The Trump administration is doing its best to convince the world that its decision to slap tariffs on a host of foreign-made goods is no big deal.
The dispute with Canada is “a family quarrel,” according to top Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
As for the growing rift with Europe over Trump’s policies on trade and other issues, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross says they’re “blips on the radar screen” and “everybody will get over this in due course.”
America’s closest allies give a very different impression.
After Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union, Canada, and Mexico on May 31, Jean—Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, called the move “protectionism, pure and simple.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deemed the tariffs “an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States,” while French President Emmanuel Macron was more blunt, warning that Trump’s action was “illegal” and “creating economic nationalism.” He ominously added: “And nationalism is war.”
Trump has become the bully of the global economy, using the immense leverage of the US market and the close to $3 trillion of foreign goods and services Americans buy every year to bludgeon friend and foe alike into rewriting trade pacts and offering favorable concessions.
The EU, Canada, and Mexico have all retaliated against Trump’s metal tariffs by slapping duties on US products ranging from cheese to motorcycles.
His decision to confront China was risky enough. A trade meltdown between the two biggest economies in the world would no doubt wreak havoc on global trade and perhaps tip off a superpower confrontation akin to the Cold War.
But at least that effort was taken against a country that has routinely abused the free-trade system. Browbeating close partners such as Germany, France, and Canada could prove even more dangerous, with potentially far-reaching economic, political, and strategic repercussions for US relations with other countries.
These partnerships are core to a world economic order—crafted by Washington.