If this Trump’s NAFTA negotiating ploy, it’s not great
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Even as President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE directs his staff to finalize the plans for his proposed tariffs on aluminum and steel, there are those who say this isn’t about tariffs at all.

It’s about NAFTA, they say, arguing that the proposal is just tough talk and a brilliant bargaining tool in the ongoing talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement.


Well, it’s not.

Alienating nations around the world, with whom the United States has had long and mutually beneficial relationships is no way to bargain. Playing the bully is a horrible and damaging ploy.

And whether Trump ultimately implements his proposed tariffs or eventually backs down, as many suggest he will, those long-standing and essential trading partners will have learned one thing: The United States is now an unreliable, unpredictable and unreasonable trading partner.

For a guy who has supposedly mastered “The Art of the Deal”, Trump should know this is a failing strategy. It’s arrogant. It’s brash. It’s destructive. And it’s not new.

We’ve already seen Trump stretch his protectionist muscle, recommending steep duties on Bombardier Inc.’s CSeries jets, and on washing machines from LG and Samsung, and on solar energy equipment made outside of the United States.

This is not good for the American people, and on the steel and aluminum tariffs, even Trump’s allies and top advisers seem to agree.

White House Economic Council director Gary Cohn resigned in the wake of the move. And his Republican allies in Congress, including House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHead of top hedge fund association to step down Romney knocks Trump over McCain criticism Paul Ryan joins board of Fox Corporation MORE (R-Wis.), have lined up to oppose the move to impose steep tariffs on U.S. imports of the two metals. Economists and experts from blue America and red America alike are warning of a looming trade war that could crumble the U.S. economy, almost sector by sector.

They’re right to do so.

Retaliatory tariffs, which are sure to be in the offing, would drive up consumer prices, churning up inflation and leaving U.S. consumers with diminished buying power. All the while, we will have alienated and isolated ourselves from our most important trading partners.

The latest salvo in the president’s protectionist trade agenda threatens to cripple the United States’ ability to buy the steel and aluminum it needs and would ultimately do more harm than good to American companies and consumers. Remember high school physics class? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

As the White House moves to implement these restrictions — 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum — it should be wary of the likely consequences. Imported steel and aluminum strongly support the American manufacturing industry, enable hundreds of thousands of jobs in numerous sectors, and serve as the glue to many key trade relationships.

Yes, America needs steel and aluminum imports. Both are essential to make everyday goods, from cars to planes, to food and drink containers. Their reach is in nearly every sector of the U.S. economy -- and that gives the tariffs a wide and worrying reach. Disturbing the upstream supply chain could have a significant ripple effect on the products and services Americans depend on each day, raising prices on a broad range of goods.

The United States buys more steel from abroad than any other country -- some 26.9 million tons in 2017. The vast majority of our aluminum -- 90 percent -- comes from foreign sources as well. These imports support jobs in the United States, in manufacturing, in energy-related industries and so on.

Trump has said he wants to “create a level playing field” for American companies and American workers.

A trade war isn’t going to level that field.

Gary A. Cohen is a Clinical Professor of International Business, Global Trade and Supply Chain Management at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.