Trump: “Well, no, there is no trade war.”

Whatever one thinks of tariffs or Trump’s negotiating strategy, the president’s tariff threats are more of a tiny skirmish than a full-blown “trade war.” In 2017, the US imported goods worth about $3.9 trillion. Only about $29 billion of those imports were in steel, and the aluminum imports that will face tariffs were $14 billion. This amounts to $43 billion in imports of these two goods. $18 billion (41 percent) of that total came from China.

Friday’s announcement of $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese electronics is more significant, but still a tiny fraction of our overall goods trade. These tariffs don’t affect 98 percent of all imports. Eighty-seven percent of imports from China are unaffected. The average tariff rate on all imported goods will rise from 1.4 percent to just over 2 percent. The US has among the lowest tariff rates in the world, and this will hold true even if the threatened increases go into effect.

To put in perspective how small this increase is, the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff raised the average tariff on imported goods from 13.5 percent in 1929 to 19.8 percent in 1933.