May 12, 2019

Trade talks become trade war

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The first rule of trade negotiations is that they take place in private. The minute either side starts setting out goals and demands in public, positions become hardened and compromise becomes an embarrassing climbdown.

Why it matters: With the imposition of massive new tariffs this week, accompanied by explicit threats, Trump has taken Sino-American trade negotiations outdoors, into a public arena where they have much less chance of success. Even before announcing retaliatory countermeasures, China has similarly gone public with its own red lines. Resolving this dispute is not yet impossible, but it has become exponentially harder. Among the dangers:

  • Recession: Bank of America is already warning that "a trade war could cause a global recession." As Axios' Dion Rabouin has written, this is a war the world cannot afford.
  • Inflation: American tariffs on Chinese goods will increase the price of those goods. If that ends up contributing to domestic inflation, Trump's desire for a rate cut will look even less realistic.
  • Food dumping: As the FT's Alan Beattie notes, Trump has already started talking about using the tariffs as an excuse to dump America's agricultural surplus onto poor countries, undercutting their domestic markets.

The big picture: "When you have both sides convinced that they have the upper hand, you get the kind of conflict that you have right now," China trade expert Patrick Chovanec told Foreign Policy. He added:

"If we want China to embrace structural reform, that requires real commitment—it’s not something we can just twist their arm to do, they have to buy into it. And they have to believe that it is not going to sink them or hurt them. When you basically strongarm them into doing something they really don’t want to do, and they’re convinced it’s harmful to their interests, at some point they are going to cheat, push back, or scuttle it, and it’s just a question of when."

The bottom line: Trump's trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, might consider these tariffs to be a tough way of forcing China to make concessions. And the market seems hopeful that the trade war will be temporary, on the grounds that ending it would be rational for both sides. But Trump himself wanted these tariffs all along.

Go deeper: Farmers across the Midwest struggle to cope with Trump's trade war

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 618,043 — Total deaths: 28,823 — Total recoveries: 135,736.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 104,865 — Total deaths: 1,709 — Total recoveries: 894.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump signed the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to provide businesses and U.S. workers economic relief.
  4. State updates: A group of Midwestern swing voters that supported President Trump's handling of the coronavirus less than two weeks ago is balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter. Alaska is latest state to issue stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month.
  5. World updates: Italy reported 969 coronavirus deaths on Friday, the country's deadliest day.
  6. Business latest: President Trump authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to direct General Motors to build ventilators for those affected by COVID-19. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has been appointed to enforce the act.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancing.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Coronavirus updates: World case count tops 600,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that the novel coronavirus pandemic could worsen if people fail to take the appropriate containment measures, at a news conference in Tokyo.

The big picture: The U.S. leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases, as the number of global cases nears 615,519. Governments around the world are trying to curb the medical and financial fallout of COVID-19, as infections surge across Europe and the U.S.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

The one-minute coronavirus story

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

News about the coronavirus is so big and coming so fast that it's hard to remember what happened just last week, let alone last month.

Here's the quickest possible review of the story so far — how it happened and how the U.S. lost control.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - Health