President Trump faces trade battle at home

I started getting emails recently from a new interest group called
Americans for Farmers and Families, which publishes information explaining
how President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies could harm the
U.S. economy and kill jobs in agriculture. Members of the
wholesome-sounding group, which formed in January, include corporate titans
such as Walmart, John Deere and Cargill, along with regional agricultural
organizations such as the Missouri Dairy Association and the Wisconsin
Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. I’ve received a dozen emails from
the group warning about the dangers of Trump’s trade policies in May alone,
as hundreds of other journalists undoubtedly have.
This type of pop-up advocacy doesn’t exist in China, where President Xi
Jinping’s Communist Party controls nearly all media and there’s little
public opposition to government policies. Freedom of expression is a
strength of American society, of course. But it’s a tactical weakness for
Trump, at the moment, who faces potent opposition to his “America first”
policies not just from trading partners, but from powerful players within
his own country.
“Xi Jinping doesn’t have the same kind of political constraints Donald
Trump faces, with an independent media, civil society, and independently
elected national and local officials,” says Scott Kennedy, an expert on the
Chinese economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington, DC. “And currently Xi Jinping is riding high. He’s managed to
seize control of the political system and appears to be popular among most
of industry and the broader population.”
Trump can only wish for such monolithic support. With Trump threatening
tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese imports, a high-level
Chinese delegation is in Washington this week to try to work out a deal
that averts a trade war. At the same time, the US Trade Representative, a
Cabinet-level position, is holding public hearings
 on one set of tariffs Trump has proposed, which is sure to include
American farmers, small-business owners and corporate executives explaining
how such tariffs—and the prospect of retaliatory tariffs from China—would
jack up their costs, cut off key markets and threaten their businesses.
A reversal on ZTE
Opposition to Trump’s tariffs from farmers and businesspeople isn’t new.
But it’s intensifying, as trade friction casts a pall over financial
markets and an economy that is otherwise robust. And Trump may be showing
his vulnerability. He recently hinted that he’ll reverse sanctions on Chinese
telecom operator ZTE
 that his own government imposed just last month, in what seemed at the
time a classic example of a tough Trump promise kept.
ZTE is a $20 billion maker of handsets, routers and other gear that got
caught, and acknowledged, shipping goods to North Korea and Iran from 2010
to 2016, which violated U.S. sanctions. Then it rewarded employees who
executed those shipments with bonuses. The Commerce Department, in
response, fined the company $1.19 billion, and then imposed an export ban
that prevented American companies from selling products to ZTE. Since the
company relies on many American-made components, it has said recently that
it might have to cease operations if it doesn’t get relief from the ban.
So Trump, naturally, said recently that he’ll reverse course and find a way
to help ZTE
Wait? He did what? Really? That doesn’t sound like Trump. Yet it’s exactly
what he said, and he’s now facing criticism for going soft, from some
people who support his tough stance toward China.
The backstory explains Trump’s shifting views. Trump may lift the export
ban on ZTE, in exchange for China lifting new restrictions on US imports of
agricultural products such as soybeans, sorghum and ginseng. And the only
reason China imposed those restrictions was to respond to steel and
aluminum tariffs Trump announced in March. The echoes had to bounce off
several walls, but it sounds as if those protests of America’s farmers and
families are starting to work.
What gives the Chinese this leverage is American electoral politics. The
unpopularity of Trump’s proposed tariffs in farm states such as Iowa,
Kansas, Missouri and North Dakota
 has led to a backlash against Trump and his Republican party, which could
help tip the scales to Democrats in the November elections. At stake is
control of the House of Representatives, which could block Trump’s agenda
and even vote to impeach the president if Dems take control. Suddenly,
Trump’s hard-line positions on trade seem self-defeating.
The Chinese know this. They also know their own leader, Xi Jinping, doesn’t
have to worry about domestic politics the way Trump does. Unlike Trump, Xi
recently solidified his control of the Communist Party and the entire
Chinese government, with the March removal of presidential term limits that
allow Xi to remain in charge of the country indefinitely. The Chinese don’t
hold every advantage in their showdown with Trump, but their leaders are
far less answerable to the people than Trump is. And Trump seems like he’s
just learning this.

Kirim email ke