Friday, December 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reached a "deal" with China.

Today at the White House, Trump talked about what he is calling a "phase one deal" with China on trade.

TRUMP: We have — the China deal, as you know, it was just approved a little while ago.  And it’s — to me, it’s not complicated, but that’s what I do.  It’s a phenomenal deal.  The tariffs will largely remain at 25 percent on $250 billion.
...This is a very large deal — the China deal.  It covers tremendous manufacturing, farming — a lot of rules, regulations.  A lot of things are covered.  It’s a phase one deal, but a lot of big things are covered.  And I say, affectionately: The farmers are going to have to go out and buy much larger tractors, because it means a lot of business — a tremendous amount of business.

Trump is whistling past the graveyard of a huge swath of American agriculture here. The record number of farmers who have already been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the Trump tariffs destroying their market in China presumably won't be buying tractors. There's also nothing in the deal that will make American taxpayers whole for the $28 billion bailouts aimed at keeping some farms afloat during the crisis.

In reality, almost everything about the ongoing trade war will remain the same as a result of the "deal." Almost the only thing known for certain is that future tariffs that Trump had threatened, and which China would have retaliated against, now won't happen. (Trump had already caved on some of them, getting nothing in return, in an effort to boost holiday shopping numbers.) Most of the existing tariffs, which make Chinese goods more expensive for American consumers, will remain in place.

Trump didn't give further details about the "deal"—but neither did anyone else. For example, Trump has been saying for months that China would promise to buy $40 billion worth of American farm products—roughly 16 months worth of normal imports during the peak trade during the Obama administration. 

But nobody has offered any specifics about the time frame over which China promised to buy that much farm products—and the deal's specific targets are being kept absolutely secret.

It's not the first time that Trump has promised farmers that unenforceable promises about future Chinese purchases were right around the corner. Almost exactly a year ago, he said this:

How is this a bad thing?

  • No amount of political face-saving undoes the loss of family farms.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you haven't done.