US steel and aluminum tariffs start Friday. Germany’s economy minister is in D.C. But Trump has stringent demands.
No one wins trade wars. The notion is ludicrous. I have more on the “meaning of win” in a moment. But first, let’s consider the Eurointelligence view.
This is not a trade war the EU can ever win, as Wolfgang Munchau points out in his FT column. If the EU were to put up a big fight over this, with a long list of sanctions on Friday, the US would immediately respond with a tariff on car imports. It would be the equivalent of the Fool’s Mate in chess, Munchau argues. Donald Trump is right in his assertion that trade wars are easy to win – if your opponent is sufficiently desperate and addicted to the export of manufactured goods, like Germany is. When we said that a current account surplus of 8% (or probably higher) is not sustainable, it was not meant as a statement of right or wrong. Unsustainable means that it will end at some point – through either adjustment or force.
Spiegel magazine had a story over the weekend that there is a glimmer of hope. It was one of those short Spiegel news stories, something they picked up from a single source, but not quite worthy of a full-length article. The story says the US will make three specific demands as a pre-condition for exempting the EU from the steel and aluminium tariffs. The first is that the EU caps steel output at 2017 levels. The story did not reveal the metric, whether in volume or value. The second is that the EU take anti-dumping measures against China, and agrees to cooperate with the US in questions of international trade policy. And, to top it all, the Europeans will have to deliver proof that they are on the way to meeting their Nato commitments on defence spending. The latter is an impossible demand to meet since no such proof can exist. The German grand coalition, for example, is making no efforts to increase defence spending. The priority of the new finance minister, Olaf Scholz, is to maintain the fiscal surplus.