The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines collateral damage as “injury inflicted of something other than an intended target.”
In terms of armed conflict, collateral damage is “civilian casualties of a military operation.”
What then might be the collateral damage inflicted by a trade war?
We’re learning more and more about that every day.
The U.S. appears locked in such a conflict, primarily with China. The ostensible targets are fair trade, and reductions in Chinese infringements on intellectual property, cyber theft and demands for technology transfers.
These are worthy goals. It’s yet to be seen whether launching a trade war to achieve those goals has been — or will be — worth the collateral damage.
On Wednesday, more that 80 trade associations from around the United States linked up with agriculture groups to announce an “Americans for Free Trade” coalition and an associated “Tariffs hurt the heartland” campaign.
With a trade war underway and the U.S. preparing a new round of tariffs, business sectors are beginning to feel the effects of the current taxes and are growing ever more concerned about what’s likely to come next.
Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, was quoted widely on Wednesday as saying every sector in the U.S. economy stands to lose from a trade war.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for American families, businesses, farmers and workers threatened by job losses and higher prices as a result of tit-for-tat tariffs,” Shay said.
Here in Alaska, the seafood industry (for one) is facing the tariff bite.
China has been a growing market for Alaska seafood, as well as a component in some of the processing/logistics chain from sea to table.
The prospect of steep tariffs in a trade war of unknown duration is causing problems, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski noted in a Sept. 6 hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.
Murkowski said about one-third of Alaska’s seafood exports — which includes 40 percent of Alaska salmon and 54 percent of cod — now goes to China.
“Now, Alaskans are facing steep Chinese tariffs on these exports — a pretty significant trade barrier,” Murkowski said, adding that the tariffs are in addition to trade actions by Russia, the European Union, South Korea and Japan.
According to a recap of the hearing supplied by Murkowski’s office, the senator asked federal International Trade Administration Assistant Secretary Nazak Nikakhtar about the agency’s strategy towards tariffs and trade barriers faced by the seafood industry.
Murkowski said that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently told the subcommittee that China is a longer-term problem, for instance, than NAFTA and that a resolution with China is “going to take time.”
“The implication is that we just need to wait it out, but the seafood producers in my state are watching a trade dispute over technology transfer and cyber theft resulting in lost market access for products like salmon and cod — which isn’t an acceptable answer to them,” Murkowski said. “They are not seeing that this is a winning strategy with China to just wait things out. They’re asking how long they’re going to have to endure the tariffs on their seafood exports before the administration acts to resolve rather than escalate these trade disputes. . If you can share with us what that strategy is, I think, here, in open testimony, that would be greatly appreciated.”
Nikakhtar, as quoted by Murkowski’s office, said the administration is working on the China trade strategy — and they’ve always had an open channel to present good ideas to the adminstration and Lighthizer.
“And so I’m always happy to hear from industries and develop a strategy that works for them and then present it to the administration,” Nikakhtar said.
Which suggests two things — that there was and is no coherent overall strategy, and that individual industries can lobby for protection.
In any war, leadership without a winning strategy, coupled with every-man-for-himself opportunities to avoid the front lines, is recipe for disaster.
But, here we are.
The trade war has begun. May victory come easy, sure and swift. And may the collateral damage be far less than the calamity that it could be.
— Ketchikan Daily News, Sept. 15