The Trump White House would like you to forget the healthcare fiasco last week and focus now on trade, as in America-first trade. Are you listening?
Today come two more executive order photo-ops. One will launch a broad review of why the United States so consistently ends up on the wrong end of trade deficits. The other orders stricter enforcement of anti-dumping rules against foreign firms that sell in the United States at unfairly lower prices.
“For the first time,” said Peter Navarro, director of Trump’s National Trade Council, “we’re looking comprehensively at the source of what has been a large and persistent trade deficit that has contributed to job losses, the loss of our manufacturing base and other things.”
Neither order will have any immediate effect on trade, which Trump made a keystone of his unlikely presidential campaign. But like many others he’s signed, they are designed to show movement on campaign promises.
At the same time, the administration is circulating among members of Congress a draft letter of negotiating objectives for changes in the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, a preliminary step to opening talks with those nations.
You may recall candidate Trump called NAFTA “the worst trade deal” ever signed by the U.S. But the draft memo seems to indicate he seeks more tweaks than massive changes.
The U.S. and Canada enjoy by far the world’s largest bilateral economic relationship, with nearly $2 billion dollars a day in trade crossing the border and billions of dollars in investments by both nations in the other. In fact, more trade flows across just the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor than between the United States and Japan.
Professed unhappiness with NAFTA has been a perennial political plaint in the U.S. designed to mollify unions. In a 2007 Democratic debate in Chicago, Barack Obama promised that one of his first actions in the White House would be to telephone Canada’s president and reopen treaty talks. That call never occurred and not just because Canada does not have a president.
The eight-page Trump administration letter makes no mention of Trump’s campaign threat to walk away from the trade deal.
Late next week in Florida Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife for the first time. As usual in Trump soirees, plans include a social dinner with the two couples at Mar-a-Lago.
But still, China’s alleged trade abuses of the United States were a key campaign complaint. And this week Trump has been transmitting hawkish messages about the outlook.
“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one,” Trump tweeted.
And not just on trade. There are also chronic issues over hacking, intellectual property thefts and China’s construction of military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea.
And, of course, there’s the bizarrely-behaving communist regime of Kim Jung-un in North Korea, which continues its missile and nuclear weapon developments coupled with outspoken threats of launching an attack on the United States. China has not appeared aggressive in reining in its rogue next-door neighbor, although it did recently announce no more coal imports from North Korea this year. Turns out, China had already accepted its full 2017 quota.