It was at the moment that Donald Trump uttered these words that my heart sank. Did he really mean what he said, was he actually proposing America’s withdrawal from the world’s economy, instead deciding to become a self-sufficient, insular nation?
If President Trump really did mean this, in its most literal sense, these words are foreboding and concerning. It is the message that America no longer supports globalisation or the liberalisation of trade. If our biggest trading partner outside the EU and the largest trading partner for many countries around the world, has decided to turn its back on international trade, it would be exceptionally damaging for Britain as it tries to establish itself outside the EU, and the global economy which significantly relies on US trade. In addition to direct imports and exports, huge supply chains have vital stages and components in the United States that could be compromised by this move. This is precisely the reason why Thomas and I established The Channel Group in 2015 to fight against protectionism and the reversal of globalisation.
However, as with most issues involving President Trump, it is not quite that straightforward. There seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric in the President’s inauguration speech and his message to Britain. Trump has shown great enthusiasm about the prospect of establishing a US-UK trade deal and has invited the Prime Minister out to Washington to begin talks. The President has also indicated that he does not want to just withdraw from existing trade deals and close America off from the world, but create new and reform existing trade deals to “work for American business and American Jobs”
In October 2015 Donald Trump said “I am all for free trade, but it’s got to be fair.” we will, of course, have to wait and see how the new administration develops its trade policy, but we can still be reassured that, although this was a startling statement in the inaugural address of a US President, we have been repeatedly told by those close to the new President, that he “should be taken seriously but not literally”.