The Trade Policy of the United States Under the Trump Administration

38 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2019

See all articles by Craig VanGrasstek

Craig VanGrasstek

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 2019


The evolution of American trade policy is best understood over the long run as a function of the international distribution of power and wealth, but in the short run policy it is dominated by the exigencies of domestic politics. The decline in that country’s position has long raised doubts regarding its readiness to lead, and those doubts have been greatly amplified by the Trump administration. The arc of the administration’s policy thus far appears as a series of year-long phases by which almost inchoate sentiments have been progressively transformed into ever more concrete policy, culminating in the resuscitation of trade laws that were nearly forgotten but not gone. Chief among them were a “reciprocity” statute that gives the president broad powers to define and enforce U.S. rights; a global safeguards law that had been quiescent since the Bush administration used it to protect steel in 2002; and especially a national security law that the president invoked to restrict steel and aluminum imports. In 2019 the Trump administration has supplemented its trade war with new negotiations, including talks with the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Japan. While these talks do not directly engage China, the U.S. strategy is driven largely by a desire to isolate that rival. The world may well be headed towards a system where most commercially significant countries are pressed to align with one or another of these giants. No matter who occupies the White House, trade policymaking will remain perennially challenging for a system of government that is always divided by branch and frequently by party. Donald Trump was able to act in 2017-2018 with little restraint from Congress, but some of the things he aims to do now will require the acquiescence of Congress. Securing that cooperation will be more challenging as a result of the 2018 elections, in which Democrats recaptured control of the House of Representatives. Over the long term, Trumpism may well survive Trump, unless pro-trade forces manage to retake control of one of the two major parties.

Keywords: trade, investment and international cooperation

Suggested Citation

VanGrasstek, Craig, The Trade Policy of the United States Under the Trump Administration (February 2019). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2019/11, Available at SSRN: or

Craig VanGrasstek (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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