In 1930, Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law. As the world entered the early phases of the Great Depression, the measure was intended to protect American jobs and farmers. Ignoring warnings from global trade partners, the new law placed tariffs on goods imported into the U.S. which resulted in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods exported to other countries. By 1934, U.S. imports and exports were reduced by more than 50% and many Great Depression scholars have blamed the tariffs for playing a substantial role in amplifying the scope and duration of the Great Depression. The United States paid a steep price for trying to protect its workforce through short-sighted political expedience....
On October 22, 2016 in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, Donald Trump delivered a litany of goals that he hopes to accomplish in his first 100 days of office. Within the list are seven actions aimed at protecting American workers. Four of them deal with foreign trade. They are as follows:
These four proposals and other trade-related rhetoric that Donald Trump repeatedly stated while running for president suggest that he will take immediate steps to level the global trade playing field. At this point, it is pure conjecture what actions may or may not be taken. However, the article, “We need a tough negotiator like Trump to fix U.S. trade policy”, penned by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross from July 2016 offers clues.
In the article, Navarro and Ross took the World Trade Organization (WTO) to task for being negligent in defending the United States against unfair trade. Additionally, they note the WTO “provides little or no protection against four of the most potent unfair trade practices many of our trade partners routinely engage in — currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, and the use of both sweatshop labor and pollution havens”.
They also note that the U.S. does not have a Value-Added Tax (VAT). Heavily used in the European Union and much of the rest of world, a VAT is a tax imposed at various stages of production where value is added and/or at the final sale. The tax rate is commonly based on the location of the customer, and it can be used to affect global trade. Manufacturers from countries with VAT taxes frequently receive re-bates for taxes incurred during the production process. Because the U.S. does not have a VAT, the WTO has denied U.S. corporations the ability to receive VAT rebates. In fact, the WTO has rejected three congressional attempts to give American companies equal VAT rebate treatment. By denying VAT re-bates the WTO is “giving foreign competitors a huge tax-break edge.”
It is possible that, within weeks of taking office, President-elect Trump may threaten to leave the WTO. In what is likely a negotiating tactic, we should expect strong proposals from Trump and his team with the goal of forcing the WTO to alter decisions more to the favor of the United States. Among the actions the Trump administration may take, or threaten to take, is the pulling out of prior trade agreements and/or establishing tariffs on imports into the United States. Because of its efficiency and simplicity, border tax adjustments, which are similar to VAT, seem to be a more logical approach as they would effectively assess a tax on importers of foreign goods and resources without affecting exporters. Border tax adjustments seem even more plausible when considered in the context of a recent Twitter message that Donald Trump posted: “General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border – Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!”...
If actions are taken to impose tariffs, VATs, border adjustments or renege on trade deals, the consequences to various asset classes could be severe.