WASHINGTON — The United States and China hit each other with punishing tariffs on Friday as the two nations tipped into a long-feared trade war that is only expected to escalate.
President Trump has said that trade wars are “easy to win.” Now, as he opens a global skirmish with allies and adversaries alike, the question is whether he has a plan to achieve the results he wants or whether he is heading into a costly and futile clash without resolution.
The president appears to be betting that threatening trading partners like China, the European Union, Mexico and Canada with tariffs will eventually force them to bend to the United States.
His strategy is being buoyed by a strong economy that is giving Mr. Trump more latitude to impose tariffs that might otherwise pose too much risk. Job growth was strong in June, according to a new government report, as employers added 213,000 net new jobs and the unemployment rate rose as more people entered the labor market and began looking for work. Manufacturing job growth was particularly robust.
Those numbers are backward-looking, but there is little reason to think that the initial batch of tariffs will knock the entire economy off course. The $34 billion worth of Chinese goods subject to tariffs, and an equivalent retaliation by China, is tiny compared to the $20 trillion United States economy. Global stock markets largely shrugged off the trade war on Friday.
But the tariffs are still inflicting pain on some industries in particular, including farmers and small manufacturers who have long supported Mr. Trump. And with little sign of a negotiated resolution between the United States and China — or any other trading partner — the conflict threatens to escalate, eventually affecting hundreds of billions of dollars of additional products.