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Trade Under Trump

What He’s Done So Far—and What He’ll Do Next

Trump announces the United States Mexico Canada Agreement at the White House, October 2018. Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the United States was being taken advantage of by its trading partners. Bad trade deals, he said, were to blame for lost jobs and deepening trade deficits. Yet he never laid out in detail what he intended to do about it—and his trade policy as president has been nothing if not haphazard. The midterm elections provide a good moment to take stock of Trump’s trade agenda: what has he done so far and what might he do next?

COSMETIC CHANGES

In one of his first official acts, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He took this precipitous step without even considering renegotiating or rebranding the pact. Other countries have continued to implement the agreement, leaving the United States outside the major trade deal in the Pacific at a time when other governments are questioning Washington’s commitment to East Asia and tensions with China are rising. That decision may well go down as the Trump administration’s original sin, one for which a future administration will have to atone.

Trump also threatened to withdraw the United States from NAFTA. Yet in this case, he wisely opted to continue negotiations. Despite the administration’s hostile stance during the talks, the renegotiation of what Trump called the “worst trade agreement ever” succeeded with few significant changes to the original deal. The new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) increases the proportion of an automobile’s parts that must be sourced inside North America for the vehicle to count as made inside the bloc, slightly opens Canada’s dairy market to American and Mexican exporters, strips out some protections for foreign investors in Mexico, and updates the old pre-internet NAFTA with provisions on e-commerce and digital data from the TPP. Although some parts of the renegotiated agreement will promote more trade within North America, others seem to restrict it; on balance, the deal is not a major change from the status

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