American trade policy has been like the proverbial frog in a pot, slowly simmering under increasing heat. At a certain point, the frog will not be able to survive, even if it were suddenly rescued. The US, it appears, has reached this juncture. Were any country other than the United States to have taken this set of steps in a week, Washington would have been aghast. Instead, it was largely shrugged off as “just another week in DC.” The fact that the United States could take such actions as escalating tariffs to 25% on potentially $500 billion in goods from China, possibly seal the fate of one of the most important telecommunications firms globally, make national security arguments about the threat level emanating from cars arriving from US allies, and continue to watch the multilateral trade system crumble and then argue that it is “just another week” is especially telling.
This is an important week for the ongoing US Section 301 case against China. The public comment period closed last week—attracting a record number of submissions--2857 and counting. This week, the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) office will be holding public hearings on the matter. By the end of next week, the United States will be in a position to impose sanctions against China at any time.
Such sanctions may be delayed, of course, as a result of discussions in Washington with China’s top negotiator, Liu He. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to examine the type of comments that arrived under the Section 301 request to see what level of support seems forthcoming for a hard reaction, represented by an opening salvo of 25% tariff increases on $50 billion in goods.