Do losers outnumber winners with trade uncertainty?

Are there winners from the current trade tensions, or will everyone lose out? Luigi Speranza, BNP Paribas Global Markets Chief Economist, investigates.

cib_Do losers outnumber winners with trade uncertainty?

Trade tensions across the Pacific continue to cast a shadow over global growth. Without a breakthrough when the Chinese and American heads of state meet at the G20 in June, discord between the two looks set to continue, or worsen in coming months.

Can countries outside the dispute find a trade advantage? Or will everyone suffer?

Can countries outside the dispute step in and find a trade advantage? Or will everyone suffer from the drag on global commerce?

In a recent report, the European Central Bank (ECB) pointed to the immediate increase in trade costs for China and America because of tariffs, amplified around the world by “complex global production supply chains“. Countries not hit with tariffs, including those in the euro area, could hope to take advantage of a temporary trade boost, finding a competitive advantage as both the US and China seek to trade with new partners on more favourable terms.

2016 gross value added on manufacturing to GDP (%)

Source: OECD, BNP Paribas
This, however, is only one side of the equation. While the ECB predicts a boost to trade in the euro area thanks to this diversion effect, this could be more than offset by a decline in sentiment, foreshadowing negative outcome overall.

For countries in the eurozone and elsewhere, sustaining the benefits of trade diversification would require long-term investment in manufacturing to ramp up production and meet the new demand.
But investing this way requires the kind of stability and confidence that is in very short supply in the current geopolitical landscape.
Meanwhile persistent uncertainty with trade policies will exert a drag on business sentiment and investment.
Countries that rely on manufacturing and capital goods exports, such as Germany and Japan, could suffer most from this trend.

2017 capital goods exports (% total good exports)

Source: OECD, BNP Paribas
Moreover, industrial weakness caused by an overall decline in trade and the lack of confidence to invest could easily spill over into services, employment and consumption, and eventually suppress supply, leaving deeper scars on the world economy. A few economic winners may emerge from the ongoing tension – but they will be outnumbered by countries that lose out.

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