Can Trump Stop Other Nations Trading with North Korea?

For once, President Donald Trump’s reaction to North Korea’s provocation did not include direct threats of military action, but of trade restrictions instead.

After North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, its sixth and largest nuclear test to date, Trump threatened consequences for countries doing business with Pyongyang.

“The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” he wrote. But which countries is Trump talking about?

Above all, China. Beijing is North Korea’s major defense and business partner, counting for an estimated 90 percent of Pyongyang’s total trade. Other countries taking up the remaining share of North Korea’s trade include Russia, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, France, Singapore and Mexico, as data reported by the Observatory of Economic Complexity shows.

U.S. President Donald Trump stops for a reporter’s question after signing a memorandum directing the U.S. Trade Representative to complete a review of trade issues with China at the White House in Washington, U.S. August 14. The president said the U.S. would consider stopping trade with entities that do business with North Korea. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Fox News he supported Trump’s idea. “If countries want to do business with the United States, they obviously will be working with our allies and others to cut off North Korea economically,” he said.

However, trade experts believe the president’s threat to be empty, as the repercussions on the American economy would be significant—especially as China is one of the U.S.’ largest trade partners.

“It would be very difficult for the U.S. to take such extreme measures as putting wide-ranging direct trade sanctions on China. Bilateral trade in goods and services between China and the US reached $648 billion in 2016. Any disruption to such large trade flows could create significant risks to manufacturing supply chains,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific Chief Economist at IHS Markit, told Newsweek.

Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, went so far as to call the proposal “absurd.” Goodman responded to a tweet from Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, who said that “cutting off all trade” isn’t wrong to avert war.

“With the adversary, maybe—but…

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