The Trump administration's sabre rattling on trade has produced little in the way of concrete results. But this may be about to change, writes Brian Caplen.

The Trump administration is likely to up the ante on trade as it faces mid-term elections in 2018. Potential for disruption from trade measures is considerable as two-thirds of world trade is now in intermediate goods. Disruption in one place can upset the entire supply chain.

But with half of the world's middle-income consumers now living in Asia, there is scope for Asia to react by reorganising trade regionally. The future of trade is a hot topic at this week's annual meeting of the IMF. At an Institute of  International Finance meeting, David Loevinger, managing director of emerging markets group TCW, said trade was likely to be the "red meat" used by the Trump government to help its performance in mid-term elections.

Lorenzo Georgianni, chief economist for the Tudor Investment Corporation, highlighted areas of risk in the renegotiation of Nafta such as US demands for local content to be decided on a country-by-country basis, so negating the point of a regional bloc.

While free traders can take comfort from the fact that anti-free trade forces have so far achieved little, declaring victory is clearly premature. The ability of developed countries to compensate the "losers from globalisation" rather than attack trade would have some mitigating effects, but they are by their nature medium term. In other words, nothing can be done before US mid-term elections even if there was the will.

Brian Caplen is the editor of The BankerFollow him on Twitter @BrianCaplen

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