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STEEL Advisory Partners Singapore

Where is the United States heading with Trump ?

More than a year passed, since Donald Trump won the United States (US) presidential elections in November 2016. Rather than having a continuity on the American foreign policies on trade, security, climate and others, President Trump has not only been systematically rescinding and revoking policies made under the previous Obama administration, but also adopted a path that is re-positioning America's global leadership position in the world. 


Some of these actions have completely taken off guard some of America's staunchest partners and allies. As a result, during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, many of these country leaders were baffled and confused by the many executive actions from Trump, so much so that they fiddled around his decisions, felt at times directionless and seriously wondered "Where is the US heading with Trump?" However during the year, many of these country leaders have come to the realisation that America under Trump is going in a completely different direction and that they can no longer fully depend on the US leadership on global issues.

" Many country leaders have come to the realisation that America under Trump is going in a completely different direction and that they can no longer fully depend on the US leadership on global issues. "

Protectionism and Trade Agreements


During the Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, he has been constantly criticising the various trade deals, that the US made with various countries in the world. Not only has he accused many countries for 'taking advantage' of the US by 'engaging in unfair trade practices' to gain enormous trade surpluses, but he has also blamed the trade deals for the job losses in America.  


As a result, right after his inauguration last January, US President Trump signed an executive order to formally withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation with eleven other countries within the Asia Pacific. Subsequently, within his administration, he has nominated people like Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross, who have been fierce critics of the US trade deficits with other countries, particularly China. The Trump administration is currently scrutinising the China-US trade due to its massive trade deficit of $347 billion and plans to take action in the future.

With Canada and Mexico, he is instructing his administration to review the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with a particular focus on the trade deficit with Mexico as well as the goods traded with Canada. Similarly, for South Korea, the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is being scrutinised and renegotiated.

During his visit in Europe for the NATO summit last May, he has openly criticised the 'massive' trade deficit with Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Similarly, with Japan, another of America's major trade partner, Trump has been pressing the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for tangible results to rectify the trade imbalance. Both Germany and Japan have rebuked Trump's comments, but his administration will keep on the pressure for both countries to fix the trade situation.

Vietnam is another country that the US has a major trade deficit. During the visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last May, Vietnam signed major deals, worth billions of dollars with American companies. And during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit last November in Vietnam, a major deal between Vietnam Airlines and US firm Pratt & Whitney was also signed. However, the Trump administration previously mentioned that these deals are 'nice, but not enough.'

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Trump's Foreign Policies and "America First"

Since his inauguration, Trump has brought about many changes to the US foreign policies with regards to diplomacy, trade, security, climate, immigration and others. All these changes are dramatically changing the global geopolitical environment so much so that the traditional approaches in dealing with issues and conflict do not seem effective and relevant. 


First, Trump is an avid user of twitter and often tweets about his personal thoughts, views and comments to agree and/or disagree on issues. Since Trump now represents America, his tweets add a whole level of uncertainty and unpredictability about whether his tweets are his personal views or about his stand as the US President. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who has been careful in keeping the diplomatic decorum as US President and now as former US President, it does not seem to be the case with Trump. As a result, all foreign country leaders are scrambling to decipher what is the stand of the United States, especially when the words and actions of Trump contradict and do not seem coherent. 


In terms of foreign trade, Trump has been pushing his 'America First' policies by withdrawing and reviewing all major trade agreements that the US has with its trade partners. In addition, when he publicly tweeted and personally intervened to stop Ford Motors and Carrier Corporation, part of the United Technologies Corporation, from investing in Mexico, not only he was advocating protectionism and anti-globalisation, but he was also putting on notice American multinational companies about their foreign expansion and investments.

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Last May, when Trump attended the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he openly criticised the NATO members that they are not paying the United States enough and that they are not spending enough on their defense. This has not only caught off guard the European NATO members, but also undermined the trust of the European allies in the US leadership within the NATO forces. Moreover, Trump has previously expressed openly his support for the United Kingdom (UK) to exit the European Union (EU) and for the EU to break up.

Elsewhere in the world, the change in US posturing in terms of international security under the Trump administration is making many countries feeling uneasy. Trump's war of words and egos with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his regime is making East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China feeling very uneasy. Besides, the Trump administration seems to be moving away from the 'Pivot to Asia' policies under the Obama administration. As a result, Asian countries are inferring that the US will neither continue being the stabilising force in Asia nor personally intervene in the event of conflict with North Korea in the case of Japan and South Korea.

Similarly, in the Middle East, Trump's foreign policies seem to be destabilising the whole region. First at the beginning of the year, Trump signed an executive order to impose a travel ban to the US to people from seven countries, including four from the Middle East - Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Next his foreign policies are fanning the flames of discord among the Gulf countries. After providing strong support to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar for purportedly supporting terrorism, Trump and his administration are now urging the Saudi King to end the Qatar dispute.

With Iran, Trump has moved to disavow the nuclear deal made in 2015 with the EU and the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. Not only this is putting at risk this deal with Iran, but it is causing much friction among the UN Security Council permanent members as well as the EU. Last, the recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by the Trump administration has angered many leaders in the Muslim world and put at risk the fragile detente and peace process between Israel and Palestine. 

" There is a need for much more restraint and wise thinking in the decision making process among the world leaders so as to maintain peace and growth in the world. "



The first year of Trump as the US President and this administration has brought about many surprises that are rippling throughout the world. These are also completely changing the traditional views on trade, geopolitics and diplomacy, international security and others. Moreover, all these actions by Trump seem to increase the risks of triggering conflict and even war within countries and regions. 


While the collective wisdom of the world leaders have prevailed in many issues, brought about by his administration during the year, it will seem that Trump will keep pushing his 'America First' policies in the future. As a result, there is a need for much more restraint and wise thinking in the decision making process among the world leaders so as to maintain peace and growth in the world.

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