Trade wars have a habit of getting out of hand, as Donald Trump discovered this week when one of the American brands he has hailed as “iconic” and due for a boost from his policies – Harley-Davidson motorcycles – announced it was shifting a big hunk of production overseas precisely because of those policies.
After Trump affirmed a 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium imports from Europe, Canada and Mexico, the Europeans were among those to announce retaliatory tariffs. In their case, they singled out some “iconic” products that happened to be made in places that voted heavily for Trump.
Harley-Davidson, with its main factory in Wisconsin, fitted the bill. Tariffs on the hogs jumped from 6 per cent to 31 per cent, adding an average $US2200 to the price of bikes shipped from the United States to Europe, which currently accounts for about a third of Harley-Davidson’s overall sales – some 40,000 bikes a year.
Trump was furious. “Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag,” he tweeted. “I fought hard for them and ultimately they will not pay tariffs selling into the EU, which has hurt us badly on trade.” He later threatened a “big tax” on Harley-Davidson if it persisted with the plan. Bourbon whiskey and Levi Strauss are other European targets.
With rather more massive retaliation threatened on other fronts, notably China, US business is getting worried about Trump’s trade offensive. As revealed in USA Today – the newspaper read in Middle America – a petition signed by 51 industry bodies, chambers of commerce and state and local business groups warned of “serious negative economic impacts”.
The signatories also declared support for a bill introduced by Republican senator Bob Corker, which would transfer the power of emergency tariffs on national security grounds from the presidency to Congress. They were concerned about Trump’s “unrestricted use” of this power, which among other things has painted Canada as a security threat because of its metal exports to the US.
Trump is still considering slapping new tariffs on $US200 million worth of imports from China, and a 20 per cent tariff on cars imported from Europe. His officials are also working on plans to block companies more than 25 per cent-owned in China from acquiring US firms involved in “industrially significant technology”. And they are applying new limits on the number of Chinese graduate students allowed to join research laboratories in certain high-tech fields. Chinese investors are panicking, with their sharemarket’s values down 20 per cent this year.
Muslim ban returns
Trump meanwhile proclaimed a “tremendous victory for the American people” on Tuesday when the Supreme Court upheld his ban on people from a number of Muslim-majority countries entering the US.
The court split 5–4 on the decision, with the conservative majority augmented by Justice Neil Gorsuch, nominated by Trump after the Republican majority in the Senate prevented Barack Obama filling a vacancy with a liberal judge.
The latest version of the travel ban blocks people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia from migrating to the US, or going there for work, study or holiday. Venezuela and North Korea were later additions. Chad was removed, possibly because its government allows US forces to operate across its territory against jihadists. Critics have long pointed out that most of the foreign terrorist attacks on the US have been by individuals from American allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, or from Russia.
After Trump’s about-face the previous week on separating children from parents crossing the Mexican border, there are still 2300 children in custody away from their parents. On Tuesday, 18 states joined a lawsuit seeking to make such separations illegal, in case of another U-turn.
There were few surprises in Turkey in last Sunday’s election win by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with many of his best critics locked up and their newspapers shut down.
The surprise was the strong showing by the opposition, rallying behind the previously obscure politician Muharrem İnce and the centre-left Republican People’s Party. He won 31 per cent of the presidential vote, against Erdoğan’s 53 per cent, almost enough to force a second-round ballot in which Erdoğan’s aura would have been greatly diminished.
In the simultaneous parliamentary elections, the Kurdish-supported People’s Democratic Party, led by its imprisoned presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, got enough votes over the threshold to take a place in the chamber. Together with İnce’s party, the opposition will have about 200 of the 600 seats.
After 15 years in power as prime minister then as executive president, Erdoğan is now set for five years without an election and can run for another term after that. His Justice and Development Party also relies on a chauvinist partner, Devlet Bahçeli and his Nationalist Movement Party, for its control of parliament, which will increase Turkey’s isolation from Western allies who might help with the country’s debt and inflation problems.
While 700,000 of its expelled Rohingya population live in Bangladeshi camps in monsoon rains, Myanmar’s military is starting to crack a little bit as some of its generals are hit with international sanctions over the enforced exodus.
This week it announced the dismissal of the general who directed the sweep against Rohingyas in the north-western Rakhine state last year, Maung Maung Soe. This came just after the EU and Canada listed him and six other officers for travel bans and freezing of assets. But while the EU accused Maung Maung Soe of responsibility for atrocities including unlawful killings, rape and systematic burning of Rohingya homes, the Myanmar military said he’d been sacked for weakness in his earlier response to attacks by a Rohingya militant group on police. No action has yet been taken against the six others sanctioned, who include a more senior general.
Myanmar’s de facto president, Aung San Suu Kyi, is meanwhile facing opposition from military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing to her proposal to include a neutral foreigner on a three-person panel to investigate human rights violations in Rakhine. This week Amnesty International named Min Aung Hlaing and 12 others as responsible for crimes against humanity and urged the UN Security Council to refer them to the International Criminal Court.
Macau releases the hounds
In three weeks Macau’s dog-racing venue will shut down, ending the sport in Asia and with it a little-known Australian cultural export worthy of Sir Les Patterson.
In the 1960s, Australian greyhound fanciers took the lead in introducing the sport to the region. Canidromes sprung up in Manila, Guam and Jakarta as well as Macau, then a Portuguese colony, now a Chinese special region.
All the others have long since shut down, and now falling attendance in Macau has persuaded the canidrome’s owner, Angela Leong On-kei – fourth wife of ailing casino magnate Stanley Ho and a member of Macau’s legislature – to shut it down.
Leong insists the 600 dogs at the track, many from kennels in Australia, will be well looked after. It deserves some attention: last year the NSW government, fresh from backing down over its greyhound-racing ban, had to step in when it was revealed some of our hounds had been shipped to a Shanghai animal park to race against cheetahs.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 30, 2018 as "Trump goes hog wild on trade tariffs".
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