He was surprisingly silent on issues like NAFTA and China’s trade cheating.
On his path to the White House, Donald Trump made transforming the way the US does trade with the world one of his biggest policy priorities.
But in his first State of the Union address, he had remarkably little to say about his record on the issue during his first year in office — or his future vision for trade policy.
Trump offered plenty of lofty rhetoric about how under his watch the US would no longer put up with unfair trade deals. “The era of economic surrender is totally over,” he declared. “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and, very importantly, reciprocal.”
But when it came to actually explaining how his new era had begun or what it might look like in the coming years, he declined to offer any specifics.
“We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And they will be good ones. But they will be fair,” he said in one of just a few characteristically vague sentences on the issue in his speech.
Trump didn’t mention ongoing negotiations over NAFTA; his decision to reopen talks over the US-South Korean trade agreement known as KORUS; the impact of leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership; or his stance on the World Trade Organization. Nor did he name specific countries that he thinks are trade cheaters that deserve to be punished for taking advantage of the US.
Chad Bown, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me he found it surprising that Trump used such vague language to discuss trade, especially when it comes to China policy.
“The Trump administration’s strategy to deal with the serious challenges posed by China remains entirely unclear,” Bown said.