Winners and losers in Trump’s ‘phase one’ China trade deal

Source: By Heather Long, Washington Post • Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2019

President Trump and China finally agreed to a partial trade deal on Friday, putting the 21-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies on pause — for now.

Trump’s White House rushed to characterize it as “amazing” and “historic.” Top Chinese officials held a rare news conference to emphasize this deal was a win for them that meets the “growing needs of the Chinese people.” Stocks hit record highs Thursday as Wall Street applauded the news, but stocks ended little changed Friday as details trickled out. Democratic leaders and many China hawks slammed Trump, saying he caved too easily. Many business groups were cautiously optimistic.

The full text of the deal has not been made public, but Trump’s team and Chinese officials confirmed that the president agreed to scale back some tariffs in exchange for China buying about $200 billion more of U.S. goods in the next two years and opening up to U.S. financial firms.

Here’s a rundown of the winners and losers:

Trump, at least politically. He can say he made a deal, even it’s limited. It by no means fulfills all the objectives Trump set out to achieve in resetting the trade relationship with China. But he and his team are already spinning this as Trump keeping yet another campaign promise, even in the midst of Democrats trying to impeach him. News of the deal made the front pages of major newspapers and was mentioned on TV. He can trumpet the deal particularly to farmers and manufacturing workers hit hard by the trade war. The China deal (and the recently agreed-upon U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal) also make it likely the U.S. economy will grow at 2 percent or more next year, avoiding a recession and helping Trump’s reelection chances.

Farmers. China has committed to buying a record amount of U.S. agricultural products next year, surpassing the prior record of about $26 billion in 2012. U.S. officials say China has agreed to buy $32 billion of agricultural products, though Trump says China will probably “hit $50 billion.” The Chinese refuse to utter that exact figure, but they have agreed to bump up purchases, and they know Trump wants headlines saying it’s the “most ever” even if it’s not quite $50 billion. This will be a much-needed injection of cash for farmers, who have been pounded by China’s retaliatory tariffs despite a program Trump set up to compensate them for losses. Farm bankruptcies are up 24 percent from last year and farm debt is projected to reach a record high, according to the U.S. Farm Bureau. But farmers who voted for Trump before are likely to return to him again after this deal.

Apple and other tech companies. Apple stock soared Friday, even as the overall market was flat. Tech companies like Apple are some of the biggest beneficiaries of this “phase one” deal because they will not be hit by tariffs. Trump had planned to put tariffs on cellphones, laptops and other popular tech products made in China and shipped to the United States on Dec. 15, but this deal scraps those plans entirely. This is a reminder that certain U.S. companies have quietly managed to avoid most of the tariffs, even as others suffered.

Walmart and other retailers. Trump scaled back (or canceled) tariffs on the most popular items that Americans buy in stores, a massive relief for major U.S. retailers such as Walmart who were trying to figure out how to pass on the higher costs to consumers next year. The Dec. 15 tariffs on toys and tech products aren’t happening now, and the tariffs enacted in September on many clothing products (shoes, coats, etc.) were cut in half from 15 percent to 7.5 percent. Many retailers were able to keep prices down this holiday season because some shipments arrived before the tariffs went into effect, but it would have been much harder to avoid price hikes in 2020. Now that’s not an issue.

Wall Street investors. The S&P 500 index is on track for a total return of around 29 percent this year. That would make this the best year for stocks since 2013 and one of the best years of all time. Stocks did fall sharply at the end of last year, but much of that pain has been forgotten after the rebound. Trump loves touting stock market highs — he did it again Friday after this deal sent stocks to a record close on Thursday. About half of Americans have at least some money in the stock market.

President Trump on Sept. 4 said the stock market would be 10,000 points higher without his trade war with China. (Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

JPMorgan Chase and other U.S. financial companies. One of the biggest breakthroughs in the deal is China finally allowing U.S. banks and credit card companies to enter China on their own without having to partner with a local Chinese company. This has been on the wish list of big American banks for years. JPMorgan Chase already started the groundwork this summer to open in China in anticipation of this deal.

Business leaders. Chief executives of just about every major U.S. company have been urging Trump to strike a deal soon. On Thursday, shortly after Trump gave his final sign-off, he met with the heads of Cummins, Stanley Black & Decker and Union Pacific, who welcomed the deal. Trump frequently claims his tariffs are paid by China, but that’s not true. U.S. companies have been footing the bill (and sometimes passing costs on to consumers). And that bill so far has been $88 billion, one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history, according to the right-leaning Tax Foundation. This deal lowers that burden a bit and, importantly, signals Trump is unlikely to ramp up tariffs further in 2020.

The Chinese government. China didn’t have to give too much here, and its leaders played Trump skillfully at the end, refusing to confirm there was a deal for hours after the White House leaked there was one. China did agree to buy about $200 billion more of U.S. agriculture, energy and manufactured goods, but it was planning to do most of that anyway. It had even offered around that level of purchases in mid-2018. The biggest concession China made in this deal is to agree to penalties if it doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, but there is a long process the United States is supposed to go through before imposing punitive tariffs. In the meantime, Chinese leaders can say they got Trump to roll back some tariffs.

Peter Navarro, Stephen K. Bannon and China “hawks.” This deal does little to fundamentally change China’s ambitious “Made in China 2025” plans. Trump’s had many trade advisers like Navarro urging him to keep the tariffs on and push China for a bigger deal that would include China committing to no longer subsidize key industries and steal U.S. trade secrets. Instead, Trump scaled back tariffs and settled for a much less ambitious agreement. Trump promises there will be a “phase two” after the election, but many fear this will end up being a one-and-done deal.

Trump’s “MAGA” trade agenda. The China deal may be a win for Trump politically, but his goal of forcing China to overhaul its economic policies did not happen here. China remains a power player and its “Made in China 2025″ plan is still moving ahead. China also did not agree to scale back any of its government subsidies for industries like steel. While the latest trade data shows a small reduction in the trade deficit with China, the U.S. trade deficit with other nations (especially in southeast Asia) is growing.

Bankrupt farmers. Some farmers didn’t make it to see the gains from this deal after two brutal years for agriculture. In addition to a spike in farm bankruptcies, farmer suicides are on the rise and now exceed veteran suicide rates.

Democrats. The “phase one” China deal is part of a string of positive news that is causing an upswing in markets and the economic outlook for 2020. A recession looks unlikely now. Trade was the biggest concern, economists said, and that’s mostly off the table now. It’s going to be harder to run against Trump. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried to cast this deal as Trump “selling out” to China, but it is going to be easier for Trump to swat away those attacks, especially if farm purchases set records.

U.S. companies still facing tariffs. Trump still has tariffs in place on about $370 billion of Chinese imports. That includes hefty 25 percent tariffs on many parts used in manufacturing, especially for autos. Those tariffs look like they are going to stay in place for a long time. Many small and midsized businesses have been hit the hardest since they have less ability to shift production to Thailand or Vietnam.

Huawei. The Chinese tech giant has become the poster child of Trump’s anger against China. Huawei has been accused of spying on the U.S. government and U.S. companies via Hauwei phones and tech products. Trump heavily restricted Hauwei’s operations. The Chinese government tried to intervene numerous times, but Trump mostly held firm. Huawei told The Washington Post this weekthat the company may need two or three years to recover from Trump’s actions. The phase one deal does not address Huawei’s situation.

China’s economy. China was already facing a slowing economy before the trade war began. Trump’s tariffs exacerbated the pain. While there is relief that he isn’t going forward with tariffs on all Chinese products, as he had planned to do Dec. 15, Trump has still kept in place tariffs on nearly $370 billion worth of imports. Even more importantly, there is evidence that some companies shifted their supply chains out of China to other countries. That business, while modest as a share of China’s total economy, is unlikely to return.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush. There will be debate for years about whether Trump’s trade war was worth it and whether he achieved enough from the deal. But there’s agreement that Trump changed the conversation about China. There was bipartisan support to go after China for unfair business practices, and Trump seized on that in a way that his two predecessors did not.