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January 25, 2018

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US denies ‘America First’ plan hurting globalization

SENIOR US officials hit back yesterday against suggestions that Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda was hurting globalization and trade, setting an aggressive tone ahead of the US president’s visit to the World Economic Forum.

In keeping with Trump’s combative trade stance, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also welcomed a weaker US dollar, helping to send the world’s reserve currency to a three-year low against a basket of major peers.

“Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told a press briefing at the annual summit in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

World leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Michel Temer, raised concerns this week at the summit about growing protectionism, in remarks that delegates said seemed aimed at Trump’s policies.

Under his America First agenda, Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American free-trade agreement, disavowed the global climate change accord and criticized global institutions including the United Nations and NATO.

Trump is expected to arrive today and deliver a keynote address to the forum tomorrow, mingling with the same elite “globalists” that he bashed during his 2016 presidential run.

Mnuchin and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross mounted a joint defense of Washington’s aggressive trade actions in Davos yesterday and said more were to come.

“This is about an America First agenda. But America First does mean working with the rest of the world,” Mnuchin said. “It just means that President Trump is looking out for American workers and American interests no different than he expects other leaders would look out for their own.”

Ross said US trade actions were provoked by “inappropriate behavior on the part of our trading counterparties.”

On Tuesday, for example, the United States slapped steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, in moves billed as a way to protect American jobs. China and South Korea condemned the tariffs, with Seoul set to complain to the World Trade Organization over the “excessive” move.

The slide in the dollar also helps US exports, but Mnuchin noted: “Longer term the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the US economy and the fact that it is and it continues to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency.”

Many in Davos worry that a brighter world economic outlook could darken if geopolitical threats — from protectionism and climate change to cyber attacks and war — gather pace in 2018.


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