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Trump’s First 100 Days in Trade: Success or Less So?

It’s arguable that 100 days (98 to be exact) isn’t all that much time to judge a new president on his progress, but while Trump’s intentions on trade have been bold thus far, little concrete has taken shape on the topic since the new administration settled in.

If you ask the White House, Trump has taken “bold” actions to restore America’s prosperity and restore confidence in the economy. He’s also signed more executive orders (upward of 30) “than any other president in over half a century.”

When it comes to trade, however, for those entrenched—many of which are retailers still wondering which way to move forward—much has been stirred up but little settled. Many have even accused the president of flip-flopping on policies he promised during his campaign to pull or put in place right away.

What’s been done on trade so far

So far, Trump has pulled the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He reviewed accusations of currency manipulation but decided not to label China a manipulator, which he had vowed to do. He also signed an executive order last week to toughen up the scrutiny on the H-1B visa program he says companies have abused to bring in cheap foreign labor. The White House on Wednesday alluded to a possible withdrawal from NAFTA but after phone calls from Canada’s prime minister and Mexico’s president, Trump agreed to continue on the path toward renegotiation.

Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in early April to discuss trade and relations, but has since seemed to soften his full-steam-ahead attack on correcting what he’s been calling unfair trade practices. The reason, he said, is because of China’s current aid in handling the situation in North Korea. Either way, the U.S. said earlier this month that it wants to see “tangible” actions on trade from China in the next 100 days. Vice President Mike Pence has also started talks with Japan on a bilateral trade deal with the U.S.

Also Wednesday, President Trump announced a plan for tax reform that some say did little to outline any real reform, but retailers can at least breathe a temporary sigh of relief that the border adjustment tax wasn’t part of the plan.

According to the White House, in Trump’s first 100 days, the United States economy has created 49,000 new manufacturing jobs and the unemployment rate is at its lowest since May 2007. The president has also implemented “Buy American, Hire American” policies to “Ensure unfair competition does not harm American companies; Favor American products over foreign products; Stop abuses of our visa systems that have harmed American workers.”

What remains up in the air

For all that’s been done, however, much of the resolutions and paths forward remain up in the air.

Though the president said Thursday that renegotiations on NAFTA began that same Thursday, the process can’t begin until long-pending nominee for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is officially in place, and it’s not clear how those talks will go, just what will change and when any of the potential changes would be agreed on and start to take effect.

Lighthizer came one step closer to appointment Tuesday when he cleared the Senate Finance Committee vote. Now Lighthizer has to be cleared by the full Senate, which is still trying to work out an issue regarding benefits for retired miners that has been linked to Lighthizer’s nomination. That issue is expected to be settled in the coming days and Lighthizer could assume his role, jumping right in on NAFTA renegotiations.

Plans for tax reform remain far from clear, and even without a mention of the border adjustment tax in the plan proposed this week, that doesn’t mean the tax is off the table. And though certain reforms have been proposed, there’s no telling yet what the plan will face on the Hill and if it would even be able to advance as is.

What some say Trump should tackle next for trade

After getting Lighthizer in place and moving forward with NAFTA, a new report on 12 Tasks for President Trump’s Next 100 Days by trade data firm Panjiva, said the White House also needs to proceed with the omnibus report the president called for to identify major drivers behind the U.S. trade deficit.

According to Panjiva data, the U.S. had a deficit of more than $5 billion with 21 different countries, including seven in the EU, Mexico, Canada, China and Japan.

The report, which is scheduled to be published by June 29, will form the basis of how the administration deals with its trading partners in the coming year.

And what’s perhaps of utmost importance to those in the apparel sector is some action on border adjustment.

“Announcements of a full budget could come at any time, but the implementation of the BAT will be dependent on broader tax reform,” Panjiva said. “Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin sees it as being in violation of WTO rules unless it is combined with changes in the interest and depreciation deductibles tool, but that deal could be completed by year end.” House Speaker Paul Ryan has said tax reform may be possible by the end of the summer.

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