By any conventional measure, President Donald Trump’s trade policies have been highly problematic. He has launched trade conflicts with all of the United States’ major trading partners, he has raised costs for American consumers, and has prompted retaliatory tariffs against American farmers and producers. The best that can usually be said, by conventional critics, is that some of the problems he has identified with China and the World Trade Organization are real. This is truly damning with faint praise.
Yet President Trump is not a conventional president. He has his own distinctive approach and objectives. How is he faring by these measures?
No better. We can look at three standards he has put forward: the number of deals he will strike; the performance of the trade deficit; and the performance of the stock market.
On the number of deals, President Trump has not seen a single one all the way through. The closest he has come is with a minor rewrite of the free trade agreement with South Korea, known as KORUS. In September, President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed the deal in New York. That’s it as far as the United States is concerned, but the South Korean legislature needs to ratify it. That passage is being held up because the Trump administration continues to threaten new tariffs on autos. Unlike Mexico and Canada, South Korea made no provision in its deal to protect against such expanded U.S. protection under the guise of “national security.”
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