On March 1, 2018, President Trump pushed through a metals tariff plan that puts 25 percent tariff on imports of steel and a 10 percent tariff on imports of aluminium. They are set to enter into force on March 23, 2018.
The Trump administration seems
positive towards protectionism and that picture became clear when the pro-trade U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned
on March 6 because of the tariffs imposed on steel and aluminium. Although the tariffs on steel and aluminium are expected to have a limited impact on most international bulk trades, BIMCO cautions the tariffs could trigger something bigger that would negatively impact global shipping in a much wider way including container shipping trades.
Since 2009, implementation of trade-restrictive measures amongst global trading partners has become more widespread according to World Trade Organisation (WTO), but trade-facilitating measures have kept up well to limit some of the damage done. Just this week, the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) proved to be the latest of its kind. Above all, transparency and predictability in trade policy remain vital for all actors in the global economy as the WTO puts it.
"Free trade provides prosperity and peace. It’s a fundamental principle to cherish and safeguard. All trade-restrictive measures are in principle bad for shipping," said BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst. Peter Sand.
"Open economies are all better off from trading, as they make use of their resources in the most optimal way. The result of a trade war is more expensive goods of lower quality and little variety. This goes for all products and commodities.”
Steel and aluminium tariffs may be ‘dish of the day’ and the impact on shipping is still unknown, but soon major trade action against China is also likely to come from the U.S. Despite the fact that there is good reason – violation of intellectual property rights – the result is the same. It is damaging for the involved countries.
The U.S. is running large trade deficits with the EU as well as China. In addition to significant trade deficits in goods with Mexico, Japan and Canada. But starting a trade war is the wrong way to handle the situation.
In a trade war, combatants retaliate against one another. While doing so, they often set aside normal business procedures.
As steel and aluminium import barriers are set by the U.S., trading partners like the EU, Japan and China, may set their own import barriers against e.g. agricultural products (soybean, corn, wheat) in general or more politically targeted products like the European Commission going for Kentucky bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Levi’s jeans – all hitting Trump’s constituency.
The international atmosphere is full of threats of retaliation and it appears likely that major trading partners with the US like the EU and China will hit back to draw a line in the sand for the U.S. Administration and President Trump.
"Overall we are seeing more trade-restrictive measures introduced. Some more high profile than others. This is a worrying trend that limits demand for shipping globally," Sand said.
"Even worse for shipping could be short-sighted political positions that may have lasting consequences for everyone involved in global industries like shipping if a largescale trade war emerges."