In Friday’s press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Donald Trump repeated the big idea about trade that’s been floating around his White House lately.
Trump told Merkel and the press that Germany has gotten the better end of the stick in trade deals with the US in the past, and that he was looking to rectify that situation.
“The negotiators for Germany have done a far better job than the negotiators for the United States,” he said. “But hopefully we can even it out.”
We know what “even it out” means, and it is an absurd notion. It means negotiating a bilateral trade deal with Germany, and somehow ignoring the rest of the rest of the European Union.
Of course, that can’t happen. The US has to negotiate with the EU as a whole.
Merkel made sure to remind Trump of that fact — literally saying that “the European Union is negotiating those agreements for all of the member states” — after earlier telling reporters that she is “deeply convinced” that the EU is integral to the success of the German economy.
Of course, what Merkel says about it doesn’t matter in a White House that is gripped by the delusion that Germany can just tell the EU to take a hike. At least it will be gripped by this for as long as that policy is directed by Trump’s trade head, Peter Navarro.
Navarro, in a much-derided speech this month, said Germany “uses the argument” of being in the eurozone to avoid trade deals with the US, and that because of this Germany would be “one of the most difficult trade deficits we’re going to have to deal with.”
Navarro has gone as far as to accuse Germany of being a currency manipulator for using the the euro. He thinks that because countries with weaker economies than Germany’s are factored into the euro’s value, Germany can sell its manufactured goods more cheaply than it would if it had its own currency.
Obviously, that’s not currency manipulation, that’s just the reality of the euro’s makeup.
But it means Merkel faces a scenario in which the President of the United States and his top trade advisor thinks one of our closest and most important allies is lying to us about their need to respect the sovereignty of their political organisation, the EU. Trump and Navarro think this is a choice Germany is making about the US, not an obligation that is now part of the very fabric of its political and economic system.
Now, to be fair — and this is where we see fragmenting in the White House — some members of Trump’s economic team, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, have said that they understand that Germany isn’t a currency manipulator.
But that isn’t enough. The last thing we need is a White House that is irrationally angry at Germany — an important ally — because it’s pushing for a trade deal that cannot realistically happen.
It’s bad enough when President’s unnecessarily anger US enemies, we don’t need one who also unnecessarily aggravates its friends too.
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