The historic significance of Trump’s trade war measures


The historic significance of Trump’s trade war measures

5 March 2018

Last Thursday’s announcement by President Donald Trump of sweeping tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium marks March 1, 2018 as a date that will resonate in economic history.

It is not just the size of the tariffs themselves—a 25 percent impost on steel and 10 percent on aluminium—that is significant, but the fact that they are being imposed on “national security” grounds, a justification supposedly reserved for wars or national emergencies.

The measures threaten to set off a series of retaliatory measures by Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and other nominal allies of the US, as well as China.

In the lead-up to the actual signing of the tariff measures by Trump, expected later this week, there is a push by US allies for exemptions. But that appears to have been ruled out by the head of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Peter Navarro, who said over the weekend that while there may be exemptions for specific businesses, they would not apply to individual countries.

Whatever the immediate outcome of these manoeuvres, the decision is an historical turning point. As the Financial Times noted, “By invoking national security as the grounds for the new trade barriers Mr. Trump has crossed a line in the international trading system.”

This trade war measure is a major step in the dismantling of the system of economic relations established by Washington itself after World War II to prevent a repetition of the destructive global conflicts that marked the first half of the 20th century—conflicts that had deep economic roots and threatened the very survival of the capitalist system.

Writing on the outbreak of World War I, Leon Trotsky explained that its objective…

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