Trump’s threatened tariffs won’t hurt China. They’ll goad the EU to retaliate and could spark a global trade war that won’t end well for anyone.

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” So tweeted President Donald Trump on March 2. His flippant remark may soon be put to the test, as the European Union gears up to retaliate against the punitive tariffs that Trump threatened to slap on U.S. steel and aluminum imports. An EU response would prompt a tit-for-tat blow against U.S. imports of European cars, Trump added on Twitter the following day. China and Canada have also threatened to hit back against Trump’s protectionism. Trade war seems to beckon.

Trump let slip his intention to slap 25 percent import duties on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum for an “unlimited period” at a question-and-answer session with industry representatives on March 1. Of course, it may not come to that. Trump often makes big threats that amount to nothing or are subsequently watered down. He may be talking tough to send a signal to his electoral base, to whom he promised decisive action to bring back American jobs. He was doubtless trying to divert attention from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, as well as from the crises that threaten to engulf his son-in-law and plenipotentiary, Jared Kushner. Trump’s eventual trade measures may end up being less extreme; for instance, his planned announcementThursday may exclude some countries and target only some steel and aluminum products.

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