The European Union says it’s ready to retaliate against new tariff measures proposed/instituted by the Trump administration. However, letting Trump “win” the trade war would be far smarter.
Trump and Tariffs
Mentioning Trump’s name in Brussels (the capital of the European Union) produces a lot of eye-rolls. Trump is not only unpopular, but he is also regarded as being uninformed at best and having malicious intent at worst. Whether or not those things are accurate is a story for another time, but the trade war debate reveals the level of self-reflection in Europe. Much is said about the tariffs imposed on European goods, and the narrative in Brussels is that the United States started the trade war, forcing the European Union to retaliate.
The fact that the European Union initiated the most important trade barriers didn’t occur to them.
On January 18, the European Union adopted a negotiating mandate for the trade talks with the United States. Brussels announced that every new tariff measure by Washington, DC, would be met with retaliatory tariffs in Europe.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström warned that if Trump decides to punish Europeans on trade, “we are very advanced in our internal preparations” to retaliate. “Should that happen, we are ready, it would have a very damaging effect on the negotiations,” she said.
What’s Food Got to Do with It?
Between 2010 and 2014, the US and the EU negotiated the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The negotiations ended after considerable public protests in Europe pressured Brussels to break-off the talks. Fear-mongering anti-free trade activists warned the public about the threat of importing goods from the United States, such as GMO foods.
However, importing goods produced to different standards than EU norms does not in the least “undermine” EU standards. Provided consumers are aware of the origin of their products, mutual recognition of standards poses no threat to anyone’s legislation.
A report by Foodwatch, a German NGO pretending to stand for consumers, also treats the idea of free trade with contempt. This is well illustrated in a chapter on Mexican trade relations on page 47. The researchers write:
In 2001 Mexico introduced a tax on all soft drinks flavoured with sweeteners other than cane sugar (e.g. with beet sugar or isoglucose, a syrup made from corn or wheat starch). The exception for drinks sweetened with cane sugar protected the country’s own sugar cane production.
They continue by explaining that such taxes are being challenged under WTO trade rules and that industry lobbyists oppose them through the claim of “a form of trade discrimination.” The EU, of course, is well-known for trade discriminatory practices aimed at protecting its own producers, including its famous ban on beef treated with the estradiol-17β hormone.These activists would oppose free trade no matter what because it increases food trade.
Such agricultural protection is always a major sticking point in trade negotiations, so it is certainly an odd point for anti-trade activists to bring up.
The report’s tenor is exemplified by this statement from one of its authors, Thomas Fritz, during the Foodwatch press conference:
Our conclusion is that due to these FTAs [Free Trade Agreements], food trade is indeed likely to grow, along with the risks posed to the consumer and the environment.
Forget concerns about democracy, judicial procedures, or even those of food standards: these activists would oppose free trade no matter what because it increases food trade. “The risk to the consumer”—what risk are we talking about? The risk of falling food prices and increased quality? The risk of expanded choice? And to what “risk” are we exposing the producers in South America to? The risk of increased production and economic prosperity?
Defy Anti-Free Trade Activists, Let Trump “Win”
What would it take for Donald Trump to “win” the trade war? In essence, Trump supports getting rid of all tariff and non-tariff barriers. All the European Union needs to do is to tell the administration “you won” and drop the previously introduced retaliatory measures. This would open the market and provide cheaper goods for European consumers and enable Trump to approach his goal of a zero-tariff basis.
But that isn’t going to happen because the notion of “winning” is as politicized in Brussels as it is during a Trump rally. So next time you receive eye rolls at the mention of the trade war in Europe, recognize that over here on the old continent, we aren’t really any better.