Trade Policy and International Marketing Under Reagan and Trump: An Abstract

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The following is an abstract of a new piece I have been working on with my colleague Professor Gary Knight. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to leave your comments below.

Michael Czinkota, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA, czinkotm@georgetown.edu
Gary Knight*, Willamette University, Salem, OR, USA, gknight@willamette.edu

                                                                  ABSTRACT

We investigate the international marketing implications of the international trade policies of US Presidents Ronald Reagan (‘Reagan’) and Donald Trump (‘Trump’). Today, in international trade, tariffs are low, averaging about 3% in the advanced economies and 10%-15% in the emerging markets. The average tariff across all goods worldwide is about 6%, down from 18% in 1990.  Meanwhile, world trade has increased consistently. China is now the most important trading partner of the US, providing both a huge market and supplying a great variety of products.


In the 1970s, a goods trade deficit emerged in the US and persists to the present day. In our research, we found that the administrations of both presidents sought to reduce the US trade deficit, and defend and enhance the international marketing performance of US firms.  In the early phase of his administration, trade policy under Reagan was restrained but became more assertive. Reagan focused on the trade deficit with Japan and on enhancing international market opportunities for US firms. But Reagan’s policies fell short of their goals. Today, the US faces a much larger trade deficit, primarily with China. Trump adopted policy goals similar to those of Reagan. Trump’s approach has been more assertive. Like Reagan, however, Trump’s policies have fallen short of achieving the intended goals.

In this paper, we provided empirical background and discussed the policies and outcomes of the policies of Reagan and Trump. We highlighted implications for firms’ international marketing efforts and performance, and as well as directions for future research.  We pointed to research opportunities for scholars. Research might investigate better, smarter trade policy, and examine benchmarking by reviewing various trade policy approaches, of the US and other nations, and then examining those successful in achieving intended goals.  Scholars might seek to identify appropriate strategies and tactics for enhancing the performance, of nations and of firms. 

Implications suggest that companies need to increase their competitive advantages in global trade. The US needs to increase its national competitive advantages by improving national factors of production and implementing smarter economic policies that promote US business. Public policymakers should emphasize investing in infrastructure, for example, in communications technologies that can increase the effectiveness of the management of firms’ value chain operations. Broadly, firm strategy and public policy should aim to improve performance on in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation, and productivity, in order to make US companies more competitive in the global marketplace. An important research step will be the anticipated identification of trade policy shifts and the concurrent effects on business planning and policy development. Looking forward, the Biden administration will have to juggle its promise of bolstering domestic investment in infrastructure and US firms while also growing US importance within World Trade.

Keywords: International trade policy; International marketing; Tariffs; Protectionism; Public policy

References Available Upon Request

International Managers Have Choices

Many areas politics and law are not immutable. Viewpoints can be modified or even reversed, and new laws can supersede old ones. To achieve change, however, some impetus for it – such as the clamors of a constituency – must occur.

The international manager has various options if rules are disliked.

One high-risk option is to simply ignore prevailing rules and expect to get away with doing so. A second option is to provide input to trade negotiators and expect any problem areas to be resolved in multilateral negotiations. Drawbacks are that this is a time-consuming process, and issues remain outside the control of the firm.

A third option involves the development of coalitions and constituencies that can motivate legislators and politicians to implement change. Even simple changes, such as the way key terms are defined, can positively influence the business environment. Consider, for example, the change in terminology used in the United States to describe trade relations between two nations. For years, attempts to normalize relations with China by granting “most – favored nation” (MFN) status drew the ire of objectors who questioned why China deserved to be treated in a “most favored” way. Lost in the debate was the fact that the term “most favored nation” was taken from WTO terminology and indicated only that China would be treated like any other nation for the purpose of trade. When the term was changed to “normal trade relations,” tension eased.

Beyond the recasting of definitions, firms can effect change in other ways. A manager may, for example, explain the employment and economic effects of certain laws and regulations and demonstrates the benefits of change. The firm might also enlist the supporting help of local suppliers, customers, and distributors to influence decision makers. The public at large can even be involved through public statements or advertisements calling for action. Developing coalitions is not easy task. Companies often turn to lobbyists for help, particularly when addressing narrow economic objective or single-issue campaigns. Lobbyists are usually well-connected individuals and firms who can provide access to policymakers and legislators in order to communicate new and pertinent information. Brazilian citrus exporters and computer manufacturers, for example, use U.S. legal and public relations firms to provide them with information about relevant U.S. legislative activity. The Banco do Brasil has used lobbyists to successfully restructure Brazilian debt and establish U.S. banking regulations favorable to Brazil.

Although representation of the firm’s interests to government decision makers and legislators is entirely appropriate, the international manager must also consider any potential side effects. Major questions can be raised if such representation becomes very impactful and overt. Short-term gains may be far outweighed by longer-term negative repercussions if the international firm is perceived as bullying or exerting too much political influence.

Based on Fundamentals of International Business, 3rd. by Michael R. Czinkota, Ilkka A. Ronkainen, and Michael H. Moffett.

Michael Czinkota (czinkotm@georgetown.edu) teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent. His latest book, forthcoming in October 2018, is “In Search for the Soul of International Business”.

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Offsets: One answer to International Trade Imbalances

Offsets: One answer to International Trade Imbalances

Michael R. Czinkota

When foreign governments shop for defense supplies, they are not solely motivated by price and quality. In light of the trade balance effects of major acquisitions such as aircraft or defense products, international customers often require U.S. vendors to purchase goods from them in order to “offset” the trade balance effects large purchases have on their trade flows. In light of enormous U.S. trade deficits, it is time for the United States to reciprocate with offset demands of our trading partners. Frequently we find ourselves in conditions where foreign sales to us are major and our sales to importers and their nations are minor. This leads to trade relations which are out of kilter.  U.S. firms have accommodated foreign offset demands for decades. Now is the time when some give-back by our trading partners is the right medicine to improve world trade imbalances.

Offsets are industrial compensation arrangements demanded (so far only) by foreign governments as a condition for making major purchases, such as military hardware. Sometimes, these arrangements are directly related to the goods being traded. For instance, the Spanish air force’s planes – American-made McDonnell Douglass F/A-18 Hornets – use rudders, fuselage components, and speed brakes made by Spanish companies. U.S. sellers of the planes have provided the relevant technology information so that Spanish firms are now successful new producers in the industry. Under offset conditions, U.S. companies also often help export a client country’s goods go international, or even support the performance of tourism services. For example, the ‘Cleopatra Scheme’ allowed foreign suppliers to Egypt to meet their agreed upon offset obligations through package tours for international tourists.

In 2015, U.S. firms entered into 38 new offset agreements where they agreed to cause purchases  with 15 countries valued at $3.1 billion. In 2017, the total U.S. trade deficit was $566 billion after it imported $2.895 trillion of goods and services while exporting $2.329 trillion. No country has a bigger trade surplus with the United States than China. In 2017, the U.S. deficit with China climbed to its highest level on record, amounting to a gap of $375 billion.

Eliminating imbalances is a core component of the Trump administration’s international economic policy. One policy approach has been the threat of tariffs against China,.  One effective supplemental strategy could be the instigation of offset agreements with major trade surplus nations.

For instance, many American imports that contribute to the trade deficit are capital goods, such as computers and telecom equipment. An offset agreement between China and the United States could require China to use American-made components, perhaps even from Chinese owned plants.  An example could be the export of Smithfield ham from the U.S. to be served in company cafeterias in China. Then there are excellent opportunities for Chinese tourists, particularly if equipped with high-spend budgets.

The American trade deficit is not easily resolved. Government would be well served to explore non-traditional options in order to develop more than one fulcrum for leverage. New use of  offset agreements – which have provided our trading partners with past success at our expense – could help revitalize American industries and  bring a new sense of balance to trade relationships. Our government should encourage offset commitments by foreign firms and countries who sell a lot to us. America deserves to reap the benefits!

Michael Czinkota (czinkotm@georgetown.edu) teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent, U.K. His key book (with Ilkka Ronkainen) is “International Marketing” (10th ed., CENGAGE). Lisa Burgoa contributed to this commentary.