We don’t win anymore,” said candidate Donald Trump numerous times during his 2016 presidential campaign, referring to America’s trade relationship with other countries. Trump and tens of millions of his supporters hold the protectionist view that trade, like all human relationships, is a war that must be “won.” Rather than exchanges that leave both parties better off, protectionists see trade as a zero-sum game in which one side benefits at the other’s expense.
Fair Trade Over Free Trade
The president has said on more than one occasion that he supports free trade, but he insists it must be fair, meaning that China or other partners reciprocate any relief from tariffs and other burdens placed on their exports. And it is true that China has not treated American exports to China the way America has treated Chinese exports to America.
China has been more protectionist and is likely engaging in some subsidization and/or other government assistance to its exporters, even if it and its effect on America’s trade deficit with China are greatly exaggerated. Americans would be better off with zero tariffs and completely free trade regarding its imports.
Regardless, Trump and his supporters draw completely the wrong conclusion. Persuading Xi Jinping to adopt free trade policies would make China’s economy stronger, not weaker.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.