More than a year into President Donald Trump’s trade war with China — one that he said would be “easy to win” — it’s worth asking, who’s getting something out of this?

In Maine, as reported this week by Central Maine Sunday, livestock and dairy farmers are facing some hurdles, dealing with lost markets and added uncertainty as a result of the trade war.

Maine’s lobster and wild blueberry industries certainly are not getting anything out of it either. Both saw established markets in China fall apart after the president placed tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods, and China responded with tariffs of their own.

China bought 18 million pounds of Maine lobster before the tariffs were imposed last July, but only a trickle after that, causing dealers to scramble to find new markets, as well as some layoffs.

Similarly, blueberry exports to China went from 2 million pounds in 2017 to 75,000 pounds last year, according to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, another knock against a vulnerable industry.

Yet neither industry has been deemed worthy of aid the Trump administration is handing out to help soften the blow of the trade war. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week said blueberry growers were not eligible for trade disruption assistance, and Maine’s congressional delegation has so far been unsuccessful in its attempt to secure aid for the lobster industry.

The administration has set aside $26 billion in financial support for farmers who have lost revenue as a result of the dispute with China. There have been questions about whether the money has been distributed fairly.

But the larger problem is that the allocated aid is higher than the amount the U.S. has raised from Chinese tariffs; certainly in the short term this trade war is not paying for itself. And that aid is only for farmers — it doesn’t cover all the other industries hurt by the tariffs, including manufacturers who use Chinese inputs in their products, or who depend on cheap Chinese steel.

There’s no end in sight, either. For a while, negotiations between the U.S. and China seemed to be making progress, but they have since fallen apart. President Trump recently threatened tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods, and on Aug. 5 his administration labeled China a “currency manipulator,” escalating the confrontation.

A deal now looks far off. There are indications that China, convinced it cannot negotiate reliably with Trump, is waiting the president out.

Trump’s view on trade is often muddled and simplistic. But he’s not wrong in seeing the imbalance with how China’s economy interacts with the rest of the world.

However, the president has gone about solving it in the wrong way — through a destructive trade war, absent any allies, that has now calcified into a standoff. The economies of both countries are suffering, as are American businesses who spent years building around a world economy.

Like other businesses with Chinese connections, the lobster industry is confident that the market there can reopen once the trade dispute is settled.

But the longer it goes on, the more permanent the disruption will be. Even in peril is the globalized economy that has maintained peace and accelerated growth throughout the world.

It looks like no one is getting anything out of the trade war. What’s more, it looks increasingly like neither side can win.

 


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