Trump’s climate stance could come back to bite him
Donald Trump made a surprise appearance at the UN Climate Action summit this week after threatening to snub it.It is unlikely that the US president, who has labelled climate change a Chinese “hoax” to stamp out American manufacturing, is having second thoughts about his position on an issue that is rising quickly to the top of the global agenda.He attended only for 10-15 minutes. But Mr Trump is perhaps beginning to absorb what it means for the US to be increasingly isolated in its aversion to tackling climate change. On trade issues there are signs that Mr Trump’s climate scepticism could backfire on him in at least two ways.The first is over USMCA, the pact sealed last year with Canada and Mexico to replace Nafta and which is stuck awaiting congressional approval.Last week, 110 Democratic lawmakers, representing nearly half of the party’s membership in the House of Representatives, fired off a letter to the White House saying they could not support the deal unless it included “binding climate standards and be paired with a decision for the US to remain in the Paris climate agreement”.The signatories included liberal first-term lawmakers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and conservative swing district newcomers like Katie Hill of California, who led the effort. It also included Debbie Dingell of Michigan, whose district is at the heart of the US auto industry, and veteran Democrats like Nita Lowey from the New York City suburbs. Their request for the Trump administration to return to the Paris accord has little chance of success. However, it puts pressure on Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative — who has had discussions with congressional Democrats in recent weeks — to offer more aggressive changes to the deal’s environment chapter.Mr Lighthizer has tried to show that he is sensitive to environmental concerns by launching consultations with South Korea and Peru this year, challenging their implementation of environmental provisions. It is far from clear, however, that this will be a sign of sufficient commitment to satisfy Democratic concerns.The second front where Mr Trump’s aversion to climate change action could hurt him is with the EU. Trade relations between Washington and Brussels are at such a low point that the notion of any broad agreement seems like a fantasy — and should the atmosphere improve, climate issues seem destined to impede any major progress.With green parties and movements on the ascendancy across Europe, it is notable that both Austria and France have signalled that they would not support an EU trade deal with Mercosur because of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s disregard for protecting the Amazon rainforest. It is possible the US could suffer the same fate.“Climate is increasingly looked at as an economic issue that is not separable from trade relations,” said Todd Tucker, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute think-tank. “It’s becoming a red line for the EU public.”The UK will be watching the debate around climate and trade closely. There could be a big backlash to any post-Brexit deal with the US because of its unwillingness to take on climate change, hampering Boris Johnson’s best-laid plans.Chuck Grassley backs Trump over ‘cheating’ ChinaI had a phone chat this month with Chuck Grassley, chairman of the finance committee which has jurisdiction over trade policy in the upper chamber of Congress.With much of the farm-belt struggling because of the trade war with China, I was expecting plenty of doubts about the White House’s approach to Beijing. Instead, the veteran Iowa senator was supportive of Mr Trump’s hard line and urged him to plough ahead.
Chuck Grassley was supportive of Mr Trump’s hard line on China © Bloomberg
“It’s going to be successful, China’s economy is hurting worse than ours.” Mr Grassley said. There was plenty of “anxiety” among US farmers but they also knew China had been “cheating” and it was time to deal with it.He did not stop there. America’s allies needed to be more supportive of the administration’s confrontation with Beijing, even if Mr Trump had antagonised them with a flurry of tariffs and tariff threats since taking office.“China has had a trade war against the US but also every other industrialised nation and even agricultural nation on the globe. Governments in Europe and Japan ought to be applauding the president even if they aren’t at the negotiating table,” Mr Grassley said. The conversation was another reminder of how much backing the US president has on Capitol Hill, at least in the trade war with China, despite concerns of a deepening economic slowdown.The number — 12%The share of Chinese imports that won relief from tariffs last week when the US trade representative’s office released a list of 331 exempted goods, according to PanjivaChart choiceThe UK’s economic performance inside and outside the EU (FT)
Further reading● The rising use of US “Foreign trade zones” to sidestep tariffs (ProPublica)● Sheldon Adelson, the megadonor, warned Trump about the China trade war (WSJ)● If you can’t buy Greenland, why not strike an FTA with Iceland? (Axios)● Life is getting tougher in China, which should worry Xi Jinping (BBG)