U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a phone conversation with Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, not pictured, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Today’s Agenda

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Just Don’t Call It ‘Nafta’

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- President Donald Trump’s live-TV struggle to connect with Mexico’s president on the telephone yesterday is an apt metaphor for the tentative trade deal the two countries hammered out: a lot of unnecessary frustration for not very much reward. 

The deal – which is still far from done, needing the approval of Congress and probably the involvement of a reluctant Canada –mainly lets Trump pretend to have blown up Nafta without really blowing it up. And that is about the best one can say about it, write Bloomberg’s editors: “Rebranding Nafta is better than pulling it apart – but if this modified accord with Mexico is the best Trump can do, it would have been less disruptive, and better for the U.S. economy, to have left well enough alone.” Read the whole thing.

David Fickling and Anjani Trivedi dig into the details of how the deal really wouldn’t change all that much. For example, slightly stricter rules-of-origin requirements would only add tariffs to three Mexican-made imported cars:

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Of course, David and Anjani write, this meager impact “should be considered a virtue,” and they find it comforting that all Trump needs to dial back destructive trade tensions is the ability to declare a deal, any deal, as the GREATEST DEAL EVER. Read the whole thing.

But while Mexico smartly played the let-Trump-claim-victory game, Canada may not be so eager to respond to Trump’s warning it should join this great deal, OR ELSE, writes Joe Nocera. The president seems not to understand Canada’s position, nor much about Nafta, cars, tariffs or pretty much anything to do with business, Joe suggests. There’s still a risk this mess could harm U.S. automakers, all three Nafta economies and American workers. Read the whole thing.

The best-case scenario is that Trump will be as toothless with Canada as with Mexico. The final bargain may end up looking a lot like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trump also splashily abandoned, notes Tyler Cowen. But such public-relations victories for Trump have left “America’s reputation in tatters,” Tyler writes. That price is far too high.

Bonus trade-war reading: If China wants to survive the trade war, it must loosen regulations on consumer lenders. – Nisha Gopalan

Trump vs. Google

Though Trump has a strong Twitter game, he may not quite understand how Google works. This morning he rage-tweeted that the search giant surfaces only “Fake News Media” stories when you Google “Trump News.” His economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested the White House was “taking a look” at regulating Google search results. Such complaints, common on the right, are basically hogwash, points out Shira Ovide. But the relentless referee-working does have an effect: It makes tech giants give right-wing propaganda even more leeway than usual, which may have helped get Trump elected in the first place. It also takes time and energy away from “legitimate efforts to make U.S. tech powers more responsible and accountable.” Read the whole thing.

Bonus tech reading: Toyota Motor Corp. has been throwing cash at Uber and other risky tech ventures like a VC with FOMO. Maybe it should stick to what it does best. – Anjani Trivedi

Storehouse of the Apocalypse

Stocks are at record highs, but it’s never too early, and arguably more fun, to be on the lookout for signs of impending doom. Tim Culpan has found one alarming indicator: a rising pile of unsold inventories at the world’s tech-gadget makers:

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

The breadth of the trend – in the context of a global trade war, a tightening Federal Reserve and “a long-standing sense that we’re in a tech bubble” – makes this alarming, Tim writes. Read the whole thing.

Chris Hughes, meanwhile, looks to IPOs for signs the bull market is over. We’re not there yet. But Chris suggests keeping an eye on IPO demand in the fourth quarter, usually the market’s busiest stretch. 

The price of copper, meanwhile, is signaling a global economic slowdown – though Stephen Mihm argues the metal doesn’t deserve its reputation as an economic forecaster.

Tobacco Companies Can’t Quit Tobacco

Who would you guess would be a natural to take over the legal weed business? Cigarette makers, right? I mean, it’s not a huge leap from rolling up one kind of plant for smoking to rolling up another. But for some reason, these companies have so far mostly stuck with their declining tobacco business, writes Tara Lachapelle. Meanwhile, alcohol companies have been more enterprising – and they’re reaping the rewards. Read the whole thing.

Chart Attack

Maybe it’s just Noah Smith, but venture capital sure looks too geographically concentrated:

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Los Angeles is dragging the rest of California down, writes Justin Fox.

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Tiffany & Co. is spending money wisely to make more money, writes Sarah Halzack.

Trump’s Trade Deal About Nothing

Quick Hits

The right’s politicization of the murder of Mollie Tibbetts is part of an old, racist American tradition. – Frank Wilkinson

Vladimir Putin’s foreign-policy aggression has spoiled sports-club ownership for Russian oligarchs. – Leonid Bershidsky

Mohammed bin Salman should be more strategic about Saudi reforms. – Bobby Ghosh 

Researchers must resist the dreaded Lure of Certitude. – Mark Buchanan

A simple checklist can help doctors overcome racial bias. – Lisa Cooper 

Tuition-free medical school won’t solve all of the medical profession’s ills. – Anupam Jena

ICYMI

Kickers

Turns out the Higgs boson does in fact decay into bottom quarks.

Some modern bears carry the DNA of extinct cave bears.

Maybe don’t flush your contact lenses down the toilet.

Eat carbs, (maybe) live longer.

A beef-only diet – like the one Jordan Peterson and his daughter are on – is “a terribly, terribly bad idea.”

Misogynist dystopias, ranked by how likely they are in real life.

FINALLY, a bracket to determine the best pizza-related moment in human history.

The pumpkin-spice latte is just a hot milkshake.

Note: Please send pizza, suggestions and kicker ideas to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

***

New subscribers can sign up here

Like Bloomberg Opinion Today? Subscribe to Bloomberg All Access and get much, much more. You'll receive our unmatched global news coverage and two in-depth daily newsletters, The Bloomberg Open and The Bloomberg Close.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Mark Gongloff is an editor with Bloomberg Opinion. He previously was a managing editor of Fortune.com, ran the Huffington Post's business and technology coverage, and was a columnist, reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.