At the moment, it’s a war of words with a side order of sabre-rattling. But as tensions between the US and its overseas rivals rise, the President’s crusade to make what he sees as a long-overdue ‘correction’ to the country’s trade deficit is beginning to have unintended consequences in America’s – and his own – heartland.
Since he took office, President Trump has been committed to the idea of righting the wrongs he believes have been perpetrated by trading partners looking to make gains at the expense of US interests. After dabbling with tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, a new set of curbs on steel and aluminum imports was introduced in spring of this year, swiftly followed by import duties designed to target billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports.
But, while China may have borne the brunt of the action, America’s traditional allies certainly haven’t escaped scot-free. Initially exempting Canada, Mexico and the EU from the steel and aluminium tariffs, Washington later confirmed that it would impose the duties across the board – special relationships notwithstanding.
Another bite of the Apple
Could times be a-changing for tech giant Apple? After coming under fire for its tax evasion policies, it seems as if the company could be softening its stance towards corporate tax obligations, as CEO Tim Cook announced in January that Apple would be making a payment of $38 billion to repatriate part of its overseas cash holdings. Cook also committed to spending $30 billion in the US over a five-year period, creating 20,000 jobs and a new campus in the process.
You know you’ve had a bad week when two adverse rulings come home to roost – with billion-dollar consequences. So, it’s hard not to feel a little of Google’s pain as it faces down a pair of expensive and potentially damaging international judgements.
A record fine for anti-competitive practices
First up, the European Union’s record $2.7-billion fine for anti-competitive behaviour. This relates to the company’s practice of handling its own shopping search engine – Google Shopping – in a different way from those of its competitors by defaulting it to the top of searches while bumping others down the list. Regulators say that by illegally promoting its own price comparison service in this way, Google has ‘abused its market dominance as a search engine’ and demoted the services of competitors like Kelkoo.
Yahoo faces investigation over email privacy
It never rains but it pours! With public trust in freefall over the delayed announcement of a large-scale Yahoo account hack, the company’s decision to scan clients’ email accounts on behalf of US authorities has fuelled discussions in Europe over the thorny issue of privacy.
According to Reuters, Yahoo is facing criticism over its compliance with a classified US government request to comb through customers’ incoming emails for information specified by US intelligence officials. European politicians have since called on the European Commission (EC) to investigate the incident – which could derail the progress of the transatlantic data sharing deal agreed earlier this year.
‘Any form of mass surveillance infringing on the fundamental privacy rights of EU citizens would be viewed as a matter of considerable concern,’ commented Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner in a statement.
Yahoo’s only response was that it ‘complies with the laws of the United States’, declining to confirm whether it scanned users’ emails or to say if Europeans’ emails were intercepted during the operation. The episode is likely to touch a nerve with Europeans who fear that the ‘Privacy Shield’ data sharing deal doesn’t offer enough protection against mass surveillance by US intelligence agencies.
Emerging from the doldrums
The pace of US growth recovered sharply in the third quarter, peaking at its highest rate in two years and lending credence to forecasts that the country is on track for greater economic stability as 2016 draws to a close.
The economy expanded at a 2.9 percent annualised rate in the third quarter, up from 1.4 percent in the second quarter, which topped predictions of a more modest rate of 2.6 percent and reflected a spike in exports as well as an increase in federal spending, according to the US Commerce Department.
That said, consumption growth – another key indicator of the health of the economy – dropped back over the same period to just 2.1 percent, down from more than double that figure in the previous quarter, and falling a long way short of the expected 2.6 percent benchmark.
When Britons voted narrowly to exit the European Union in a public referendum earlier this year, they may not have envisaged the ensuing shock to the country’s currency and financial reputation.
But now, with sterling languishing at its lowest value in 40 years and the UK stripped of its Triple-A credit rating, the country is also facing the possible loss of its reserve currency status, should it fail to secure continued access to the European single market.
US ratings agency Standard & Poor has admitted that the British government is risking significant damage to the economy’s growth, with potentially long-term implications for the country’s debt and credit profile. S&P fears that if the UK loses access to the single market, its businesses will suffer incalculable consequences for the foreseeable future.