There’s a lot to hate about the global trade war, started by President Donald Trump and now raging worldwide as nations threaten to pile tariffs upon tariffs in misguided fits of economic hostility against foes and longtime friends alike.
The actions that started the shooting match — highlighted by U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — are ill-conceived and self-defeating. But they have done one good thing: exposed the backwardness of economic nationalism in a global age.
Publicly owned companies, such as those in the auto industry, should rarely if ever make business decisions that put national pride or jingoism over economic merits. And yet, doing so is a common practice globally.
Germans slow-walk investigations of diesel-emissions cheating that center on their domestic automakers. Italians move product from more efficient plants abroad back to Italy to placate powerful domestic unions. Americans complain loudly about vehicles being made in Mexico by U.S. automakers, but show no willingness to raise their monthly car payments to accommodate higher U.S. labor costs.
Canada is undergoing its own fit of economic nationalism as well. The once-vibrant Canadian auto industry has been fighting a rearguard action for a decade and a half to slow its decline and the loss of tens of thousands of lucrative jobs.
The Canadian struggle — focused on General Motors’ Oshawa assembly plant and waged by Unifor, the union representing Canadian auto workers — looks more intense than the fuss the UAW and a few elected representatives are making over GM’s plans that also could result in U.S. factory closings.
The possibility of the Oshawa plant shutting, coming on top of Trump’s metals tariffs that treat Canada as a U.S. national security threat, has left Canadians’ emotions raw. So the impression that GM wants to sell vehicles to Canadians without continuing to invest in that country’s plants and workers touches a nerve.
In an ideal world, vehicles would be assembled close to the consumers who buy them, trade between nations would take place without conflicts and people would be compensated at the same, fair rates for the same hard day’s work. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.
Until we do, it’s up to us to extinguish global trade fights and try to learn to live with one another as best we can.