Trump’s Trade Threats Aren’t Scaring Anyone

Over at Wonkblog, Elizabeth Winkler says that Donald Trump’s trade threats seem to be working:

Since January, G-20 countries have imposed 29 percent fewer protectionist policies than they did in the same period in 2016. And it’s not because the United States is playing nice: Since January, U.S. policymakers have imposed 26 percent more protectionist policies on its G-20 peers than during the same period a year before, according to the report.

….Caroline Freund, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, calls this a “backlash to the backlash against globalization.”…“If [Trump] is going to go on a trade rampage, they don’t want to attract extra attention by imposing new measures,” Freund said.

Technically these figures are correct. But they’re pretty misleading. The other G20 countries have cut back on their trade actions against everybody in the G20, not just the US:

In 2017 so far, G20 countries have cut back on protectionist activities against the US by 29 percent, but they’ve cut back against everyone else by 46 percent. Here’s how this translates: last year, only 9 percent of G20 protectionism was aimed at the US. This year it’s 12 percent.

This suggests a harsher relative attitude toward the US this year, not a milder one. The real difference here is that the rest of the G20 is trying to cut back overall on protectionist activities while the US isn’t. But thanks to Trump’s threats, they’re not cutting back very much against the US. It doesn’t seem as if anyone is really all that afraid of him.