The US-China trade war has placed EU trade relations with China under the microscope. Should the EU challenge China’s trade practices and employ trade defence measures? Or should they be diplomatic and embark on negotiations, perhaps paving the way to a Free Trade Agreement? Close examination of the 2013 agreement between China and Switzerland suggests much will have to change for trade negotiations between China and the EU to succeed.
The tentatively agreed deal between China and the United States temporarily stops a dangerous dynamic, yet it falls far short of the negotiating objectives of both sides. US trade policy has become a dominion of the executive branch guided principally by the President’s electoral interests. Meanwhile, China demonstrates its capacity to resist pressure: it will enact structural reforms at its own pace in line with its interests. Sadly, the deal confirms that the United States no longer feels obligated to follow WTO rules, and can induce others to do the same.
The decline in manufacturing employment is often seen as a major reason for rising inequality, social tensions, and the slump of entire communities. With the rise of national populists and protectionists in recent years, the issue has become even more prominent.
More can be done to capture the untapped trade and investment opportunities that exist between China and the EU. China’s size and dynamism, and its recent shift from an export-led to a domestic demand-led growth model, mean that these opportunities are likely to grow with time.
Why did such a sharp and steady slowdown occur against a background of loose monetary policy, supportive fiscal policy, low inflation and absence of evident large imbalances? As argued in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook report issued last week, the evidence points to uncertainty over trade tensions as a major contributor.
Details of the US-Japan mini-trade deal are lacking but the agreements’ direct impact on the US and Japanese economies is likely to be minuscule. The deal seems to have been made to compensate American farmers – a crucial electoral base of the President – for their losses from the trade war with China.
After nearly 20 years of on-off negotiations, the European Union and Mercosur – a customs union covering Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – in June 2019 reached a political agreement on a trade deal. But to derive the full benefits from the EU-Mercosur agreement, major reforms will be needed.
President Trump’s radical trade policy continues, as do trade disputes with China. The president promised to sign far better trade deals, ensure fair treatment of American firms and reduce the United States’ trade deficit. None of these objectives have been met.
If faced with a resurgent President Trump after the next US election, the EU will have some difficult decisions to make as it is compelled to enter a one-sided negotiation. Failure to strike a deal will imperil the world’s largest trade relationship and contribute to the progressive unravelling of the rules enshrined in the World Trade Organization – although the changes required of Europe by Trump’s demands may ultimately turn out to be in the interest of Europeans.
If allowed to escalate, the trade dispute between China and the United States will significantly increase the likelihood of a global protectionist surge and a collapse in the rules-based international trading system. Here the author assesses the specific impacts on the Chinese and US economies, as well as the strategic problems this dispute poses for Europe.
Considering a world absent a multilateral trading system is not to promote such an outcome, but to encourage all to prepare for the worst and instil greater clarity in the mind of policymakers as to what happens if compromise fails.
Can a G7 dominated by developing nations provide the impulse to global governance as did the old G7? The answer is no.