Unemployment Is Low and the Economy is Booming, so Why Is Trump Looking for More Trade Wars?

September 7, 2018, 11:20 AM UTC

The public comment period for President Donald Trump’s proposed new round of tariffs on Chinese goods—worth an escalation-tastic $200 billion this time—ended Thursday. That means the 25% levies could start to hit any time now, although Bloomberg reports that big American tech companies and retailers have been making a last-minute effort to change the president’s mind.

Companies such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard say tariffs on Chinese networking equipment will ultimately make it more expensive for American consumers to access the Internet. The National Retail Federation says manufacturers and small-to-mid-sized firms will also bear the brunt of raised costs. China is promising to retaliate if the White House moves ahead with the new tariffs. No surprise that U.S. CEOs are losing sleep over all the unknowns being thrown into the mix.

Meanwhile, Trump is now hinting at a new trade rumble with Japan. He has good relations with the Japanese leadership, he said, but “of course that will end as soon as I tell them how much they have to pay.” (Those good relations, incidentally, have reportedly included Trump telling Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “I remember Pearl Harbor” and threatening to depose him by sending him “25 million Mexicans.”)

So add Japan to the pile of unresolved disputes that includes not only China but the European Union, Turkey, Canada and—until the fine print is out and the ink dry—Mexico.

The president says these battles are necessary because the U.S. is “losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with,” but, at the same time, the U.S. economy continues to boom and jobs continue to be added. Today’s jobs report is expected to show an unemployment rate of just 3.8%, with growth in new jobs slowing mainly because there aren’t enough people out there to fill all the vacant positions—though Goldman Sachs also reckons some companies are delaying new hires because of tariff uncertainty.

As the world awaits Trump’s trade decision, it’s no surprise to see jitters in Asian markets. But it may well be that the president’s trade opponents aren’t the only ones here with something to lose.

This article was adapted from the essay that ran in Friday’s CEO Daily newsletter.

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