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Trade union members protest President Trump's steel tariffs in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Cris Faga / NurPhoto via Getty Images

President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, authorized last Thursday, will likely come with costs to the global economic and diplomatic order that exceed their domestic benefits.

Why it matters: The tariffs were intended to address Chinese economic practices that harm American workers. But in order to truly mitigate that harm, the U.S. would need to collaborate with Europe through institutions such as the World Trade Organization. Instead, Trump's tariffs will create tensions with our trading partners and undermine global stability.

The potential tensions:

  • EU–U.S. relations: The Europeans will not accept a tariff hike without responding. As the world's largest trading bloc and importer of U.S. goods, the EU has plenty of leverage. EU retaliation could result in higher prices for Americans, a slower U.S. economy and, most important for the president, layoffs in key American labor sectors. What’s more: Trump’s decision will further reinforce already negative European views of the U.S. administration.  
  • Managing China: Rather than checking China’s ambitions, Trump’s tariff move will allow Beijing to claim the moral high ground as a supporter of multilateral and open trade. It will also make it harder for U.S. and EU leaders to forge a joint strategy to address concerns about Chinese subsidies and dumping practices.
  • An already-fraying global economic order: The Trump tariffs circumvent the World Trade Organization, the global referee underpinning a stable, multilateral trading system. Trump, an international institution skeptic, is already stalling the appointment of U.S. judges to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body. His invocation of a rarely used national-security clause to justify the tariffs will further undermine the WTO and set a dangerous precedent for other countries to act unilaterally in self-interest.

The bottom line: Rather than checking China’s ambitions as intended, the tariffs will likely create a vacuum of economic and diplomatic leadership for Beijing to fill.

Erik Brattberg is director of the Europe Program and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Go deeper

6 mins ago - World

Scoop: Ukraine tells senators post-invasion sanctions are no help

Zelensky. Photo: Johanna Geron/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told U.S. senators visiting Kyiv this week that waiting to impose sanctions on Russia until after an invasion is of no use to Ukraine, according to four sources familiar with the discussions.

Why it matters: The Senate is currently working on a major sanctions package to deter Russia from attacking Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans are united in their support for Ukraine, but divided over whether it would be more effective to sanction Russia now to signal resolve, or hold up the threat of future sanctions to demonstrate the high costs of an invasion.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

4 hours ago - World

Netanyahu plea talks enter crunch time

Netanyahu (right) meets with his lawyer ahead of a court hearing last February. Photo: Reuven Casto/Pool/AFP via Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and former prime minister, is negotiating a possible plea deal over the corruption charges against him, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit appears to be toughening his terms.

Why it matters: Mandelblit leaves office on Jan. 31. Negotiations could continue beyond that point, but the next attorney general may be less interested in quickly reaching a deal.