“Everybody says, oh he’s going to slap 45 percent tariff on everything out of China. That’s not what he said, and it’s not what he intends,” Ross said. “What he actually said was if -- if it turns out that the Chinese yuan is 45 percent overvalued, or as much as 45, and if they won’t negotiate with us, then it may become necessary as a negotiating measure to threaten them with as much as a 45 percent tariff.”
That’s not precisely what Trump said (here is the audio from his interview with the New York Times, in which Trump says that a 45 percent tax, equivalent to some of the “devaluations they’ve done,” could be used to put pressure on China).
But even so, Ross’s more modest descriptions of trade actions against China may reassure some nervous onlookers, who worry that a 45 percent tariff on goods coming from China would cause the price of goods to skyrocket for American consumers, run afoul of international rules, disrupt global business chains and spark retaliation from China that would hurt American companies.
Instead, Ross describes Trump’s trade plans as an effort to negotiate with countries “to figure out what are things that they now import from somewhere else that they just as well import from us, to kind of spread the trade deficit issue around the globe.”
“Take China, for example. China imports a huge amount of LPG and LNG -- gas -- so does Japan, so does South Korea, so does Germany. Trump is going to be promoting LNG and its export. It wouldn’t be a great hardship for them to buy more LNG from us than from the gulf coast countries. Similarly, they export to us lots of apparel and lots of footwear, but they have quotas on American exports of cotton. They could relax those quotas. So there are plenty of things that can be done that are not the end of the earth for the recipient country, but that would help our trade balance,” he said.
Economists said that these efforts could bring wins for American companies and workers, but that they're substantially similar to the efforts of past administrations -- and as such, may not produce much different results.
“Obama did that, Bush did that, it was not a game changer. The game changer has to be working with the Chinese to open up their economy because fundamentally that’s what they need to do," Patrick Chovanec, a chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management, said of efforts to use the existing trade facilities to come down harder on China.
“I think if it was that simple, it would have been solved a long time ago.”