The new tariffs set by Donald Trump and the nomination of a hardly reassuring national security advisor are helping to create a bad climate throughout the world.
He promised, and he delivered: America First. The latest measure taken by President Donald Trump on Thursday March 22 confirms his desire to provide himself with all the necessary means to implement his unilateral and protectionist agenda. The nomination of John Bolton, who supports the use of force in international relations, to replace General H.R. McMaster as national security advisor, serves the objective of unilateralism. The decision to impose tariffs on the importation of certain Chinese products reinforces the objective of protectionism. Each of these is bad news for the rest of the world.
After a series of incoherent declarations on the targets of new tariffs, Trump decided: The European Union, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and South Korea are spared, for now, from the punitive taxes on steel and aluminum announced on March 8; it is China that is affected, something he committed to during his election campaign. His Japanese ally is not exempt and should negotiate. Taxes on imports in the United States will be applied to Chinese products for a total sum of $60 billion (nearly 50 billion euros), coming from 10 sectors considered to be strategic for Beijing, among which are high-tech industry, aeronautics and electric vehicles. In the next two weeks Washington will present a list of products specifically affected by a 25 percent increase in import duties.
The Fall of Asian Markets
Trump justified these measures by citing the trade imbalance, which is real, between the two economic heavyweights, as well as the willingness of the United States to protect intellectual property from its technological advances. Europeans share this preoccupation with a Chinese power eager for technological transfer, but an increase in tariffs is not necessarily the best way to shield ourselves from it.
China reacted firmly, saying that they “are not afraid of a trade war,” although they do not want it. “We are ready to defend our interests,” Beijing’s minister of commerce warned. The fear of a trade war immediately caused Asian financial markets to fall. Trump’s assurances that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” could very well be put to the test soon.
This is, however, but one of the black clouds forming on the horizon. The choice of John Bolton to complete the White House’s diplomatic and security team, 10 days after replacing Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, has something to do with the increasing worries of the United States’ allies, in Europe as much as in Asia. The new national security advisor, who is succeeding the more conventional McMaster, brings back the more somber times of American interventionism seen during George W. Bush’s first term. A fierce opponent of the International Criminal Court, John Bolton was a demanding U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Radical and dogmatic, Bolton is deeply hostile to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which Europeans are striving to save. Over the past few years, he was equally supportive of preventative strikes against North Korea. The ill wind blowing from Washington is unlikely to subside anytime soon.