Foreign leaders stop playing nice with Trump on trade

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Frustrated foreign leaders who failed to stop President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies are trying one last-ditch negotiating tactic: a real trade war.

Canada, Mexico and the European Union have pledged to slap penalties on billions of dollars of American goods in the coming weeks on items ranging from orange juice to Harley Davidsons to aftershave.

Their moves are a tit-for-tat response to Trump’s own decision to impose steep duties on those countries’ steel and aluminum exports, and they show just how deeply the president’s combative stance has altered global alliances built over decades. Foreign leaders are hoping a slowdown in the U.S. economy and loss of American jobs will persuade Trump to change his mind.

“I think there’s a resignation,” said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department and White House official under George W. Bush. “You’re not going to do it with words, so you have to do it with impact.”

Until now, most leaders have tried to play nice and charm the unpredictable U.S. president into softening his policies.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Trump Tower to visit the president-elect shortly after his election, only to have Trump withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his third day in office a couple of months later. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sat patiently through several rounds of talks to renegotiate NAFTA, only to see Trump repeatedly threaten to tear up the agreement if Ottawa doesn’t agree to what it sees as unreasonable demands.

And French President Emmanuel Macron has fashioned himself as Trump “interpreter” in Europe, where he and other members of the EU have repeatedly threatened to hit back at U.S. tariffs with retaliatory duties of their own — only to see the U.S. president slap steep penalties on their steel and aluminum exports anyway.

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