The trade war with Canada and Mexico was on, and then it was off. The trade war with the European Union was on, and now maybe it is off.
The trade war with China has been back on, with a vengeance. It extended not only to regular imports but to crucial decisions on technology companies.
And now, the administration has backed off on that.
All this is not a good record after two years of erratic trade policies under President Donald Trump.
The administration temporarily eased off proposed restrictions on technology sales to Chinese companies. That cheered Wall Street, where technology stocks rose, regaining losses from when the administration announced curbs on technology sales, aimed primarily at Chinese telecom gear maker Huawei.
About one-third of that company's suppliers are American chipmakers, and the move could hurt sales for companies including Qualcomm and Broadcom. Both companies posted gains Tuesday, along with other chipmakers, once the 90-day grace period on the sanctions was announced.
Overall, though a strong economy domestically has buoyed stocks, the trade war between the U.S. and China has put the market in a rut, with the S&P 500 down 2.8% for May. The index still showed a gain of 14.3% for the year, so far.
Unfortunately for Louisiana, and its ports and petrochemical businesses and farmers and ranchers, the trade war with China has many fronts.
Our state’s interest is heavily involved with those businesses. Our ports are big importers of steel, for instance, and the president has made no secret that he wants to grow the business of American steelmaking by tariffs.
The good news is that metals tariffs appear to be off the table for NAFTA 2.0, the slightly revised agreement with Canada and Mexico. If Congress approves the new trade agreement for this continent, maybe the administration will settle down and declare that front in the trade war over.
But the larger problem is the decision-making that is rooted in the president’s protectionist campaigns.
A tariff is a tax increase, except that the tax is not paid directly by consumers, but indirectly. Making imported steel more expensive makes products from dishwashers to bicycles to industrial plants more costly to build.
Auto tariffs would affect Louisiana consumers indirectly, as there are no car factories in the state. But every consumer would pay more for vehicles, because of domestic politics.
This is literally 19th-century economics and, as the arguments over electronics parts demonstrate, it is ill-suited to the 21st century’s global trade and supply patterns.
We hope that the summer and fall will see a reduction in the trade-war tariffs and its rhetoric of us-against-them. Our products, from petrochemicals to rice and beef, are good for the consumers abroad and good for our businesses here at home.