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Last March, Donald Trump decided to drag age-old protectionism out of the past, imposing tariffs on U.S. imports. Retaliation from China – the main target – followed; Fears of a trade war resurfaced.
Beyond the fact that initial threats from the United States were generally followed by negotiations and exemptions, the magnitude of the exports at risk, and the risks to derail the economic upswing sound like good reasons to take markets’ anxiety with a pinch of salt.
Recently, global trade has actually done well: in volume it rose by an estimated +4.8 percent in 2017 while protectionist measures continued to pile up (+489 new measures in 2017 compared to 2016). The acceleration of global growth was strong enough to more than offset the dampening effects of new protectionist measures and push many countries to open up again to benefit from the synchronized acceleration in growth.
On a forward-looking basis, Euler Hermes’s latest analysis on protectionism: “Trade Games, Trade Feud or Trade War?” evaluates the impact of higher U.S. tariffs on global trade in 2018 and 2019. It defines three scenarios based on the rise of the average U.S. import tariff and different levels of retaliation among major trade partners.
First, our baseline scenario called “Trade Games”, corresponds to a mild increase of the average tariff by +0.5 pp from 3.5 percent today for the U.S., with negligible retaliation. This is the unfolding situation, following the announcements, and the scenario we consider to be the most likely.
This “Trade Games” scenario represents $30 billion per year of combined export losses for the U.S. and China, that is, less than 0.1 percent of global trade of goods and services. For the U.S., expected impacts on growth, inflation, trade are negligible (+/-0.1 pp max) as well as on business insolvencies (less than +1 pp) but twin deficits could increase by -0.6 (trade) and -1.1 pp (fiscal).
Electronic, Electric, Machinery and Equipment and Automotive are the most at-risk industries, according to our protectionism tracker, based on the analysis of major contributors to U.S. trade deficit.
On a bilateral basis, imports of Electronic, Electric and Textile from China are the largest contributors to the U.S. trade deficit; they correspond to the list of Chinese products targeted: Industrial and electrical machinery, Optical equipment, Vehicles (railway, aircraft), Chemicals (including pharmaceuticals) and Metals (steel and aluminum mainly). Conversely, to track retaliation by China, Agri-food (where import tariffs have been increased on $3 billion products) ran the largest deficit.
The recent Chinese retaliatory measures have targeted Aircraft, Cars, Chemicals and Agri-food products (of which Soybeans, Cereals, Beef). Outside China, Mexico, Germany, Japan and Canada are the largest contributors to U.S. trade deficits with Automotive, Machinery and Equipment, Electrical and Electronic equipment.
Our second scenario (“Trade Feud”) - which is unlikely - corresponds to an increase of +2.5 pp for the U.S. and rest-of-the-world import tariffs bumping them to 6 percent for the U.S. and 8 percent globally (substantial retaliation).
Last, our “Trade War” scenario (very unlikely) corresponds to an increase of tariffs globally by +8.5 pp, that is, to 12 percent in the U.S. and 14 percent globally. The bilateral version of this scenario would mean a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese imported products, which echoes what President Trump used to say on the campaign trail. This situation has not happened since the mid-60s.
“While less tweeted about, other forms of protectionism (Financial, Regulatory, Data, Currency, Environmental, Sanitary, Security, and Intellectual Property) could be even more disruptive. On the financial risks side, capital controls and currency manipulation should be monitored should tensions escalate between the U.S. and China,” said Alexis Garatti, Head of Macroeconomic Research at Euler Hermes.
Euler Hermes is the global leader in trade credit insurance and a recognized specialist in the areas of bonding, guarantees and collections. With more than 100 years of experience, the company offers business-to-business (B2B) clients financial services to support cash and trade receivables management. Its proprietary intelligence network tracks and analyzes daily changes in corporate solvency among small, medium and multinational companies active in markets representing 92 percent of global GDP. Headquartered in Paris, the company is present in 52 countries with 6,050 employees. Euler Hermes is a subsidiary of Allianz, rated AA by Standard & Poor’s. The company posted a consolidated turnover of 2.6 billion euros in 2017 and insured global business transactions for 894 billion euros in exposure at the end of 2017.
As with all content published on this site, these statements are subject to our Forward Looking Statement disclaimer:
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