No less than 467 protectionist measures were implemented worldwide in 2017, with the US responsible for 90 of them.
But while protectionism is still rising, the scale of the increase is slowing: in 2016 there were 827 new measures introduced.
Research from Euler Hermes, a trade credit insurer, found that the US “decided to bolster measures to counteract perceived protectionism from key competitors” in 2017. The Trump administration implemented 30 new import tariff measures, 20 anti-dumping measures and 17 tariffs on China alone, with the headline tariff being the 30% import tariff on Chinese solar panels.
The shift in US policy can be of no surprise: Donald Trump ran for presidency on a protectionist ticket. But while he has not fulfilled many of his campaign pledges pertaining to China, most notably his promise to brand it as a currency manipulator, the tariff imposition can be viewed as the opening gambit of a trade war.
Indeed, the trend has continued into this year: the US is currently considering slapping draconian import tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminium. It is also considering implementing a wider tariff regime in response to the perceived intellectual property infringements of Chinese rivals over many years.
China, for its part, did not increase its protectionist stance in 2017, the report shows. It continues to subsidise its solar panel industry, with substantial overproduction allowing it to flood western markets with cheap exports. As a result, its solar industry has been subject to 343 direct new measures from around the world over the past four years.
Closer to home, the US also hiked implemented protectionist measures against neighbours Canada (17) and Mexico (two), despite the fact that renegotiation talks around the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) are underway.
Euler Hermes also found that many trading powerhouses use what it considers to be protectionism to boost their exports. Among these is export credit agency (ECA) support, with Japan being highlighted for adopting 137 protectionist measures pertaining to its ECAs over the past four years.
By this measure, Germany and Switzerland are considered to be the fourth and sixth most protectionist nations in the world, respectively, due to the support their ECAs give to their industries.
This is a controversial view: many countries have an ECA and, indeed, companies mainly champion the support they receive from the agencies. However, their use has been criticised by parties on the left and right of the political spectrum: many accuse ECAs of offering corporate welfare, while others accuse them of interfering in a space that should be the preserve of private companies.
The 10 countries that introduced the most protectionist measures in 2017 were, in order: the US, India, Russia, Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, the UK.