The fate of President Trump’s America First trade policy and the postwar liberal trading order could hang on whether Mr. Trump wins a second term in the White House this November.
With new uncertainties emerging this week about the fate of Mr. Trump’s touted “Phase One” trade deal with China, a panel of international trade experts said much depends on the November vote. Some are predicting that the World Trade Organization, the cornerstone of the free-trade system the U.S. has long championed, may not survive a second Trump term.
Since January, China and the U.S. have labored to keep their hard-won trade truce alive in the face of growing bilateral tensions on a host of other fronts, from Taiwan and Hong Kong to human rights and the coronavirus epidemic. In a key concession, China promised to purchase $200 billion more in U.S. exports of energy, agriculture manufacturing and other goods over the next two years, a pledge it has tried to honor despite a global economic crash sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the first quarter of 2020, China already imported $500 billion worth of agricultural goods, which represents a 110% increase from last year,” said Huiyao “Henry” Wang, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, in a trade briefing organized by the National Press Foundation and the Hinrich Foundation. There was a 210% increase in soybean purchases, he noted, a boost for American farmers whom Mr. Trump “cared a lot about.”
White House sensitivities about the status of Mr. Trump’s signature trade deal with China were on full display this week after White House aide Peter Navarro, a longtime China trade hawk, rattled the markets by telling Fox News in an interview that the Phase One deal had essentially collapsed. President Trump in a tweet quickly denied that and Mr. Navarro said in a White House statement that his comments had “been taken wildly out of context.”
Mr. Trump’s trade team has spoken of a far more ambitious “Phase Two” trade deal with Beijing, targeting what U.S. critics say are deep-rooted structural barriers and regulatory loopholes that China has used to run up big trade surpluses and steal American technology and intellectual property.
Bob Davis, senior editor of Wall Street Journal, told the briefing that he believes if President Trump is re-elected that he would try to push for a second round of negotiations.
“The World Trade Organization might not survive a second Trump term,” Mr. Davis said. “At least the adjudication part, which is the heart of it.”
Analysts said Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden would face his own difficulties charting U.S. trade policy in the days ahead, after the disruptions of the Trump presidency and the reality of a raft of new tariffs now in place on a vast range of foreign goods.
“He would come into office with big U.S. tariffs on three quarters of everything China sends to the U.S.,” Mr. Davis said. “He needs to get significant concessions.”