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As we launch into the 2018 summer season of punishing tariffs and counter-tariffs and with the present bad feelings between the global powerhouses, perhaps a second look at what we are *actually* trying to accomplish is in order — and if a better way of accomplishing our goals appears — would today’s leaders be bold enough to employ such a change-up?
Taking the American position as an example; U.S. President Trump feels that American steel and aluminum are at a competitive disadvantage to countries like, well, every other country in the world, which is why he has instituted import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. Different tariffs have been levied by Trump on other imported items. All of which is supposed to help American steel and aluminum companies compete in the international marketplace and overcome decades of less-than-stellar reinvestment in U.S. rust belt industries such as steel and aluminum mining and smelting.
The pushback from exporting countries has been considerable and is expected to be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Trade war, much?
The First Rule in Every Crisis: Don’t Make it Worse!
While there is plenty of angst to go around, President Trump must remember that the entire situation was created by every U.S. president since President Carter, and that countries were never told to stop or slow the exports to the United States, nor told to lower their exports to other Western nations.
That means it’s time for President Trump to ‘play nice’ with exporting countries — which have done nothing more than play by the rules that America itself had set.
The problems of the $862.2 billion balance of trade deficit that America is trying to draw-down can be made worse via bad communications, additional tariffs, or clumsy handling of the situation. Let’s not do that.
Rather, let’s try to improve on trade deficit elimination as time rolls forward.
How to Make it Better
Apart from not making it worse, the present uncomfortable situation could be solved to every party’s satisfaction by designing a tariff regime to solve the fundamental problem instead of trying to address each good or service individually — creating a pathway, not only to solve immediate concerns — but to provide additional revenue to assist the above-noted and other American industries stung by poor vision, poor leadership, and poor management of U.S. trade policy from the 1980’s onward.
Instead of piecemeal (and high) tariffs that are seen as exorbitant in some quarters, President Trump should institute a standardized 5% across-the-board tariff on every single good imported into the United States.
The gross total revenue of that 5% tariff would far exceed the revenue that would be collected by the present bric-a-brac collection of deeply unpopular tariffs.
With an annual tariff revenue pool that would far exceed that of the present tariff regime, the United States could allocate generous and proactive funding to several of America’s poorly-performing economic segments, which spending would be completely at the discretion of the Trump Administration and its successors.
That’s an extra $120 billion (approx) for America annually.
Invite America’s Trade Partners to Drop Their Existing Tariffs and Match the New 5% Standardized Tariff
And then, pour yourself a nice cool drink Mr. President because you’ve won.
End of the trade war, the beginning of accumulating billions of dollars that can be directed to American industries that have suffered as a result of heretofore unrestricted imports from economies that benefit from low-cost labour and lower environmental standards.
Be part of the solution.
Nothing would put a salve on the present air of hurt feelings like a major signing ceremony between the U.S. and China where both countries see it’s in their best interests to drop the existing punitive tariffs and support and abide by a standardized 5% tariff regime.
No doubt that the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations, Russia, and other global exporters would enthusiastically sign a matching and standardized 5% tariff agreement with the Trump Administration.
Problem solved. And everyone makes more money!
That’s how to employ the ‘Art of the Deal’ to turn a negative into a positive.
Q: Are the concerns of a superpower relevant to the other G7 members? A: Not really.
Maybe it’s time for a superpower group of the U.S., China, the EU, Russia, and The Commonwealth of Nations to form up, instead of the G7 group that has worked very well until now.
Even the sage Moses who lived 3400-years ago, suggested, “Thou shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” and the reason is quite clear to every farmer. Being so dissimilar in size and power, both the ox and the donkey will be miserable the entire time they try to plow forward together and the farmer will spend most of his time ‘arbitrating’ disputes between the two and the plowing enterprise will get little actual plowing done.
It’s unfair to the U.S., it’s unfair to the smaller or weaker members of the G7 club and it’s unfair — even to near-superpowers like Japan and Germany which have far different challenges and causes to ‘plow’ than those of the superpowers.
Shall I list the ways?
If so, this would become a very long blog post indeed!
For just three examples:
- Which of the G7 partners have a negative balance of trade of $862.8 billion for 2017? The entire G7 combined doesn’t have a negative balance of trade anywhere approaching that of the United States.
- Which of the other G7 members have an inventory of nuclear warheads like the United States which includes 6450 nuclear warheads; 1750 that are retired and awaiting dismantlement, and 3800 that remain part of the U.S. stockpile?
- If we’re talking GDP, the U.S. represents 52.8% of the Group of Seven’s GDP, while the next largest country in the group (Japan) represents 13.3% of GDP, with only Germany at 10% remaining as the only other double-digit GDP member of the G7.
Population figures and economic growth indicators may be even more telling than the above indicators of superpower status.
Should the U.S. Join It’s Own 1-Member Club?
That may be a tempting thought for President Donald Trump and certain members of his administration, but there are common concerns among superpowers that only apply to superpowers (and there’s no doubt the U.S. remains the Number One superpower by a significant margin) and it’s those superpowers that must work together to deliver solutions for their large populations.
If we look at a superpower club of 5 members: The United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, we’re looking at a group that is roughly comparable to each other and have similar challenges.
Let’s look at our three main indicators, just to be certain:
Big 5 (Nominal) GDP U.S.A. --------- $20.3 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com) China ---------- $13.0 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com) EU ------------- $19.7 trillion (USD) (IMF) Commonwealth --- $10.4 trillion (USD) (Commonwealth.org) Russia --------- $1.72 trillion (USD) (IMF/StatisticsTimes.com)
Although there are some disparities in nominal GDP among the five countries, we must remember that China is on an exponential growth curve while The Commonwealth of Nations statistic (provided by commonwealth.org) is from 2017 and their economic group is also growing at a rapid rate ($13 trillion by 2020). Russia is the outlier in this group, however, as we shall see, that country has other (huge) chips on the table when it comes to retaining its superpower status.
Big 5 Nuclear Warheads U.S.A. --------- 6450 (Federation of American Scientists) China ---------- 270 (Federation of American Scientists) EU ------------- 300 (Federation of American Scientists) Commonwealth --- 485 (Federation of American Scientists) Russia --------- 6850 (Federation of American Scientists)
Although nuclear stockpiles vary, the U.S. and Russia were the main protagonists of the Cold War which lasted from 1950 through 1990 which is why they own far more nuclear weapons than all other countries combined. The only EU country to publish their ownership of nuclear weapons is France, with 300 warheads. The Commonwealth of Nations countries that publish ownership of nuclear weapons include the UK, Pakistan and India.
Balance of Trade Issues
Big 5 Balance of Trade (in U.S. Dollars) U.S.A. --------- $-862.8 billion (2017) (Handlesblatt/IMF/WTO) China ---------- $+98.46 billion (2017) (TradingEconomics.com) EU ------------- $+44.45 billion (2016) (Statista.com) Commonwealth --- $-187.5 billion (2015) (Commonwealth.org) Russia --------- $+ (2017) (Statista.com)
While balance of trade issues vary wildly between the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, very few countries can play in the triple-digit or even high double-digit space occupied by those nations. Especially when analyzed using their (Nominal) and (Purchasing Power Parity) GDP numbers, these are exceptional nations and groupings of nations, which put them in a different category than other countries.
The Big 5 (B5) A Better ‘Fit’ for the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth and Russia
There is nothing wrong with small countries and there is nothing wrong with big countries. But small countries have far different challenges than large countries, and everything happens on a truly massive scale for the bigger countries and in country groupings like the EU and The Commonwealth of Nations.
And those differences cause irritations.
Instead of heads of government trying to plow forward with their challenges and issues while ‘yoked’ to dissimilar and dissimilar-sized partners, why not make it easier on everyone and ‘put like with like’ to gain a more comfortable fit?
It’s so obvious this should be done and the latest G7 meeting proves that the problems in that organization are systemic problems and are the sole cause of divisions between the oddly mismatched countries of that group.
The ‘Big 5’ followed by the ‘Next 20’
Every country stuck in a trade or political grouping that doesn’t match it’s particular talents will suffer. Therefore, the Big 5 must form into a group of their own, and the G20 (minus the by-then departed ‘Big 5’ members) must attract ‘the Next 20 nations’ to their refashioned N20 organization.
Helping Every Country and Individual to Become All That They Can and Should Be
In that way, the top 25 countries in the world can finally become all that they can and should be instead of being held back by arbitrary, mismatched, or outdated groupings.
And, isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Allow me to make a prediction.
And there’s a simple reason for it; U.S. President Donald Trump feels that every organization to which his country belongs has ‘taken advantage of the United States’ for decades and the only way to ‘stop the hemorrhaging’ is to quit all those institutions — perhaps forever.
Even if the U.S. decides to retain its UN membership for a time, my point will have been made.
Perhaps the Trump administration will explain its position in an ongoing conversation at the United Nations as to why it’s leaving the other institutions first and then quit the United Nations body last as a final snub to the world community.
Although these undertakings haven’t yet come to fruition, signs are forming that President Trump and his supporters may go the entire distance in separating the United States from the Rest of the World — and that’s especially true if he receives a second mandate via the 2018 midterms and a third mandate courtesy of American voters in 2020.
On the Way Out the Door, Grab Everything You Can!
Enroute to leaving every multilateral organization and trade agreement on the planet, Donald Trump the negotiator may tell his people to extract every possible concession, from every possible country, every step of the way.
If you think he won’t… sorry, you’re laughably naive.
Remember, Donald Trump thinks that every country in the world takes advantage of American largesse every day of the year! A team of Harvard lawyers couldn’t convince him otherwise. Therefore, why would he want to stay in any of those political or free trade agreements?
For Mr. Trump, interim negotiations seem nothing more than the necessary steps toward his goal of quitting those institutions completely.
The U.S. Midterm Elections Will Accelerate or Decelerate Trump’s Plans
The U.S. midterm election results will set the course for the next two years as all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested and if the Republicans win big, expect Trump’s isolationist plans to accelerate accordingly.
If the Trump team does well, every country that trades with the United States better have a solid ‘Plan B’ ready to implement the day following the U.S. midterm election. A year later just won’t cut it. This President moves fast.
For G7 and G20 countries, this means ramping-up trade with each other in an attempt to replace the great American marketplace where billions of dollars of foreign goods are purchased every day.
For developing countries, not much will change as most of them have only tiny trade links with the United States.
What Can G7 and G20 Countries Do?
Having failed to grasp the full extent of the Trump determination to pull back from the rest of the world, some countries seem uncertain about what to do next, while others think it will simply ‘blow over’ and business will soon return to normal.
But in Donald’s world, if you’re willing to sign an actual trade deal with his country he then feels he’s left too much money on the table and we’re right back to where we started — the world is taking advantage of the United States and America must never sign such an agreement!
Countries that run large trade surpluses with the United States may start to notice curtailed trade with America, therefore every country must plan for changes in that trading relationship, because, like the song says, ‘The times, they are a changin’ and it’s no fun being stuck with tens of billions of dollars of stuff that you can’t export’ — because U.S. tariffs have made your goods too expensive or the U.S. border is closed to your exports.
For countries with a less than $10 billion trade surplus with the United States, you’re probably pretty safe (for now) unless you start waving a red flag at the Commander in Chief. But if you’re a country that runs double-digit or triple-digit trade surpluses with the Americans, it’s officially time to panic.
Strengthen non-U.S. Trading Relationships Now
Perhaps using the recently-signed CETA deal between Canada and the EU as a template, G20 countries could begin to strengthen their trading relationships with each other to the extent that they could survive America severely curtailing their trade. (If it comes to that)
‘Surely that’s an unreachable goal’ some might say, but even if countries miss the ‘unreachable goal’ by 50%, they’re still better off compared to not making the attempt.
Even if it takes the Trump team five years to wrestle trade deficits down to a manageable level (think; $10 billion/yr per country) and even if it takes ten long years for countries to find replacement markets for much of the goods and services they presently sell to the U.S., they’ll still be glad they invested the time and effort.
Countries with double-digit or triple-digit trade surpluses with America that get ahead of the curve are more likely to survive it better, while countries that don’t diversify may find themselves neck-deep in their own exports.
Final thought? As the United States pulls back from the world, countries that double-down on building their Commonwealth/EU/BRICS trade links will rejoice.