Is a Trade War the Only Option?

An Alternative Approach to Taking On China

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a tariff on steel and aluminum imports while surrounded by workers from the steel and aluminum industries, March 8, 2018. Leah Millis / Reuters

President Donald Trump’s forays into trade war statecraft—his embrace of steel and aluminum tariffs, and his forthcoming levies on Chinese products in response to alleged intellectual property theft—are poor strategies for addressing U.S. interests. After a year of contemplating ways in which to pressure Beijing into respecting international trade rules, the president's first move barely affects China at all, since most of the United States' metal imports come not from China but from the very allies Washington needs to work with to jointly encourage liberalization in China. China is only the tenth-largest source of U.S. steel imports, accounting for just two percent of total U.S. steel imports in 2017 (a 31 percent decrease from 2011), according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. China is ranked higher as a U.S. source of aluminum (in third place), having shipped 11 percent of the five million tons that the

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