Trump And The World

Mexico To China, Trump's Tariff Bullying Is Bound To Backfire

President Donald Trump's threat to raise tariffs against Mexico over immigration is political blackmail, and potentially makes nonsense of any trading deal with the U.S.

Trump gives himself a round of applause
Trump gives himself a round of applause


SANTIAGO — An enormous mistake and a piece of thuggery: that is what Donald Trump did in his most recent edict-by-tweet.

The American President said he would slap a 5% tariff on all Mexican products this month, and could raise them to 25% unless Mexico works to stop the flow of illegal migrants crossing the southern border of the United States. This aggression targets Washington's main trading partner, to which it sent in 2018 a total of over $346 billion's worth of goods including food, car parts and final products that are the last stage of an intricate value chain linking both countries.

Mexican business leader Gustavo de Hoyos Walther warned: "It would mean turning the two countries' relations back 35 to 40 years."

The collateral effect was immediately seen in Japan, a key U.S. ally, with a drop in the shares of Japanese carmakers with plants in Mexico and selling to the U.S. market. Trump cared little for the fact that the new North American free-trade accord, which he promoted and signed, is being debated in the congresses of both the U.S. and Mexico. The tariffs would make this new treaty irrelevant.

Trump has already shown his willingness to use tariffs as a stick with dismal returns, and his erratic actions in this sense mean any and all trading partners can no longer trust him. We remember the unilateral rise in tariffs a few months back on aluminum and steel from across the world, not to mention the 10% tariffs being raised to 25% on $200 billion's worth of goods that China annually exports to the United States.

The interdependence of economies is more subtle than that.

In China's case, at least it deals with proper issues of trade and competition in technology. Certainly, China steals or makes improper use of intellectual property from the rest of the world, and manipulates exchange rates to favor its exports. But a unilateral rise in tariffs is not the way to tackle such a situation.

Trump seems to see only the comparative figures when it comes to trade. Deficit is bad, surplus is good. Yet the interdependence of economies is more subtle than that today, and the United States' hegemony is based in part on the ability of its firms to have seats across the planet, and suppliers worldwide.

By unilaterally raising tariffs, Trump has caused a similar reaction in those countries affected. China has slapped tariffs on $60 billion's worth of U.S. goods, and all those working in trade issues know how difficult it is to agree on reducing them. Free trade makes products and services cheaper worldwide, but in each country there are sectors that seek protection and subsidies.

The World Trade Organization has been working for decades to bring tariffs down to the levels we see today, and it did so to a great extent under U.S. leadership. Trump is demolishing this careful, multilateral work with his tweets.

The rise of the Tweeting Cowboy was bad enough for global commerce, but what he has done with Mexico goes a step further. He has used tariffs to obtain a political goal: showing a victory in his border war after he failed to get financing for the infamous wall with Mexico. And as he threatens to raise tariffs higher, he fails to realize how his move threatens the interests of both the United States and the rest of the world.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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