Donald Trump, 'Ready Player One' in global trade game
Zehra Servet
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Editor's note: Zehra Servet is a political analyst and consultant based in Istanbul, Turkey. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 
 

The normally cordial relationship between the government of the United States and the European Union has been put to test in the recent times by the U.S. President Donald Trump, threatening a raft of sanctions and tariffs on EU nations for what he considers to be unfair trade practices. It would be very easy to see this presidential bluster as some sort of retaliatory rhetoric in response to the ongoing dispute between the U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing and their EU competitor Airbus, which have waged a contentious dispute in front of WTO arbitrators for over a decade, resulting in penalties and sanctions. However, the results of this dispute could prove to be far more consequential than many currently imagine. 

Although the rhetoric of the American president has been directed toward EU trading partners, recent developments, such as a major agreement on the trade of beef, have proven that the relationship between the U.S. and the EU, at least in economic terms, is as healthy and cooperative as ever. Surely the negotiation of any major deal will sometimes be contentious, and squabbles will occasionally be made public and leaked to the media in order for leverage, but in the end, the deal gets done, as it always has.  

 

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2019. /VCG Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2019. /VCG Photo

The fates of these two massive trade partners are far too linked for any serious rift to persist even during the worst of times. Instead, President Trump seems to have another target in mind entirely, and his comments appear to be a signal aimed at an entirely different trade adversary, China. 

During the initial sequences of his term in office, Trump was famous for claiming that trade disputes are actually good and easy to win because of the scale of the U.S. economy globally and the massive clout that allows the government to wield in negotiations. Most experts agreed this was in fact quite incorrect reasoning, but the President was determined to begin a trade dispute with a variety of nations, including China, the largest single trading partner of the United States with an estimated 636 billion U.S. dollars volume only in 2018. 

In fact, Trump has been the "Ready Player One" in the global trade game. China isn't singled out on this lane, as the U.S. have in fact started a trade dispute with nearly every one of their major trading partners, thus far in some form or the other, including scrapping the NAFTA agreement which encompassed trade relations among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Trade with Canada and Mexico accounted for almost 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 for the Americans, almost double the amount of their dealings with China. However, while not being uniquely threatened, China was fortunate to be uniquely positioned to see off these new threats and achieve a strategic victory. 

While certainly the tariffs imposed by the U.S. have had quite a sting on the Chinese side, the pain felt by the Americans has been far worse. By every measure, the Americans have been the recipients of the worst damage of the trade war between the two so far, exactly as predicted by the experts before the dispute even began. 
 

U.S. President Donald (R) Trump makes a joint statement on trade with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2018. /VCG Photo

U.S. President Donald (R) Trump makes a joint statement on trade with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2018. /VCG Photo

Because of these actions and their consequences, the Trump administration seems to be pivoting toward unconventional tactics. By threatening the North American nations, as well as the EU trading partners the U.S. had reliably cooperated with for decades, the President seems to be attempting to send a message to the Chinese side that he is willing to do anything and everything to achieve victory. He seems to suppose if he has a large economic weapon drawn, the other side will eventually panic and drop theirs. He is making it clear that as the saying goes, he has no problem cutting off his own nose to spite his face. 

Perhaps in other instances, this tactic might work, as it did with Canada and Mexico to an extent during NAFTA re-negotiations. China, however, is uniquely positioned to see off this threat, with not only a large, but a very diverse economy, as well as multiple massive trading partners hungry for their products, including not surprisingly the EU, which has also faced American threats to their own economy in recent times. Despite a bit of short-term pain, the Chinese know very well the tariffs are hurting their adversary vastly more, and a long-term gain can be expected.  

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