President Trump’s ‘Radical’ Zero Tariff Policy

International trade expert Tim Büthe says proposal could be a ploy to stop ‘free-traders in the Republican Party’

Tim Buthe Faced with unified opposition to his new protectionist trade policy from the governments of Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, President Trump at the G-7 meeting put forth a completely unexpected proposal for free trade: zero tariffs, the elimination of non-tariff barriers to trade, and the elimination of government subsidies.

Duke political scientist/public policy professor Tim Büthe calls the unconventional president’s proposal “radical.” 

"President Trump showed once again his willingness and ability to shake things up with a radical policy U-turn," says Büthe, associate research professor of political science and public policy and senior fellow for the Rethinking Regulation Project at Duke's Kenan Institute for Ethics.

"Unconstrained by firm policy commitments, Donald Trump can take up and promote new policy ideas faster than any president in recent memory. Trumps radical free trade proposal is a very original response to his counterparts' challenge of his prior claim that trade is bad for the U.S.," says Büthe, who is also chair for international relations at the Bavarian School of Public Policy of the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

At the same time, it will be an uphill struggle to get others to take the proposal seriously, Büthe says.

“Trump has been anti-free trade for a long time and with great consistency," Büthe points out. "It's been one of his defining policy positions. One of his first decisions as president was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to kill the negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Both promised far-reaching moves toward free trade.  This history makes it difficult for Trump's sudden free trade proposal to gain credibility."

At the end, he said: "Those who are familiar with U.S. domestic politics may wonder whether President Trump's sudden radical free trade proposal is just a tactical ploy to stop the momentum among free-traders in the Republican Party.

“Many of them have been working on legislation that would curtail the president's authority to raise tariffs without congressional approval. Trump's G7 proposal undercuts those efforts."

(Click here to read Büthe’s op-ed, “Coming trade war with Canada, Mexico and Europe.”)