Out of Balance the Trade Deficit with China Is Not under Control

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 9, 2018 | Go to article overview

Out of Balance the Trade Deficit with China Is Not under Control


The Department of Commerce's report Tuesday that America's trade deficit in 2017, $566 billion, was the highest since 2008 and had grown 12 percent from 2016 was either a disappointment for the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, or didn't matter, depending on one's interpretation of the significance of that figure.

Even worse, considering campaign rhetoric, the United States' trade deficit with China, $375 billion, was the highest on record and up 8 percent from $347 billion in 2016. Mr. Trump recently imposed tariffs on imports from China of washing machines and solar panels, to seek to push the trade deficit toward balance.

The argument that the 2017 figure doesn't matter much runs several ways. The first is that if one sees the global economy as internationalized anyway, with many of the large corporations and banks that are nominally American actually multinational in ownership and location, then even determining the U.S. trade balance becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Another argument runs that, when Americans' standard of living in general rises - particularly if wages rise, reducing the radical economic inequality that characterizes our economy - Americans will use their rising purchasing power to acquire more imported goods, unhindered. And if the companies' goods they acquire are made by partly American multinational producers, then the question of the trade balance, favorable or unfavorable, becomes less important.

One more argument, if one is uncomfortable with the rising trade imbalance, is that the Trump administration is working on it, using existing international trade regulations, renegotiating existing trade agreements, for example, with Canada, Mexico and South Korea, and eventually negotiating new bilateral trade accords with various nations. …

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