BIMCO: Trade war would harm global shipping

The following is text of a news release from BIMCO:

(LONDON) — On March 1, President Trump pushed through a metals tariff plan that puts 25 percent tariff on imports of steel and a 10 percent tariff on imports of aluminum. They are set to enter into force on March 23.

The Trump administration seems positive toward protectionism and that picture unfortunately became clear when the pro-trade chief economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned on March 6 because of the tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum. The tariffs will have a limited impact on most international bulk trades. Nevertheless, they could trigger something bigger that would negatively impact global shipping in a much wider way including container shipping trades.

Since 2009, implementation of trade-restrictive measures among global trading partners has become more widespread, according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Fortunately, trade-facilitating measures have kept up well to limit some of the damage done. On Wednesday, the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) proved to be the latest of its kind. Above all, transparency and predictability in trade policy remain vital for all actors in the global economy, as the WTO puts it.

“Free trade provides prosperity and peace," said Peter Sand, BIMCO’s chief shipping analyst. "It’s a fundamental principle to cherish and safeguard. All trade-restrictive measures are in principle bad for shipping.

"Open economies are all better off from trading, as they make use of their resources in the most optimal way. The result of a trade war is more expensive goods of lower quality and little variety. This goes for all products and commodities.”

Steel and aluminum tariffs may be "dish of the day" and the impact on shipping is still unknown, but soon major trade action against China is also likely to come from the U.S. Despite the fact that there is good reason – violation of intellectual property rights – the result is the same. It is damaging for the involved countries.

The U.S. is running large trade deficits with the European Union as well as China, in addition to significant trade deficits in goods with Mexico, Japan and Canada. But starting a trade war is the wrong way to handle the situation.

Now what? In a trade war, combatants retaliate against one another. While doing so, they often set aside normal business procedures.

As steel and aluminum import barriers are set by the U.S., trading partners like the EU, Japan and China may set their own import barriers against agricultural products (soybean, corn, wheat) in general or more politically targeted products, like the European Commission going for Kentucky bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Levi’s jeans – all hitting Trump’s constituency.

“Overall we are seeing more trade-restrictive measures introduced, some more high profile than others," Sand said. "This is a worrying trend that limits demand for shipping globally. Even worse for shipping could be short-sighted political positions that may have lasting consequences for everyone involved in global industries like shipping if a large-scale trade war emerges."

By Professional Mariner Staff