The Trade War Will Catch Up to Trump

So far, the response to the president's tariffs has been surprisingly quiet. But that won't last forever.

Chad P. Bown (PIIE)

September 10, 2019

The tariffs are piling up. By December 15, President Donald Trump plans to hit nearly everything Americans buy from China with duties, covering 20 percent of total U.S. imports. Predictably, Beijing has retaliated by eliminating access to a 1.4-billion-person market that took soybean farmers and other American businesses years to develop. Relations with China are getting more toxic by the day. No deal is in sight.

And yet, although all the major watchdogs—the Fed, IMF, World Bank, and OECD—are certainly worried about the trade war's impact on the global economy, so far, at least, it is hardly in a tailspin. And despite some shrieks of horror when the tariffs were first announced (from me included), there has been no real public outcry.

Were the doomsayers just paranoid? I don't think so. The way the tariffs were structured explains why some of their negative influence has so far gone unnoticed, and the administration's messaging explains why corporate America has so far kept relatively quiet. Although "so far" won't last forever, by the time people start yelling, it may be too late to avoid serious economic damage.

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