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In the first year of the Trump administration, the president’s threats to upend the global trade system seemed like mostly bluster — lots of threats, not much action.

Not anymore.
The administration moved forward Friday with a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese imports. In recent weeks, it imposed taxes on imported steel and aluminum, including that from close allies like the European Union and Canada. And those actions both follow earlier measures on washing machines and solar panels.
All of which prompts some important questions: Is the United States engaged in what should be classified as a trade war? And what are the economic consequences likely to be?
Is this a trade war?
Definitely maybe.
A “trade war” refers to measures and countermeasures on import restriction that escalate over time, causing trade between two countries to break down.
But there is no specific definition. Everyone would agree that the Depression-era period of escalating tariffs was a trade war. Everyone would agree that, say, George W. Bush’s 2002 steel tariffs and the retaliation by Europe was not. But the exact line between trade skirmish and trade war is subjective.
但贸易战并没有具体的定义。所有人都会同意,大萧条时期不断提高的关税是一场贸易战。每个人都会同意,比如乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)2002年对钢铁征收的关税、以及欧洲的报复行动不是贸易战。但贸易冲突和贸易战之间的确切界线没有客观的定义。
“Yes, we are now in a trade war,” said Mary Lovely, an economist at Syracuse who studies trade. She emphasizes two factors. First, the Trump administration is signaling that it will meet Chinese retaliation with further retaliation, and second, “the two sides are no longer engaged in productive talks to defuse tensions.”
“是的,我们现在正在一场贸易战中,”研究贸易的雪城大学(Syracuse)经济学家玛丽·络芜里(Mary Lovely)说。她强调了两个因素。第一,特朗普政府已发出信号,它将对中国的报复措施采取进一步的报复行动。第二,“双方已不再为缓和紧张局势进行有效益的谈判。”
Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is more cautious. Is this a trade war? “In my view not yet,” he said. “My view of a trade war is when all countries start responding unilaterally, and without respect to international rules in terms of the levels of tariff retaliation that they engage in.”
彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)高级研究员乍得·鲍恩(Chad Bown)则持更谨慎的态度。这是一场贸易战吗?“在我看来还不是,”他说。“我对贸易战的看法是,所有的国家都开始单方面地做出反应,而且在所采取的报复关税水平上,它们都不遵守国际规则。”
So far, China, the European Union and other trading partners have responded within the confines of World Trade Organization rules.
What’s the logic behind the administration’s action?
For many years, American companies have complained of being treated shabbily as they try to do business in China. They often must partner with Chinese companies to be allowed to do business in the country, and frequently complain that their most advanced technologies are being stolen, among other concerns.
The Trump administration’s list of goods to be subjected to the tariffs is aimed at these high-tech sectors, including aerospace, telecommunications equipment and robotics.
China has said it will place tariffs on $50 billion worth of American imports in retaliation. That’s where things get interesting. The Trump administration is threatening to escalate things further if China retaliates, pulling another $100 billion of goods into the mix. This increases the possibility that the dispute will spiral to encompass ever larger swaths of goods.
Will it work?
China views development of its high-tech industries as core to its economic strategy of the future and won’t want to give up advantages in those sectors lightly. On the other hand, the substantial U.S. trade deficit with China means the American side has more potential Chinese imports on which to slap punitive tariffs than the Chinese do, a potential source of leverage.
The Trump administration’s negotiating strategy has been erratic. At one point last month, there seemed to be progress toward an accord in which China would buy more American agriculture and energy products. That would have helped reduce the United States’ trade deficit with China, one of the president’s major goals. But it wouldn’t have done much of anything about the longer-term issues around technology theft, and those talks fell apart.
The United States might have a stronger negotiating position if it were joined by allies like Canada, Japan and the European Union. But given the steel and aluminum tariffs and tensions with Canada, the United States finds itself on its own in talks with China.
Is this going to crash the U.S. economy?
Probably not.
The United States has gross domestic product of nearly $20 trillion, so a new tax on $50 billion (or, eventually, $150 billion or more) of Chinese imports is a rounding error. Even when you count the costs of steel and aluminum and other tariffs that have resulted from the president’s aggressive trade, it’s hard to get to numbers that move the dial much on overall growth.
As countries retaliate, they can certainly cause damage for individual American industries that export, but the reality is most of the economic activity in the United States is for domestic consumption. Exports constitute about 12 percent of G.D.P.
That’s not to play down the potentially heavy damage in the industries caught in the middle. Soybean futures prices fell Friday, as commodities traders predicted China would buy fewer soybeans in retaliation. Some major industries that use steel and aluminum are complaining of sharply higher prices, which in turn makes them less competitive against global competitors.
“The questions are does this escalate from here, is this part of a much bigger process, and how do business confidence and financial markets respond?” said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura. “With these relatively modest first-round things, it’s hard to make the case that it’s material” to the overall economy.
“问题是,将从这里升级吗?这是一个更大过程的一部分吗?商业信心和金融市场将如何反应呢?”野村证券首席美国经济学家刘易斯·亚历山大(Lewis Alexander)说。“只是这些相对温和的首轮战火,很难说对(整体经济)有实质性影响。”
The risk comes if things spiral out of control in ways that crater the stock market or lead businesses to pull back significantly on their investment spending. Keep in mind the way that trade disputes can cause economic damage without triggering a recession. Gary Cohn, the former White House economic adviser, said this week that tariffs could wipe out economic gains from the tax cut passed late last year. Still, with the economy in relatively strong shape, there is a big difference between “not growing as fast as it would without a trade war” and outright recession.
如果发生导致股市崩盘、或导致企业大幅削减投资支出的事态失控的话,会产生风险。请记住贸易争端可能造成经济损失、但不引发衰退的方式。前白宫经济顾问加里·科恩(Gary Cohn)本周说,关税可能会抵消去年底通过的减税法案带来的经济好处。尽管如此,由于经济状况相对很好,“增长比在没有贸易战的情况下缓慢”与经济彻底衰退之间有很大的差别。


Will this mean higher prices?

The initial tariffs on Chinese goods are not focused on consumer products. They are to be levied on products mainly purchased by businesses, such as industrial equipment. That could mean upward pressure on inflation eventually, but in subtle ways.
Even if the dispute spreads to consumer goods, the actual amount American consumers will pay depends on many factors, including the availability of domestic substitutes and the competitiveness of the industry. For any given product, it is hard to predict how much of a 25 percent tariff will be passed through to consumers versus absorbed by producers and retailers.
Still, consumers ultimately pay the bill for trade barriers in one way or another. At the start of the year, the administration put a 20 percent tariff on imported washing machines; the price of laundry equipment is up 17 percent since then.

重点单词   查看全部解释    
inflation [in'fleiʃən]


n. 膨胀,通货膨胀

defuse [di:'fju:z]


vt. 拆除(炸弹等)的雷管,消除危险,缓和

institute ['institju:t]


n. 学会,学院,协会
vt. 创立,开始,制

aggressive [ə'gresiv]


adj. 侵略的,有进取心的,好斗的

absorbed [əb'sɔ:bd]


adj. 一心一意的;被吸收的 v. 吸收;使全神贯注(

restriction [ri'strikʃən]


n. 限制,约束

global ['gləubəl]


adj. 全球性的,全世界的,球状的,全局的

potential [pə'tenʃəl]


adj. 可能的,潜在的
n. 潜力,潜能

threatening ['θretniŋ]


adj. 威胁(性)的,凶兆的 动词threaten的现

initial [i'niʃəl]


n. (词)首字母
adj. 开始的,最初的,