Blog Post

Trump could give new impetus to EU-China relations

It is too early to say what the Trump administration’s trade policy will look like – but a total cut-off from Asian partners is unlikely. It would harm the US economy, and offer China even more scope to cement its position in Asia. Nevertheless, with TPP and TTIP both looking unlikely, the EU should move fast to build relationships with China and ASEAN countries.

By: and Date: November 15, 2016 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

Donald Trump’s presidency threatens isolationism and could cause the United States to turn away from Asia. Trump’s statements so far, from his dislike of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to his threat to impose massive import tariffs on Chinese goods, seem to indicate that he wants to undo Obama’s pivot towards Asia and the current “cordial” US relationship with China. However, this is easier said than done. A US disengagement from trade with Asia would help, rather than harm, China, while a more aggressive approach to the bilateral relationship with China would risk undermining US interests.

The irony of Trump’s plan to dismantle TPP is that it is based on the belief that China would enter TPP through the back door at a later date and hurt US interests. However, China is probably relieved at the likely demise of TPP, a trade agreement that would hamper China’s trade relationships with its most natural trading partners in Asia. Not only that, China would be able to strike back with its own regional trade arrangements with Asian partners. China has already moved in this direction by launching the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) initiative with all key Asia-Pacific trading partners: Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India and the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN). These countries account for as much as one quarter of US exports. If the US reneges on TPP but the RCEP proceeds nevertheless, then US exporters will be put at a serious disadvantage. In addition, the US would miss the opportunity to promote its rules and values in Asia, such as strict labour, environmental and intellectual property protection standards. Such an institutional deficit will leave US firms less protected in Asian markets than they would be with a successful implementation of TPP.

Meanwhile, a unilateral increase in US tariffs on Chinese goods would disrupt the global production chain. Although China seems to be more vulnerable than the US because China imports less from the US than the US from China, both countries are now heavily integrated into the supply chain and any shock from either side would be reciprocally painful. With the potential further integration of Asia’s economies under RCEP, one of Trump’s key messages during his campaign – the repatriation to the US of manufacturing jobs –is not likely to happen because jobs might actually stay in a more regionally integrated and increasingly consumption-driven Asia. Even worse for the US would be if China were to actively retaliate. This could take many forms given the still relatively large stock of US FDI in China and the interests of US companies that aim to tap into China’s huge consumer market.

More generally, given Asia’s size in terms of both GDP and population, it is hard to believe that the US would just step back and watch China take its place in Asia. This is no longer as unlikely as Trump might have thought when making such statements. The production and trade structures of China and the ASEAN bloc are increasingly complementary: China mainly imports oil, gas and other raw materials from the ASEAN countries, whereas they import electronics and textiles from China. There is also a growing production chain linking China and ASEAN countries in which US companies are not necessarily involved. The ASEAN bloc is now China’s third largest trading partner, surpassing the European Union. As such, Asia’s further integration through trade agreements is in the interests of all partners.

Figure 1: geographical distribution of China’s trade and investment

Sources: OECD Bilateral Trade Dataset (left figure); Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China (right figure).

artboard-1

However, China would not be completely satisfied with the idea of dominating Asia at the cost of losing the US market. A more practical possibility would be for the US – even under Trump – to cooperate with China in regional leadership among East Asian countries. Still, if Trump does keep his promises (no TPP, and barriers against China and perhaps others), China could cement its position in Asia and look beyond Asia to make up for the loss – namely, to Europe.

So, the most likely scenario is that many elements of the status quo hold: the Trump administration does not conclude TTP or TTIP successfully, but also does not impose protectionist measures on China because of the rebound effect on the US. Nevertheless, even in such a scenario where the US does not advance on regional trade agreements, China would have a first-mover advantage to China. Indeed, China’s rapid reactions to US hesitation over TPP during the last years of Obama’s administration sends a clear signal that China is unlikely to compromise with the US under a trade-adverse Trump. To our mind, Europe could be the next stop for China. This would be all the more logical given the hefty investment that China has planned –and started to carry out – for a much better connectivity with Europe under the Belt and Road Initiative.

As for the EU, closer economic relations with China might be the only call left in the absence of TTIP. The issue is more urgent against the backdrop of the potential RCEP agreement, whose members would account for about 30 percent of the EU’s external trade. If the EU cannot proceed with a favourable trade agreement with the region, its firms would also face trade diversion and enjoy less market access compared with other countries in the region such as China. In fact, the EU launched a plan to negotiate with the ASEAN countries in 2007 but the talks have moved to specific bilateral negotiations and progressed very slowly. Until now, out of the 10 ASEAN members the EU has only concluded free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam. Neither agreement has yet come into force. At the current juncture, with Asia-Pacific countries moving towards trade and investment integration, it is the time for the EU to speed up and rethink its strategy. The aim should be to reach a regional agreement with Asia-Pacific countries in which China plays an important role.

In any event, for Europe to move away from its long – although increasingly fruitless – transatlantic alliance towards China, it is vital to build real trust. This is even more important than railway connections. However, trust is currently at a low level, after the recent antidumping calls by the European Commission and China’s lack of reform to sectors over capacity. However, an inward looking, erratic and/or aggressive Trump administration might be the catalyst for a rapid increase in trust between the EU and China. In any case, the chances are that EU-China trade relations will improve under Trump.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Oct
26
17:00

Tricks of the trade: can the EU and US meet at a halfway point?

What shape will the trade relationship between the EU and the US take in the coming years?

Speakers: Cecilia Malmström, Adam Posen and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Trump’s International Economic Legacy

If Donald Trump loses the United States presidential election in November, he will ultimately be seen to have left little mark in many areas. But in the US's relationship with China, the decoupling of economic links could continue, and that could force Europe into hard choices.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 29, 2020
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

External Publication

Diversification and the world trading system

Diversification is important because it is associated with economic growth and reduced volatility.

By: Uri Dadush, Niclas Poitiers, Abdelaaziz Ait Ali, Mohammed Al Doghan, Muhammad Bhatti, Carlos Braga and Anabel González Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 16, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Non-summit shows EU-China ties at new low

There was nothing concrete to justify calling this video conference an EU-China Summit.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 16, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

China's 'dual circulation' plan is bad news for others' exports

This opinion piece was originally published in Nikkei’s Asian Review. Minds in Beijing are focusing increasingly on the upcoming meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee next month. High on the body’s agenda will be sketching out a new official five-year plan for Asia’s largest economy. A freshly coined buzzword looks set to play […]

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 15, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

全球為數不多 台灣今年經濟有望正成長

台灣的貨幣政策和大多數國家相比仍屬相對緊縮,台幣升幅也是相對有限。總的來說,台灣第二季的GDP與其他國家相較算是非常優異,主因是行動管制少,所以衝擊也小得多。

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: August 28, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Relocating production from China to Central Europe? Not so fast!

Western European imports from central Europe have fallen dramatically, while imports from China fell much less, and had already recovered to pre-COVID level by April 2020. Central European governments should instigate new measures to foster the transition towards knowledge-intensive economic activities.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: August 20, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Coronavirus recovery: invest rainy day savings to boost Hong Kong’s economy

The Hong Kong government might want to consider diversifying its economy by using part of the savings earmarked for rainy days. Beyond cushioning the negative impact of Covid-19 on SMEs and households, it is one more reason to spend.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: August 6, 2020
Read article More on this topic
 

Opinion

China Has an Unfair Advantage in the EU Market. What Can Be Done to Level the Playing Field?

This article has originally been published in Brink News. The dominance of Chinese state-owned enterprises in China’s domestic market is giving them unfair advantages in the European Union single market as well. The EU Commission recently released a series of recommendations for leveling the playing field regarding foreign subsidies. Unfortunately, while useful, these ideas are unlikely to […]

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 28, 2020
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

China's targeted corporate shopping spree to continue, especially in Europe

Expect small, below the radar deals to continue to flourish and, by the same token, Europe to lose part of its edge in industrial technology and other strategic sectors.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Jianwei Xu Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 17, 2020
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Debt relief for Sub-Saharan Africa: what now?

When G20 finance heads meet on 18 July, Europe will again need to lead on the group’s flagship COVID-19 initiative to postpone low-income countries’ debt service payments. For the first time, China has agreed to participate as an official creditor alongside members of the Paris Club. However, continuing lack of clarity on which Chinese creditors will participate, coupled with resistance from private sector creditors to voluntary participation, suggest that actual relief will be much less than originally planned.

By: Suman Bery, Sybrand Brekelmans and Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 14, 2020
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Ukraine: trade reorientation from Russia to the EU

Over the past five years conflict has led to a deterioration of Russo-Ukrainian economic relations while ties with the EU have been deepened. This shift is evident in trade flows: the European Union has become Ukraine’s biggest trading partner, while China is poised to overtake Russia as its second. Natural gas imports from Russia, Ukraine’s prior Achilles heel, have been partially replaced by reverse deliveries from the EU and reduced as result of reform of the gas sector.

By: Marek Dabrowski, Marta Domínguez-Jiménez and Georg Zachmann Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 13, 2020
Load more posts