Observations of an ex pat: America Direct

Trump’s threatened tariffs are not part and parcel of an America First Policy
They are part of an America Directs Policy. Or, even better, an America Dictates Policy.

Many would say that such a policy is no more than a continuation of a reality that has existed since 1945. They have a point. But at least it was nominally linked to a morality-based system.

Trump’s policies are tied to vengeance and greed. We are tired, he bleats, at being taken advantage of. The rest of the world has been laughing at us for too long. So, he is going to tell the world what it must do.

This is clear not just from the threatened tariffs on steel and aluminium. It is becoming all too obvious from NAFTA negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the backroom free trade talks between Britain and America.

Trump appears to be coming to the reluctant realisation that pulling out of the Trans Pacific Pacific Partnership may not be the unmitigated wonderful thing that he thought it was. He thought the TPP would fall apart without America and he could pick off the individual former members with a series of bilateral deals. He was wrong.

It was difficult, but the 11 remaining members of the TPP have gone ahead and forged an agreement without Trump. Just before Davos, 25 Senators sent him a letter urging him to reconsider membership of the TPP, both for the sake of American jobs and world peace. At Davos he publicly mused on the possibility—but only on his terms.

His musings were not well-received by those who stayed in the reduced TPP. The Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, said the TPP cannot be redone to please the US; and Japan’s chief negotiator, Kazuyoshi Umemoto, said it would be too difficult to renegotiate to accommodate the US.

NAFTA, or as Trump tweets, “the worst trade deal EVER”, is on the veritable brink of collapse. The 25 percent tariff on steel has just thrown another diplomatic spanner into negotiations; especially since Trump tweeted that the tariffs would definitely go ahead unless Canada and Mexico agreed to his demanded changes to NAFTA.

Britain is counting on a free trade agreement with the US to replace a big chunk of the European market it is losing with Brexit. Every time a British Remainer warns a Brexiteer about the economic dangers of leaving the EU they are told: “Ah, but we are going to have a free trade deal with America which will be even better than the one we have Europe.”

Indeed, President Trump has promised a “GREAT” free trade deal. Theresa May has declared herself “delighted” at the prospect and Brexiteering Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is positively salivating and rubbing his hands in glee.

The Brits are only just now discovering that Trump was thinking in American terms when he talked about a “GREAT” deal. Officially, there are no talks taking place until Britain leaves at the end of March next year. Unofficially, pre-Brexit UK-US talks have been quietly underway for some months and the signs are bad for the UK.

Britain has been told that if it wants greater access to US markets than it must accept more American agricultural products such as hormone-produced beef and chlorine-washed chickens. Not only do the British not want those products, but, if they accept American demands, EU regulations will make it impossible to sell many processed British food products onto the European market.

Even more revealing is the US position on air traffic across the lucrative North Atlantic route. British airlines currently benefit as part of an EU-US Open Skies Treaty. But US negotiators are now demanding that as part of the post-Brexit world a big chunk of the routes filled by British planes would be replaced by American. US negotiators are in a position to walk away from the table. Not so the British.

Donald Trump is a product of the down and dirty no-holds barred world of New York real estate. His cabinet and chief negotiators are all hard-nosed businessmen. They look at the world through win-lose spectacles of the boardroom rather than the political prism of compromise.

* Journalist Tom Arms is vice-chairman and secretary of Tooting Liberal Democrats and a regular contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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  • John Marriott 9th Mar '18 - 9:32am

    The terrible incident in Salisbury a few days ago could be a watershed moment for this country. Whoever was responsible, and it could be elements in Russia, clearly sees us as a soft touch, whose ability to retaliate is severely limited. So WHY is the May government intent on cuddling up to Trump, when it is clear from his simplistic knee jerk reactions that welcoming him with open arms could be a bit like inviting Dracula into your bedroom.

    Tom Arms has laid out in simple terms what a ‘sweet’ trade deal with a Trump led USA could mean. Given the amount of real estate, particularly in the south west, currently in the hands of Russian oligarchs, it makes me wonder whether the Brexit idea of a free booting nation facing bravely towards the rest of the world may turn out to be the creation of a vassal state, and clearly not necessarily with the EU.

    Surely the 1956 Suez adventure should have taught us that, in the world of the playground bully, it’s size that counts, which is something lacking in these parts.

  • Trumps attitude towards trade are the same leftist attitude Sanders and Corbyn had, and the same arguments used by Farage for Brexit.

    Same old rants about jobs going overseas (which is a very good thing) and investor protection (which is essentially a racist position saying that nation states are superior to foreign investors). Similarly Labour moaned about UK steel being undercut as does Trump.

    The future is a merged block of TPP, TTIP and TISA where nation states have been made redundant and where a global community of investors and consumers benefit.

  • “The future is a merged block of TPP, TTIP and TISA where nation states have been made redundant and where a global community of investors and consumers benefit.”

    But in the transition from an EEC to an EU we unexpectedly became citizens of Great Britain and the European Union, without being asked if we wanted to swap a trading agreement for citizenship of a ‘fictitious’ EU country.

    TISA, NAFTA, or TTP are not ‘fictitious’ countries demanding citizenship, and none of the countries involved in TTP negotiations are expecting an annual membership fee [in the billions!] to pay for an unnecessary [and unasked for!], layer of governance, or the imposition of a common currency, or a suggestion of a ‘joint TTP army’, or TTP dictates on whether or not VAT can or cannot be removed from sanitary products.

    The relationship of an EEC, truly went too far for the British psyche when John Major [without asking the people], began the 25 year process of signing away our sovereignty over to an EU ‘dog that started to bark orders’.
    And in 385 days, free British citizens are more than happy to discuss trading relationships with any global country including the ‘fictitious’ EU country that got too big for its Maastricht boots.

  • Can any trade treaty or special relationship be truly consistent with the promotion and/or belief in a truly free market?

  • David Becket 9th Mar '18 - 5:36pm

    Taking the two issues raised above, Trump and the Salisbury attack. It is obvious that we are heading into a very uncertain world. Our defence minister has warned about Russian Cyber attacks and their general build up of military power. Trump’s tariffs are just a start of a massive trade war, as May knows.
    This is not the time to be throwing our toys out of the European Basket, in times like this we need to work with our closest neighbours.
    Any PM with the guts to stand up to the Brexiteers, and the vision to steer the country through these troublesome times would put Brexit on hold.
    Unfortunately we have a PM who lacks guts and has no vision, the future looks bleak.

  • If Liam Fox goes to the US next week, and he manages to secure steel tariffs exemption for UK steel, I’m intrigued to know what the Lib Dem position would be on that.

    (a) Would you praise Liam Fox, and support our UK steel workers?
    (b) Would you support the EU in pursuing fines on UK?

  • Lynda Rothwell 10th Mar '18 - 7:57am


    I have no doubt that the U.K. will be offered exemptions, the amount of steel we sell in the USA is extremely small on global terms and econonically of little consequence to the US.

    Allowing the U.K exemptions offers Trump the opportunity to look magnanimous ( as long as he received the right amount of flattery and grovelling)

    Last, giving the U.K. an exemption and not the EU, helps to stir up more bad feeling and possible division, “divide and conquer”

    I wouldn’t cheer too loudly; the basic economics means that the tariffed steel will seek new markets and eventually come to the UK, it will come in cheap and will massively (intentional) undercutting our own steel industry.

    We could impose tariffs to try to protect our industry but the U.K. ALONE trying to put tariffs on the Chinese and at the same time try to sign trade deals with them is unlikely.

    Anyhoo, Post Brexit Britain is going to be a tariff free, low tax bastion of free trade, the brexitters talk joyful of all the cheap goodies that can flow unhinded into the country, I think it was Rees Mogg who said we would not impose tariffs on goods even from country that imposed them on ours, bye bye Steel Industry, and many others.

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