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Trump Prepares to Go to (Trade) War for American Workers. Can He Win?

At a joint press conference with South Korea, the president emphasized the need for fair trade deals as he mulled a 20% tariff on steel imports

While the media remains obsessed with the president’s feud with “Morning Joe,” Axios reported on Friday that Trump is preparing for a “global trade war.”

President Trump, against the advice of most of his advisers, is currently leaning toward imposing a tariff of approximately 20 percent on steel imports, according to reporting from Axios.

As he was contemplating this drastic departure from traditional U.S. trade policy, the president welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the White House on Thursday and Friday. Speaking at a joint press conference with the South Korean president, who represents the third-largest exporter of steel to the United States, Trump emphasized the need for fair trade deals.

“South Korean companies sell cars in America. American companies should have that same exact privilege on a reciprocal basis,” Trump said.

He also requested that South Korea halt its export of “dumped steel” to the United States.

However, if the administration decided to implement a tariff on steel, the ramifications would reach beyond South Korea and their Asian neighbor (and Trump’s favorite trade target), China.

Currently China doesn’t even break the top 10 in steel exporters to the United States, while Canada, Brazil, and South Korea constitute the top 3.

The move would also adversely affect Russia, whose steel industry constitutes 6 percent of all U.S. steel imports and ranks seventh in exporters to the United States. Despite the media’s narrative that he has been too friendly with Moscow, Trump apparently has no qualms angering Russia over his commitment to tougher trade relations.

Each of these countries could respond in kind, though, and place tariffs on U.S. goods, sparking a trade war. Here are the U.S. industries potentially harmed by retaliatory trade measures by each respective country:

Canada: vehicles ($48 billion in exports), machinery ($40 billion), electrical machinery ($24 billion), agriculture ($23 billion), and mineral fuels ($16 billion).

Brazil: mineral fuels ($5.0 billion), aircraft ($4.8 billion), machinery ($3.6 billion), electrical machinery ($3.1 billion), and optical and medical instruments ($1.7 billion).

South Korea: agriculture ($6.2 billion), machinery ($6.1 billion), electrical machinery ($5.3 billion), aircraft ($5.2 billion), optical and medical instruments ($2.9 billion).

Russia: machinery ($2.3 billion), vehicles ($2.0 billion), aircraft ($2.0 billion), electrical machinery ($674 million), and optic and medical instruments ($660 million).

China: agriculture ($21 billion), aircraft ($15 billion), electrical machinery ($12 billion), machinery ($11 billion), and vehicles ($11 billion).

If these countries decided to impose import taxes in reprisal for a steel tariff, Americans could expect to see at least some of these industries suffer.

Trump, promising throughout the 2016 campaign to be a “new kind of Republican,” endorsed and advanced a nationalistic ideology. Then-candidate Trump promoted fairness in global trade deals as a central tenet of his presidential campaign, going against Republican free trade orthodoxy.

While many of his campaign promises have remained fluid, President Trump has stuck by his commitment to take a tougher stance on global trade relations.