” to Biden’s caretakers (which they will dutifully follow).

    1. If the courts fail us then it will take a grassroots uprising to overthrow the marxists. Especially since he democrat party is now a domestic terror organization.

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  15. The TTP has gotten bad press from both the left political and the right political right. But the problem here is not the politicians but rather we the people. We need to be more conscious of the importance of foreign trade to our own economy and well being. What we in the center need to do is tell our politician that we recognize that we are a part of a global economy and that trade deals need to be made with broader groups of nations. The problem here is not the politicians but rather we the people.

    1. Why yes, when Trump was “killing” foreign trade our economy was hotter than it had been in decades. The poor had wage increases and, well, libertarians and progressives (I know, I repeat myself) cannot have that.

      1. Trump inherited a very good economy that actually did best just before Trump began his Presidency. His failed trade war resulted in millions of government aid going to farmer that lost business due to China’s retaliatory tariffs. Trump’s trade policies did little but gum up the works of a global economy.

  16. Container ships are lined up waiting for entry to at least one major West Coast port. Maybe my new Samsung is on one of them. Ha ha.

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