Trade War Watch: Germany and China Now Best Friends

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

China and Germany signed a collection of commercial accords valued at $23.5 billion this week. Meanwhile, the nations’ leaders publicly affirmed their commitment to a multilateral global trade order, while the United States adopts a more protectionist policy.

“We both want to sustain the system of World Trade Organization rules,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a press conference. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, also present, agreed and stated protectionism must be prevented for the good of the global economy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has already pleaded for governments to maintain an open trading policy. “We reject selfish, shortsighted, closed, narrow policies, [we] uphold World Trade Organisation rules, support a multi-lateral trade system, and building an open world economy,” Xi said in an incredibly hypocritical speech from last month.

While China has promised to open its market a bit, the country’s trade practices remain exceptionally protectionist. All banks are state-owned and the nation has proven highly aggressive in keeping foreign investments to a minimum — unless they somehow benefit the country in the long term.

The automotive industry sees this in the form of state-mandated partnerships that require manufacturers to join with established Chinese firms. Critics claim these moves force businesses hoping to gain entry to the lucrative Asian market to lose access to their own intellectual property and hand over profits, as China gets a leg up on technologies that would have taken years to develop. The People’s Republic also imposes fairly large import tariffs on high-end goods produced outside its borders, especially cars.

The Trump administrations’ recent tariff proposals seem to exist primarily to counter these issues, dampening China’s plan to become the global leader in all advanced technologies and manufacturing by 2025. But the resulting trade war has created strange bedfellows. The United States had hoped threatening new import duties would encourage Europe to ease off on some of its own. While that approach appeared to be working, with promising rhetoric coming from Merkel, it now looks like Germany may be more interested in siding with China — a country currently retaliating viciously against new U.S tariffs.

In May, China promised to lower its tariffs on imported cars to just 15 percent as a way to appease the United States. However, things didn’t play out that way. The People’s Republic ended up raising U.S. auto import duties to a massive 40 percent.

According to Reuters, the Chinese-German commercial accords include deals with Siemens, Volkswagen, BMW, and BASF. The Chinese government had said that German companies and institutions would soon be able to issue bonds in renminbi in China — a very big deal. But it’s just a promise and the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be particularly good at keeping them.

Some German companies and politicians have complained that Germany is too accommodating toward Chinese businesses, while China has been less than willing to return the favor. There’s also been a string of high-profile takeovers by Chinese firms. While Merkel welcomed the opening of China’s financial sector, she still requested that Beijing continue opening its other markets.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to squabble with itself over Donald Trump’s tariff proposals. It’s plain to see that China is hitting below the belt (if there is such a thing in business), but the Senate voted overwhelmingly against the trade deal on Wednesday — saying the president should seek congressional approval before using national security as a reason for imposing tariffs on other countries.

The majority of its complaints focused on how a hyper-aggressive trade policy might risk alienating allied nations and risk domestic investments. Automakers have already claimed new U.S. tariffs on automobiles and parts would severely hamper their ability to do business effectively. We’re wondering how they feel about China’s new tariffs.

[Image: Volkswagen Group China]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jul 12, 2018

    Big Al, Maybe so but I want to stay hopeful that trade agreements can be worked out.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jul 12, 2018

    This kind of bullshit article by Posky, that well-known expert, and the rampart alt-right idiotic commentary is why I need to get the fuck out of this whingeing dead end of a "car" website. Delete my account forthwith or I'll be on to Torstar to see why you pack of sad jokers cannot accomplish even that

    • See 1 previous
    • Hydromatic Hydromatic on Jul 13, 2018

      @Adam Tonge Or maybe you guys can just stick to car reviews instead of posting political articles just for the clicks.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.
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