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Tuesday, December 3, 2019 - 15:55

MNI POLICY: Trump Targets China And Farmers With Latam Tariffs


By Brooke Migdon

WASHINGTON (MNI) - Donald Trump's imposing of tariffs on Brazil and Argentina is really an extension of his bigger fight with China and a message to factory and farm workers he needs in next year's presidential election, trade experts said.

Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports Monday and said he was cracking down on currency manipulation and practices harming American farmers, after exempting the two nations last year from a national security review. With Brazil and Argentina already in economic turmoil, the political gains for Trump appear to outweigh the trade rationale, experts from the nonpartisan Atlantic Council said on a conference call Tuesday.

"It's not about steel or aluminum, it's not about currency manipulation in Argentina or Brazil," former Argentina international trade undersecretary Shunko Rojas said on the call. "It's a message for the farmers; it's a message from President Trump saying 'I'm fighting for you against China' and definitely has to be read as part of the presidential campaign."

Trump on Tuesday roiled financial markets by returning to angry comments about China, saying they had manipulated the global economy for years and the U.S. could never sign an "even" deal with them now. He also said telecommunications giant Huawei presents a "tremendous security problem" for the U.S., and he can wait out Chinese leaders who want a deal "very badly." That was a turn from his officials in recent weeks touting a "phase one" trade deal.

China is already responding, and in ways that blunt any other gains by U.S. farmers and factory workers. State media signaled Monday the government could impose sanctions on American companies in response to U.S. bills targeting Chinese entities involved in alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong and China's Xinjiang territory.

While U.S.-China relations fray, China and Brazil ties have strengthened in recent months. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and China's Xi Jinping exchanged positive sentiments at the annual BRICS summit in Brasilia last month and Huawei is likely to win a bid next year to build Brazil's fifth generation mobile network.

Over the past year, China has relied more heavily on other countries, among them Brazil and Argentina, for agricultural imports like livestock and soybeans.

"If it all ended tomorrow and all the tariffs went away, it's going to take quite a while to restore our trade relations with China," said Dale Moore, executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "Especially because while this has been going on, China has been reaching out to other countries."

--MNI Washington Bureau; +1 202 371 2121; email: brooke.migdon@marketnews.com

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