On a day that epitomized a suspenseful era in American trade policy, the U.S. played down a presidential threat to impose a border tax — but raised the notion of upcoming Buy American provisions, slapped duties on Canadian pipes and invited the world to witness its internal tug-of-war over economic visions.
The star of this economic-reality show: President Donald Trump.
The former TV host allowed cameras to record for nearly an hour as he went back-and-forth with aides and federal lawmakers in a sparring match over the future of the global economy — the sort of conversation normally held behind closed doors.
In Tuesday’s edition of “Survivor: U.S. trade policy,” one idea appeared to get voted off the island. A senior White House official played down Trump’s earlier talk about some ill-defined import tax that left veteran trade-watchers perplexed about how it could work — or how it would even be legal.
“There is nothing formal in the works right now,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity. “He was simply reiterating the same sentiments he’s been saying about reciprocal trade for years.”
Those sentiments were certainly on display Tuesday.
Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, boasted about the 81 per cent increase in trade retaliations since his inauguration — and did so as the U.S. launched an investigation that could lead to more than 50 per cent in duties on wide-diameter welded pipe from Canada, of the sort used in oil and gas pipelines.
That dispute will play out into the fall. It started with a request from the American pipe industry, following a similar procedure that has resulted in duties on softwood lumber, newsprint and Bombardier planes — although the plane duties have been overturned by a U.S. tribunal.
Trump repeatedly pressed for tough action.
Again and again, members of Congress attempted to rein in his more protectionist impulses. They…