President Donald Trumpâ€™s aggressive and unpredictable approach to trade policy demands a new definition of success. Call it the â€ścould have been worseâ€ť standard. His threats to pull out of existing free-trade agreements and slap tariffs on trading partners for spurious national security reasons portended so much disruption that he gets points for not fulfilling his protectionist potential. Thatâ€™s what happened in his renegotiation of the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement, and in the deal he cut with Europe to postpone auto tariffs in return for more soybean sales.
Now, fortunately, Trump also has retreated from the brink with respect to Americaâ€™s second- and third-largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico. After the completion of tense last-minute talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeauâ€™s Ottawa government, all three countries are now committed in principle to a replacementof the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump derided, wrongly, as a disaster for the United States. In its place will be a pact he calls the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, â€śthe most important trade deal weâ€™ve ever made by far.â€ť
Trump agreed to insulate Canada and Mexico from any potential auto tariffs, the threat of which he is retaining as pressure against other trade partners, such as Europe and Japan. He would not lift steel and aluminum tariffs. Even in that regard, there might be a silver lining, though, because Trump announced, regarding tariffs generally, â€śIâ€™m using them to negotiate,â€ť which is better than preferring tariffs per se, as he has sometimes implied.
Congress still must scrutinize and vote on Trumpâ€™s handiwork. But if trade peace can be restored among the United States and the long-standing partners with which it has relatively minor commercial disagreements, this country would be in a better position to confront the nation with which it has the most legitimate grievances, China.
-The Washington Post