This is from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:
Speaking ahead of the arrival in Washington of global finance officials for this week’s IMF and World Bank spring meetings, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said those accusing the Trump administration of protectionism were firing at the wrong target.
The billionaire investor, who Mr Trump has put in charge of trade policy and tasked with finding ways to reduce the US’s $500bn trade deficit, said veiled criticism by Ms Lagarde and other defenders of multilateralism about rising protectionism were clearly aimed at the new administration.
“It is! It is! And the response is very simple: we are the least protectionist of the major areas. We are far less protectionist than Europe. We are far less protectionist than Japan. We are far less protectionist than China,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.
“We also have trade deficits with all three of those places. So they talk free trade. But in fact what they practise is protectionism. And every time we do anything to defend ourselves, even against the puny obligations that they have, they call that protectionism. It’s rubbish.”
I think it's fair to say the U.S. is less protectionist than the other places mentioned, although by how much I'm not really sure. At the same time, there are probably a few countries which are less protectionist than the U.S.
But has anyone tried to measure this precisely? It would be interesting to go through the various categories of protectionist measures, and evaluate how protectionist each country is.
Ordinary tariffs are easy. All the details are here.
Information on anti-dumping and safeguard measures is all publicly available somewhere, but I'm not sure if someone has compiled the data on a country-by-country basis. (Countervailing duties are more complicated, because, to some extent at least, they are intended to address other countries' protectionist subsidies).
Speaking of subsidies, this is where it gets difficult. Lots of governments give out subsidies, but classifying them as protectionist or not can be difficult.
The same thing goes for regulations. There are many regulations that constitute "trade barriers," in some sense, but it is often hard to tell which ones are protectionist. Identifying all regulatory trade barriers could help determine the universe of measures that might be considered protectionist, but someone still needs to do the hard work of identifying which regulations are protectionist.
To be honest, I think this would be a useful exercise for the Trump administration to undertake (much more valuable than the study they are doing on the causes of trade deficits). Among other things, it would help deal with the problem identified here.