“… the quick fix, of the “countervailing tariff,” “voluntary” restraints, and the like, will only mean higher prices for consumers in the short run, and greater distress in the long term. “Reciprocity” … notwithstanding, protectionism will only prove a temporary, and costly, palliative for inefficient industries, in a world populated by NICs, MICs and [Advanced Developing Countries].”
That’s me, writing in 1984, “Protectionism: The Rising Tide“. With the election of Joe Biden, is an end to chaotic, counterproductive tariff wars in sight? Is a more coherent, theory-consistent approach in the offing? It’s hard for me to say definitively, so let me outsource predictions (including Jeff Frankel). Cato describes the trade policy views of the CEA choices here. The USTR nominee, Katherine Tai, will be a leader in the setting of trade policy negotiation and implementation. These choices suggests a “yes” answer to both questions.
But before moving on, we should recount exactly what counterproductive policies have been wrought by the Trump tariff wars, kind of a natural experiment in stupidity since the tariffs were imposed in a way not related to the economic distress in protected sectors.
I’ll focus in my review on the the macro implications of the tariffs, reserving the negative economic impacts of trade retaliation (which are obvious and indisputable to all but the most blind) for a future post.
Since the beginning of 2018, the United States has undertaken unprecedented tariff increases, with one goal of these actions being to boost the manufacturing sector. In this paper, we estimate the effect of the tariffs—including retaliatory tariffs by U.S. trading partners—on manufacturing employment, output, and producer prices. A key feature of our analysis is accounting for the multiple ways that tariffs might affect the manufacturing sector, including providing protection for domestic industries, raising costs for imported inputs, and harming competitiveness in overseas markets due to retaliatory tariffs. We find that U.S. manufacturing industries more exposed to tariff increases experience relative reductions in employment as a positive effect from import protection is offset by larger negative effects from rising input costs and retaliatory tariffs. Higher tariffs are also associated with relative increases in producer prices via rising input costs.
See also K. Russ in this Econbrowser post.
After decades of supporting free trade, in 2018 the U.S. raised import tariffs and major trade partners retaliated. We analyze the short-run impact of this return to protectionism on the U.S. economy. Import and retaliatory tariffs caused large declines in imports and exports. Prices of imports targeted by tariffs did not fall, implying complete pass-through of tariffs to duty-inclusive prices. The resulting losses to U.S. consumers and firms who buy imports was $51 billion, or 0.27% of GDP. We embed the estimated trade elasticities in a general-equilibrium model of the U.S. economy. After accounting for tariff revenue and gains to domestic producers, the aggregate real income loss was $7.2 billion, or 0.04% of GDP. Import tariffs favored sectors concentrated in politically competitive counties, and the model implies that tradeable-sector workers in heavily Republican counties were the most negatively affected due to the retaliatory tariffs.
We examine conventional approaches to evaluating the economic impact of protectionist trade policies. We illustrate these conventional approaches by applying them to the tariffs introduced by the Trump administration during 2018. In the wake of this increase in trade protection, the United States experienced substantial increases in the prices of intermediates and final goods, dramatic changes to its supply-chain network, reductions in availability of imported varieties, and the complete pass-through of the tariffs into domestic prices of imported goods. Therefore, the full incidence of the tariffs has fallen on domestic consumers and importers so far, and our estimates imply a reduction in aggregate US real income of $1.4 billion per month by the end of 2018. We see similar patterns for foreign countries that have retaliated with their own tariffs against the United States, which suggests that the trade war has also reduced the real income of these other countries.
We estimate the price effect of US import restrictions on washers. The 2012 and 2016 antidumping duties against South Korea and China were accompanied by downward or minor price movements along with production relocation to other export platform countries. With the 2018 tariffs, on nearly all source countries, the price of washers increased nearly 12 percent. Interestingly, the price of dryers—not subject to tariffs—increased by an equivalent amount. Factoring in dryer prices and price increases by domestic brands, the 2018 tariffs on washers imply a tariff elasticity of consumer prices of above one.
We use micro data collected at the border and at retailers to characterize the effects of recent changes in US trade policy — particularly the tariffs placed on imports from China — on importers, consumers, and exporters. We start by documenting that the tariffs were almost fully passed through to total prices paid by importers, suggesting that incidence has fallen largely on the United States. Since we estimate the response of prices to exchange rates to be far more muted, the recent depreciation of China’s renminbi is unlikely to alter this conclusion. Next, using product-level data from several large retailers, we demonstrate that the tariffs’ impact on retail prices is more mixed. Some affected product categories have seen sharp price increases, but the difference between affected and unaffected products is generally quite modest, suggesting that retail margins have fallen. These retailers’ imports increased after the initial announcement of possible tariffs, but before their full implementation, so the intermediate passthrough of tariffs to their prices may not persist. Finally, in contrast to the case of foreign exporters facing US tariffs, we show that US exporters lowered their prices on goods subjected to foreign retaliatory tariffs compared to exports of non-targeted goods.
What about that much-touted (well, by Trump) Phase 1 deal with China? Here’s Chad Bown’s latest assessment (we missed the targets… big time).