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  • The Centre of Expertise on Trade,
    Investment and Public Policy

    Trump talks tough on trade but resists naming China in ‘America First’ Davos speech

    Published On: 26 January 2018

    President Trump made several swipes at China today, without actually naming it, in a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

    Delegates queued for over an hour to hear the President speak in a packed auditorium, according to Bloomberg coverage.

    Trump dedicated the first half of his speech to the US’s economic performance during his first year in office, but soon returned to the ‘America First’ policy that has already shaken the established trade order.

    “America first does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world,” Mr Trump said, reaffirming that the US is committed to free trade. But he also suggested the current global trade architecture needs to change.

    “As the United States pursues domestic reforms to unleash jobs and growth, we are also working to reform the international trading system so that it promotes broadly-shared prosperity and rewards to those who play by the rules.

    “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal because in the end unfair trade undermines us all.”

    In comments clearly aimed at China, although he did not mention the country once, Mr Trump said, “the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning.

    “These and other predatory behaviors are distorting the global markets and harming businesses and workers not just in the US but around the globe.”

    The President also addressed the TPP, which has been revived as the CPTPP and will be signed by 11 nations in March. But any hope that the US will rejoin the agreement seems premature, with Trump reaffirming his preference for bilateral arrangements.

    “As I have said, the United States is prepared to negotiate mutually beneficial, bilateral trade agreements with all countries. This will include the countries within TPP, which are very important. We have agreements with several of them already.”

    However, in a hint that Trump’s position on TPP may be softening, the President added: “We would consider negotiating with the rest either individually or perhaps as a group if it is in the interests of all.”

    The speech, while more conciliatory than previous orations from the President, did not go down well with delegates, the BBC reports, mainly because ‘his America First policy seems to be in contradiction to the conference’s aim to promote globalisation and co-operation.’

    Read the full speech from the World Economic Forum at Davos here.