After China, Trump trade wrath likely to find new targets

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Will Europe become Trump's next trade war target?

Governments across the world breathed a collective sigh of relief when the US on Wednesday signed a partial trade deal with China, but analysts predict that the pact frees President Donald Trump up for new trade war fronts, notably with the EU and emerging economies.

"This deal may cause short-term relief, but it's just a stage," said Sylvain Broyer, European chief economist at Standard and Poor's, calling it "the tip of the iceberg" of global trade tensions.

"Trade tensions could move on, and Europe could find itself at the centre of the debate," he said.

EU officials remember only too well the tariffs the World Trade Organization (WTO) allowed Washington to slap on European products in retaliation for rule-breaking subsidies paid to the Airbus aircraft maker.

Another reminder of Trump's willingness to weaponise trade came Thursday when Germany's defence minister confirmed a report that the US was threatening to impose a 25 percent tariff on EU car exports if European governments continued to back the Iran nuclear deal.

- Stuck in the middle? -

"The question is now how the US behaves towards towards Europe," said Johan Bjerkem, an analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

The trade deal between China and the United States is "a good thing", said Evelyn Herrmann, director at BofA Research, "but there are plenty of other things going on that we can't ignore".

A visit to Washington by EU trade chief Phil Hogan just as the US and China signed their truce could be seen as an early attempt to head off any coming transatlantic tensions, analysts said.

"Everyone is pleased that we've emerged from a logic of escalation, but we don't yet know what the impact will be," one EU source said. "After the (US-China) deal we must make sure that the EU does not find itself stuck in the middle."

The most likely trigger for any future trade moves against the EU is a tax on the revenues of internet giants decided last year by France, that the Trump administration sees as discriminatory, analysts said.

"If the US administration decides to take trade measures against France, and therefore against the EU, this would turn into an international question," said one French finance ministry source.

"The EU would defend its rights in a determined and proportionate way against American measures that would be illegal in the eyes of the WTO."

- The price of peace -

There is every chance that emerging economies could get caught up in new international trade tensions, said Gareth Leather at Capital Economics.

"Last year, President Trump called Vietnam 'almost the single worst abuser of everybody' and threatened tariffs unless more was done to reduce its bilateral trade deficit," Leather said.

Thailand was also drawing Washington's unwanted attention, he said, and is in danger of being labelled a "currency manipulator" to be punished with trade measures, just like China was previously, he said.

Emerging countries must now also fear the consequences of a Chinese commitment to buy $200 billion worth of additional US products over the next two years, as Beijing is now likely to cancel farm contracts with countries like Brazil and buy American instead.

"The deal could have negative trade consequences for Brazilian farm product exports to China," said Pedro da Motta, head of the Cindes think tank, singling out soy beans. "The same sectors that benefitted from the trade war may be the ones paying the price for peace," he told AFP.

Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings, cautioned that implementation of the deal and its impact on the rest of the world were still uncertain.

"Its full impact will depend on how the deal is implemented, including whether China can meet its commitment to dramatically increase imports from the US, as well as possible trade diversion effects on other exporting economies," Coulton said.

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