Surprises on the international stage (I)

If three weeks ago the international scene seemed to be in the process of clarification, especially after the speech given by Russian President V. Putin on March 1, which was also a reply to the strategic documents of the Trump administration in which Russia was nominated as the geopolitical enemy of the U.S., now the developments seem to take another path. American President D. Trump, in a series of messages posted on Twitter and through the decisions taken, seems to designate a different direction for the global political developments.

Firstly, he triggered a potential global trade war. Thus, on 7 March 2018, Trump announced basically the logical grounds of the measures he was set to announce in the days that followed: “From Bush 1 to present, our Country has lost more than 55,000 factories, 6,000,000 manufacturing jobs and accumulated Trade Deficits of more than 12 Trillion Dollars. Last year we had a Trade Deficit of almost 800 Billion Dollars. Bad Policies & Leadership. Must WIN again!” The immensity of the U.S. trade deficit is impressive, and Trump has decided that this can no longer continue if the U.S. wants to stay at the helm of the international system of states. Already, two days earlier, in two successive tweets, Trump had offered details on this huge deficit, giving the example of the neighbours on the North American continent: “We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must.. ; …treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying.” Also on March 7, the President pointed out that he had asked China, the country that registers the highest trade surplus in bilateral trade with the U.S., to identify a solution to reduce it: “China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon!

Against this explanatory backdrop, as shown by the messages he posted on Twitter, revealing the essence of his own view in this field, the first measure is announced on 8 March 2018, which will define, it seems, the future international reality in the field of trade, as strategically foreseen by the U.S. Invoking the report of the Secretary of Commerce, Trump pointed out that “steel articles are being imported into the United States in such quantities and under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security of the United States.” And decides “to adjust the imports of steel articles by imposing a 25 percent ad valorem tariff on steel articles, as defined below, imported from all countries, except Canada and Mexico.” Simultaneously, the American President announces the philosophy that animates him in triggering this purely trade action, but dependent on U.S. security and global stability: “We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.” On March 9 and 10, in two phone conversations with the leaders of two very important allies to the West of the U.S., President Trump developed his whole conception of the economic measure adopted the day before: “Spoke to PM Turnbull Malcolm of Australia. He is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship. Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!”; namely on March 10: “Spoke to Prime Minister Abe of Japan, who is very enthusiastic about talks with North Korea. Also discussing opening up Japan to much better trade with the U.S. Currently have a massive $100 Billion Trade Deficit. Not fair or sustainable. It will all work out!” On the same day, he notes his position toward the European Union, which the adopted measure is set to subject to an unexpected and particularly strong pressure, considering its steel and aluminium exports to the U.S., but, no less important, the exports of auto vehicles: “The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum. If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” One does not know what to believe first when deciphering this message meant for the EU. Could it be the obvious hostility of the past, not seldom openly expressed – like in the case of Brexit – by Trump toward the European organisation for continental integration? Does he dislike the EU’s orientations in other domains – of the liberal values, for instance, of relations with China, or of the opposition – during Obama’s time – toward a new transatlantic trade treaty? Or is this about the whole EU policy that tends to gain autonomy from the traditional transatlantic relationship, basically a relationship of geopolitical subordination toward the U.S. and to undertake an independent global status (see the EU’s global security strategy, adopted last summer)? At any rate, Trump’s position toward the EU had immediate repercussions beyond the Atlantic.

On one hand, the Europeans very decidedly showed that if the U.S. implements the announced measures then they will respond, being known that they can respond to manifestly hostile actions. On March 11, Carl Bildt wrote these opinions on his twitter account: “In his anger at EU it sounds as if Trump is opening for some sort of trade talks. But the tone is threatening: take away your barriers or I’ll punish you severely. Cars and vehicles will be the battlefield in the trade war he seeks. Steel and aluminum just the opening shot.” Moreover, taking into account other actions that have occurred in the meantime, such as the sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, considered to be a “moderate,” just three days later Bildt wrote the following, sharing the opinion of one of the Canadian commenters exasperated with the way Trump treats the U.S. relations with Canada: “Mr. Trump is not a secret agent controlled by a foreign power bent on destroying the Western alliance. He just acts like one.” ( John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, in “Trump’s comments about lying to Trudeau only serve to erode Western alliance” – (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-trumps-comments-about-lying-to-trudeau-are-destructive/). Obviously, the premises of a trade war with one of the closest geopolitical allies of the U.S., the European Union, are firmly put in place by the American President.

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