Donald Trump’s first term as president was a seismic shift in U.S. trade policy. He launched a tariff war with China, pulled out of major trade agreements, and earned the nickname “Tariff Man.” Now, if he wins re-election, expect the ground to tremble again.
Trump’s campaign documents and interviews hint at a second term filled with protectionist measures, primarily targeting China with new tariffs. He’s floated a 10% blanket tariff on all imports and suggested “eye-for-eye” retaliation against countries with higher tariffs. He even wants to revoke normal trade relations with China, significantly raising import costs.
“Trade is Trump’s core value,” says David Boling, a former trade official under both Trump and Biden. “Expect immediate action on trade if he’s re-elected.”
While China remains the main target, Europe might also feel the heat, with potential confrontations over digital taxes. Trump has also declared President Biden’s Indo-Pacific economic pact “dead on arrival.”
Experts warn that implementing these policies would cause major economic and diplomatic turbulence. New tariffs would raise tensions with China and allies, inviting retaliation. Some industries might benefit from protected markets, but others would face higher costs and potential inflationary pressures.
Trump’s first term disrupted decades of U.S. trade policy, prioritizing American consumers but neglecting sectors vulnerable to foreign competition. He withdrew from major trade agreements, arguing they cost jobs. He particularly focused on China, accusing them of unfair practices and imposing substantial tariffs. While they reached a deal, China fell short of its promised increase in U.S. imports.
Trump’s policies sparked intense debate, especially among Republicans, who traditionally champion free markets. The Biden administration hasn’t drastically changed course, maintaining most Trump tariffs to appease labor unions and working-class voters. However, they’ve faced pressure from hawks to ease inflation by reducing tariffs, something Biden has so far resisted.
If elected again, Trump plans to rely on the same architect for his trade strategy: Robert Lighthizer. His aides say Lighthizer, a veteran trade lawyer, has a high chance of returning as U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer himself remained coy about a second term role, but emphasized the growing trade deficit and hinted at Trump’s commitment to tackling it.
One thing’s clear: if Trump returns to the White House, the global trade landscape will face another major storm. Brace yourself for a new era of friction, tariffs, and economic uncertainty.