The Trump administration’s trade policies clash with each other  

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S attempts to orchestrate America’s trade relations are causing a cacophony. On December 2nd he trumpeted new tariffs on Brazilian and Argentine steel and aluminium. Hours later the United States Trade Representative (USTR) chimed in with two sets of tariffs on European products. Over the following days noise grew louder in Congress about a bargain that would secure the Democrats’ approval for the USMCA, a trade deal with Mexico and Canada. And all this against the drumbeat of trade war with China.

The theme, American unilateralism, is consistent. But the various voices are not, with Trumpian trumpetings vying for airtime with the USTR’s measured pace. Start with the week’s first announcement, when Mr Trump tweeted that Argentine and Brazilian steel would face American tariffs, “effective immediately”. American farmers, he said, were suffering from the two countries’ “massive” devaluations. But his response made no sense. Argentina and Brazil have not been trying to take advantage of American farmers by manipulating the peso and real downwards. Rather, as their economies have flailed, they have struggled to prop their currencies up.

Moreover, though Mr Trump surely intended to restrict imports, for some products tariffs could mean they rise. An annual quota for Brazilian slab, billets and blooms (...

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