The Wall Street Journal

What's Happening With Trump's Trade Fights?


As part of President Trump's efforts to rebalance trade relationships, he has imposed tariffs on almost every country around the world. WSJ's Josh Zumbrun explains where we stand with our largest trading partners. Photo composite: Laura Kammerman

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… show captions ↓
- If you've taken a nap at any point
in the last couple of months,
there's a good chance you've missed
at least one US threat to impose tariffs
on hundreds of billions of dollars of US imports.
- Tariffs are a a beautiful thing.
It's a beautiful word.
We're gonna put tariffs on them.
Those tariffs were ready to go on Monday morning.
We always have the option to raise it
another $300 billion.
- As part of the President's efforts
to rewrite the global rules of trade
and rebalance our trading relationships,
he's imposed tariffs on almost every country in the world
over the past year and a half.
That includes our biggest trading partners,
China, Canada, Mexico, and Europe.
Recently, a lot has been happening.
We're going to try to bring you up to speed.
So let's start with our biggest trading partner, China.
The US imported about $540 billion
of goods from China last year
and exported about $120 billion,
making it the biggest trading relationship
of any two countries in the world.
One of President Trump's big goals
is to balance this relationship out.
Last summer, he slapped 25% tariffs on goods
like machinery, commodities, semi-conductors, and plastics.
China retaliated,
mostly on vehicles and agricultural products,
especially soy-beans.
The US hit back in the fall.
This time, with 10% tariffs on an additional $200 billion
worth of products, furniture, handbags, luggage,
and many computer and auto parts.
China once again retaliated.
In December, the US and China called a truce
but it didn't last.
The talks broke down in May and the US moved forward
with plans to raise those 10% tariffs to 25%.
China retaliated and then the US threatened
to impose tariffs on everything else
that comes in from China,
an additional $300 billion of goods.
So where do things stand now?
President Trump and China's President, Xi Jinping,
held a summit on June 29th
where they reached a truce for now.
- We're going to work with China
on where we left off to see if we can make a deal.
- The US will hold off on its final round of tariffs
but all the original rounds of tariffs will still remain
and if they can't get a deal,
it's likely we'll be talking about tariffs again soon.
But the trade tensions haven't just been with China.
Canada and Mexico have also been in the US crosshairs.
- I have long contended that NAFTA
was perhaps the worst trade deal ever made.
- About $600 billion a year worth of trade
flows between Canada and between Mexico
and the United States each year.
One of President Trump's big campaign goals
was to rewrite the 25-year-old
North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
The talks started in 2017 but last year,
when they weren't making progress quickly enough,
President Trump imposed tariffs
on steel and aluminum imports
from everyone in the the world,
including Mexico and Canada
and to further up the pressure he threatened tariffs
on the entire global automobile industry,
about $372 billion worth of imports.
Last summer, the three countries finally reached a new deal.
The US-Mexico-Canada agreement.
- Called USMCA, sort of just works, MCA.
- But the deal doesn't go into effect
until all three countries have ratified it.
So far, only Mexico has done so.
To ease the road to getting it passed,
the US did two things.
First, it dropped the threat of auto tariffs
against Canada and Mexico
and second, in May, it finally removed
the tariffs against steel and aluminum
and Mexico and Canada removed their tariffs too
but then, things got complicated.
- Mexico shouldn't allow millions of people
to try and enter their country
and they can stop it very quickly
and I think they will
and if they won't, we're gonna put tariffs on them.
- President Trump, citing too many migrants
are arriving at the US-Mexico border,
threatened tariffs on everything the US imports from Mexico,
about $350 billion a year of goods.
- Those tariffs go from 5%, to 10%, to 15%,
to 20%, and then to 25%.
- Mexico rushed to delegation to DC,
pledged to do more at its own souther border
to stop the flow of migrants
and avoided the threat of tariffs for now.
But President Trump has made it clear
that the threat remains
and will be revisted within 90 days.
But when it comes to trading relationships,
there's an even bigger one that's still unsettled.
We're talking about Europe.
- If you look at the European Union,
it's very solidly against us in terms of trade.
- The European Union sets trade policies
for all its member countries
so collectively, the US imports about $500 billion a year
of goods from the EU
and exports about $320 billion making the US
in new trade the biggest trading relationship in the world.
Remember those steel and aluminum tariffs?
Yeah, they still apply to Europe
and there's a couple big threats still hanging out there.
First, autos.
- They send the Mercedes.
They send BMWs.
They send everything.
We tax them practically nothing.
We can't send our cars.
- The US imports a lot of cars from Europe.
For now, the Trump administration
has postponed the threat of auto tariffs until November,
but not removed it.
There's also a threat of tariffs
because of a long running dispute
between Airbus and Boeing.
The EU and US have each threatened
$11 billion of tariffs because of this.
Negotiators here aren't making any progress
and the Europeans are getting worried.
President Trump has already shown
he's willing to threaten tariffs
against everything the US imports from China
and everything the US imports from Mexico.
Put it all together and there's over
$2.5 trillion of trade hanging in the balance.
So far, the Trump Administration
hasn't gotten any major trade deals across the line
and so the worry is that they could keep adding tariffs.
A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there
and pretty soon, you're talking about real money.

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