The Donald takes his message to the global elite in Davos.
The Trump administration had a busy week on the trade front. To recap:
- President Trump on Tuesday issued tariffs on solar panel and washing machine imports. While we think the tariffs are less of a big deal than people are making them out to be, it is encouraging to see the administration defend American workers in these cases.
- A few days prior, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer put out reports arguing that the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules are “not sufficient” to rein in China and Russia’s unfair trade practices, something we agree with.
- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Wednesday said a weak dollar could benefit the United States — a statement he quickly walked back, but one that got a lot of attention, especially in trade circles.
Perhaps the highlight of the week came on Friday in Davos, Switzerland, where Trump joined the global elite gathered for the annual World Economic Forum.
Davos isn’t exactly the sort of place one might expect to see Trump, given that the swanky meeting typically serves to tout the benefits of globalization. Even Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush never went.
But Trump made the trip — rumor is that the tag-team of Vice President Mike Pence and French President Emmanuel Macron convinced him to go — and he even gave a big speech, telling attendees that “America is open for business.”
“I’m here to deliver a simple message,” Trump said. “There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States.”
Seems pretty straightforward president-type stuff, right? Trump also talked trade.
“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices, including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning,” Trump said. “These and other predatory behaviors are distorting the global markets and harming businesses and workers not just in the U.S., but around the globe. Just like we expect the leaders of other countries to protect their interests, as president of the United States, I will always protect the interests of our country, our companies, and our workers. We will enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to our trading system.”
Trump’s remarks were indeed a departure from the typical pro-trade messages delivered at events like this. But they weren’t quite as heated as some of his past rhetoric — Trump even noted that he might reconsider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)! — prompting Vox to joke that if “Steve Bannon watched the speech, he would have probably cried.”
The speech also appeared to be fairly received at Davos — the BBC noted that it was “a more nuanced manifesto” than some were expecting.
And The Donald’s trade message had some support even before he gave his remarks. David Lipton, the No. 2 official at the International Monetary Fund, said that Team Trump has some valid concerns about unfair trade, particularly when it comes to China.
“The U.S. is making the complaint that there are such undesirable policies. As a complaint that deserves to be heard,” Lipton said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The rest of the world, whose future really depends on openness and integration, had better be open to dealing with those concerns or complaints or else it will be really hard to have a globalization that’s durable.”
All in all, Trump delivered a message that a lot of folks needed to hear — in order for free trade to work, it has to be fair and reciprocal. But now that Trump has delivered the message, he needs to back it with strong policy and a willingness to act to enforce our trade laws.
He showed some willingness to do that this week with the solar and washing machine tariffs. Now he should follow-through on his promise to defend American-made steel and aluminum from surging imports.
Oh by the way, you might be wondering what China —the main target of Trump’s message — was doing today. Well, for one, the country complained that the United States “is discriminating against Chinese state-owned enterprises seeking to expand in the U.S.”