Business World

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Irish exporters at risk from trade war fallout


Tariffs: US President Donald Trump with First Lady Melania Trump
Tariffs: US President Donald Trump with First Lady Melania Trump

David Chance

After US President Donald Trump re-ignited his trade war with China by stepping up tariffs, Beijing hit back with $60bn (€53.4bn) of its own measures on Monday - wiping billions off stock markets.

Trump may not stop with China, although that announcement alone was enough to shock world financial markets and drive US stock markets to their biggest weekly loss since December.

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The US President could decide at the weekend to impose 25pc tariffs on car imports, a move that would invite retaliation from the European Union and a spread of duties.

Having once declared that he would not stop with tariffs until "no Mercedes models rolled on Fifth Avenue in New York", it would be unwise to bet against car tariffs, although the President does have the discretion to defer a decision for six months.

Mr Trump's action would come under a 'Section 232' trade investigation report as to whether imports of cars and parts posed a risk to the national security of the US.

Of course, cars are not a big deal for Ireland - direct exposure to US demand for EU cars here is the lowest, apart from Latvia, Cyprus and Greece.

More surprisingly perhaps, cars are not a massive deal for Germany where the industry accounts for just 4pc of output and only an eighth of cars and parts are exported to the US.

Investment bank ING calculates that the direct effect of car tariffs would be to lop 0.2pc points off growth in the EU.

The problem is that it doesn't stop there.

The EU has indicated that if there are car tariffs, it will hit back with €20bn of its own duties on US goods, while Washington wants the EU to open agriculture markets.

"This is perhaps a bigger risk if the EU continues to reject the US's desire to include agricultural goods in any potential trade deal," said Jack Allen, senior European economist at Capital Economics.

"If that were to happen, Ireland would be the hardest-hit eurozone economy, with manufacturing exports to the US equivalent to almost 10pc of its gross value added."

A battle over steel and aluminium tariffs has already seen the EU counter with increased duties on motorbikes, whisky and other imports from the United States.

A fight between Washington and Brussels has seen America threaten to hit imports from Europe that range from aircraft to olive oil and wine.

That is where the risk for Ireland comes in. At some stage, goods produced here will end up on a tariff list.

If Mr Trump needed new ammunition for his trade wars, a study published yesterday by the US National Bureau for Economic Research said that 41pc of the losses in US aggregate manufacturing jobs between 1993-2011 had come from multinationals, the very companies that have powered Ireland's economic renaissance.

Irish Independent

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