Did the U.S. or China emerge victorious in the trade war?
- "When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win," reads a (now suspended) tweet from President Trump from March 2019. While there are a whole lot of metrics to measure the objective, nearly three years into the battle with China, who's up and who's down in the relationship?
- Before the dispute began, 23% of all American imports came from China, roughly as much as neighboring Canada and Mexico combined. U.S. goods trade deficit with China reached a record $419.2B in 2018, and while that the shrunk to $345M the next year (roughly the same level as 2016), the overall trade deficit did not. Unilateral tariffs on China diverted trade flows to other countries, boosting U.S. imports from Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and even Mexico.
- Economists have also found Chinese exporters generally didn't lower prices to keep their goods competitive, meaning tariff duties were mostly paid by U.S. companies and consumers, though for China, it mainly led to a loss in export value. While Beijing also made an ambitious vow to import $172B worth of U.S. goods in specific categories in 2020, through the end of November it had bought just 51% cent of that goal, in part due to the slump in energy prices and trouble with Boeing's planes.
- Moving jobs back home? Not really, but it's hard to measure. U.S. direct investment into China increased slightly from $12.9B in 2016 to $13.3B in 2019, according to the Rhodium Group, and more than three quarters of 200+ U.S. manufacturers in and around Shanghai surveyed in September said they didn't intend to move production out of China. While retaliatory actions have also weighed on U.S. farm purchases, Chinese companies did pay a record $7.9B in intellectual property payments to the U.S. in 2019, up from $6.6B in 2016, and its courts imposed some record-breaking fines on IP infringement.
- Recent quote from China's President Xi: "The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, but time and the situation are in our favor... This is where our determination and confidence are coming from."
- Outlook: President-elect Biden will have to decide whether to keep up the trade war. In a recent interview, he said he would review the Phase One deal and wouldn't remove the tariffs immediately, but the conflict is quickly escalating. Sanctions and export restrictions imposed on Chinese-owned companies seem to be leading to a big conflict over technology, while getting tougher with Beijing on human rights abuses in Xinjiang and concerns over Hong Kong will make for a difficult balancing act.
- China will overtake the U.S. to become the world's biggest economy by 2028, according to a recent report from the Center for Economics and Business Research.
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