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Tariffs Will Hurt U.S. More Than Rest of World, Maersk Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economy will be hit many times harder than the rest of the world by an escalating global trade war, according the chief executive officer of A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S.

Soren Skou, who runs the world’s biggest shipping company from Copenhagen, said the fallout of the current protectionist wave “could easily end up being bigger in the U.S.” Tariffs could slow global annual trade growth by 0.1 to 0.3 percent, though for the U.S. the effect could be “perhaps 3 or 4 percent,” he said at a presentation at Maersk’s headquarters on Friday. “And that would definitely not be good.”

Tariffs Will Hurt U.S. More Than Rest of World, Maersk Says

The company transports about 20 percent of the world’s seaborne consumer goods, putting it in a unique position to gauge the fallout of tariffs on trade flows. Maersk has in the past broken with its culture of steering clear of any political debate to criticize the trade policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has argued that its tariffs are addressing an imbalance in trade relations between China and much of the rest of the globe and that the measures will support U.S. industry. Trump has tweeted that the U.S. economy is doing “better than ever,” and highlighted strong gross domestic product data and declines in the unemployment rate.

Maersk focuses on trade flows between Europe and Asia and so far its industry hasn’t been directly hurt by tariffs. In fact, demand grew 4 percent in the second quarter. But Skou says that may change if the U.S. starts targeting consumer goods.

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“The first thing the American importers would do if tariffs are put on Chinese consumer goods would be to buy in Vietnam, in Indonesia or elsewhere in Asia,” Skou said. “Big U.S. consumer brands like Nike produce in all of Asia, not just in one country, so there will be a substitution effect.”

The U.S. put duties on $34 billion of Chinese goods last month, citing unfair trade practices by the world’s second-biggest economy. The Trump administration has said it will impose tariffs on a further $16 billion on Aug. 23, and even signaled it won’t shy away from targeting the entire $500 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S.

“The other factor is that there’s a lot of stuff that’s now imported into the U.S. that just isn’t produced anywhere within the U.S.,” Skou said. “You can’t get Nike sneakers or iPhones that are produced in the U.S. So it will end up being pushed on to the consumer.”

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Maersk is in the middle of an historic shift away from a conglomerate structure that had included a substantial energy business to focus instead exclusively on transport, primarily the shipping of containers that carry traded goods.

On Friday, the company announced it is spinning off its oil drilling business, which Bloomberg Intelligence has estimated is worth about $4.4 billion. Maersk last year agreed to sell its oil and gas business to Total SA. It still needs to offload a supply service unit that analysts in February said might fetch about $600 million.

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