Trump, Brexit and Trade Wars

What’s causing the rift between the USA and China? How can Australia weather the trade war? Why is the relationship between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping so strange?

On Tuesday 22 October, a panel of experts joined Business School alumni to delve into the most pressing political topics of today. Hear what they had to say about Trump, trade wars and Brexit.

What are the origins of the rift between the USA and China?

For Steven Kirchner, Program Director at the United States Study Centre, much of the rift comes down to Donald Trump’s long held beliefs about global trade.

Penny Burtt, Dr Stephen Kirchner, Georgie Skipper, Dr Tim Soutphommasane

“Donald Trump has a long-standing conviction in relation to trade and protection. He views international trade as predatory and tariff protection as economically beneficial to the United States. Interestingly, there is still populist support for international trade. But that support fades as soon as you mention Trump or China.”

Penny Burtt, Group CEO of AsiaLink, believes that business practises are underpinning the trade war, and highlights a common view in the US business community that China’s self-interest and business practises have been ‘unfair’.

“There is a discussion about the consensus across the American business community that China has been unfair. Whilst trade with China has opened many opportunities, there are elements, particularly in the areas of technology, where China’s behaviour, public policy regime and barriers have prevented the world’s biggest companies from access. While American multinational companies have been respectful and keen to do business in China, there is a building sense of unfairness.”

What will be the effects on Australia?

Georgie Skipper, Director of Public Policy at Atlassian and non-resident Fellow at The United States Study Centre, believes any trade war is unlikely to be a positive thing for Australia.

“It leaves us relatively exposed. We have a significant amount of exports to China and the US is still our most important economic partner. So, we need to start looking and diversifying where we export and what our economy is exporting.

We won’t necessarily be able to escape the impacts of the trade war and we may be seeing the impact for many years.”

Georgie believes the best way to combat this effect, would be to build a closer partnership with the rest of Asia.

Penny Burtt agrees with Georgie’s assessment, “the trade war is an opportunity for diversifying, something that Australian business just isn’t working on. We invest more in the United States than the whole of the 3.5 billion people in the Asian Pacific. Our investment in Indonesia is less than our investment in New Zealand.”

How much of the trade war has been driven by personalities?

Georgie Skipper has seen more and more of how personalities are contributing to trade disputes across the globe.

“The fact leaders can text and tweet and have an immediate impact on global policies is something that has never been seen before. When you consider Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, two leaders who are running their own race, potentially not with as many checks and balances as there should be, this can lead to very ad-hoc policy.”

Steven Kirchner believe there is an odd relationship between Trump and Jinping, “Trump admires the authoritarian streak in Xi, and he thinks he has a rapport with him. Xi sees Trump as an adversary and a threat to be managed.”

You can listen to the full audio recording of the event below:

List of speakers

Penny Burtt, CEO of Asialink
Penny is the Group CEO of Asialink, Australia’s leading centre for the promotion of public understanding of the countries of Asia and of Australia’s role in the region. Penny is a former diplomat and represented Australia in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and at the United Nations in Geneva and New York. She previously served as an Adviser to the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and led External Relations and Client Service Risk for the Asia Pacific with McKinsey & Company.

Dr Stephen Kirchner, Program Director, United States Studies Centre
Stephen is the program director for Trade and Investment, United States Studies Centre. He is also a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute in Canada, where he has contributed to research projects comparing public policies in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Stephen was previously an economist with the Australian Financial Markets Association, and has appeared in numerous publications including The Australian Economic Review, Australian Journal of Political Science, The Wall Street Journal, Straits Times, Businessweek, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian.

Georgie Skipper, Non-Resident Fellow, United States Studies Centre | Director Public Policy, Atlassian
Georgie is a Non-Resident Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. She is also the Director of Public Policy at Atlassian. Georgie was previously the Senior Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Australia, the Honourable Julie Bishop, and was the Foreign Minister’s principal adviser on the United States. Prior to working in government, Georgie helped to establish the Australia Gulf Council and ran the Corporate and Government Affairs, working with businesses and governments in Australia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Professor Tim Soutphommasane, Professor of Practice and Director, Cultural Strategy, The University of Sydney. (Moderator)
Tim was previously the Race Discrimination Commissioner (2013 to 2018) and a political philosopher, having held posts at The University of Sydney and Monash University. His thinking on multiculturalism, patriotism and national identity has been influential in shaping debates in Australia and Britain.