Speed Reads

looking ahead

Yes, Donald Trump really could start a trade war as president

While Congress stands between Donald Trump and his campaign promises of tax cuts and wall-building, the same limitations are not placed on the president when it comes to trade. In fact, if Trump were to be elected, there is a very good chance he could actually come through on his vows to "'rip up' international trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdraw from the World Trade Organization, and sharply raise the tariffs charged on goods imported from China and Mexico," The New York Times reports. But such dealings are a two-way street, and if Trump fulfills his promises unchecked, he could ignite trade wars, experts say:

The easiest promise for Mr. Trump to deliver is the one to renegotiate or leave NAFTA, the agreement that abolished tariffs between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. That agreement — like nearly all free trade agreements — includes an escape hatch: The United States can withdraw from the pact after giving six months' notice. Thus Mr. Trump doesn't need to rip up the agreement, but simply to send Canada and Mexico a letter putting them on notice.

Similar escape hatches would also allow Mr. Trump to withdraw the United States from free trade agreements with other nations, and even from the World Trade Organization. Leaving the World Trade Organization would immediately allow other countries to raise the tariffs they charge on American exports. [The New York Times]

In order to prevent a president from taking advantage of the powers vested in him or herself by Congress over the past century, Congress would have to write new laws or repeal or otherwise alter the ones that exist. With the president very likely to veto such restrictions on their power, to actually pass such a measure would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.

But failing to do so could mean economic disaster. "After all, even the World Trade Organization recognizes the need for national security exceptions to its rules," The New York Times writes. "Even if Mr. Trump were found to breach their rules, the only recourse for other countries would be to retaliate by raising their own tariffs. It's a prospect that scares many economists, but appears not to worry Mr. Trump."