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  • Lawrence Bailey

Trade wars are no solution

The problem with populist politics is that it’s the slogans that do the talking while the logic often lags behind.

A good example of this how US president Donald Trump thinks “Putting America First” equates to ‘easy’ trade wars on imported goods like steel.

The White House pique is aimed at China which officials claim is using its overcapacity to flood world markets. The problem however is that it’s Canada, the EU and South Korea, who between them account for a quarter of US steel imports. China supplies just 2%.

Many on Trump’s team think that singling out a big growth economy like China is a bad move, particularly when senior Chinese figures talk about “consequences that neither country wants to see”.

As the Tata crisis over here also showed, the price of steel can vary dramatically in a relatively short period. Imposing artificial tariffs in a global economy simply sees production switched elsewhere.

For all the protectionist talk, the background is that Trump’s administration has manufactured a domestic beef with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at a time when the US is already running out of friends abroad.

But what does all this commotion mean to us over here? Well the timing’s unfortunate to say the least, and especially for those who cherish the idea of boosting trans-Atlantic links. Negotiating a post-Brexit deal with a nation that’s inclined to hike trade barriers is going to be a tough call.

There’s also unconfirmed newspaper reports that US lobbyists are pressing to have current protections removed after the UK leaves the EU that will allow goods like Cornish pasties and Scotch whisky to be “Made in America”.

A good few market analysts insist Trump’s rhetoric will diminish once it becomes clear that the first casualties are US consumers as import costs spiral. Others point out that share values in German car manufacturing and other high-end export businesses are already falling.

At a time when the world is an uncertain place, the US president has made things even more uncertain. As ever, the populist solution is no solution at all.


Fake news is snow joke

Unlike the snowfall in some westerly locations, the jokes came thick and fast about the Beast from the East and Storm Emma.

What came over as less funny was the fake news spread on social media that Welsh NHS staff who volunteered to stay at hospitals overnight were being charged for accommodation. This allegation was based on a single tweet and a ‘corroboration’ that was subsequently taken down shortly after.

The usual internet trolls notwithstanding, no actual evidence emerged - but that didn’t stop it being seized upon by news sources.

I can only guess at the negative effect this had on the morale of people charged with making sure cover and care standards were maintained under near impossible conditions. The fact that they kept things going barely got a mention.

NHS ‘manager-bashing’ has sadly become something of a habit for a few in the media looking for a soft target. It’s one that should stop.

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