By the end of the week, the European Union will be subject to new US national security tariffs on steel and aluminium, and, as the FT’s Shawn Donnan writes, “Mr Trump last week also aimed the trade equivalent of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the European auto industry by launching another national security investigation into imported cars…” This all, interestingly, comes just at a time just when trade relations with China are, if not improving, at least at detente, and there is some indication of a NAFTA deal (which even if concluded may nonetheless may languish in Congress). Mr. Donnan continues:
Talk to people in the Trump administration and you sometimes get an odd sense that they find negotiating with the EU — that rules-based confederation of longstanding US allies — more tiresome than dealing with communist China, the existential rival. It is not hard to see why. While China is working hard to position itself as defender of the multilateral trading system once led by the US and now under assault from Washington, the EU is the real defender. The EU’s objection to the US tariffs that Mr Trump continues to threaten is not just based on pragmatic self-interest, though that might still lead it to a compromise to avoid the metals duties that loom this week. Its foundation is the belief in Brussels that the order must be defended and that Trump’s invocation of the trade taboo of national security and other manoeuvres are aimed at bringing down the system.
Flip that around and it helps explain Mr Trump’s obsession with taking on Europe. If within America Mr Trump is taking on the “deep state” of its governing and institutional elites then outside the US his target is what he and many of his aides see as a sanctimonious global equivalent. And there is no better personification of that than an EU bureaucracy that insists Mr Trump cannot and should not do what he plans to do. To a former New York property developer, the EU is the equivalent of a zoning commission objecting to a garish neon façade, or the bulldozing of a playground. The simple act of it saying no enrages him.
This may be so, but there are other strategic considerations: the fact that China is necessary for dealing with North Korea, and the fact that the auto issue impacts Germany far more than other EU members, especially nationalist governments rising in the East. Interesting stuff in any event–and you can find the full article here.
UPDATE: Trump moves forward with tariffs on China. So much for educated guesses!