For global companies seeking to divine the new rules of the Trump era, ambiguity has become a seemingly permanent state of affairs.
“Companies care less about what the rules are than whether the rules are stable and predictable,” Professor Rivoli said. “They are not going to have clarity under this administration.”
That Canada came to be anointed an American trade adversary appears to reflect the disqualification of other potential candidates.
China, long Mr. Trump’s favored example of a supposedly nefarious trading power, is a critical piece of efforts to prevent thermonuclear hostilities with North Korea, tempering the urge for confrontation with Beijing. Mexico makes components that are crucial parts of factory operations in the United States.
Canada may present a tempting focus as Mr. Trump seeks to sate clamoring from his political base for an alteration of supposedly job-killing trading arrangements without imperiling other geopolitical interests.
Or maybe Mr. Trump saw something about Canada on television that piqued his ire. Maybe one of his advisers dropped a useful piece of data.
Some days, Mr. Trump acts like a traditional Republican who caters to big business and its penchant for moving investment around the globe without hindrances likes trade hostilities.
Other times, he acts like the president whose inaugural address announced the dawning of an “America First” era in which the niceties of multilateral cooperation — on climate change, security and trade — were to be ditched in favor of an unapologetic pursuit of the national interest.
Nowhere has Mr. Trump’s unpredictability been more prominent than on China.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump frequently promised to brand China a currency manipulator while imposing across-the-board tariffs.