Politics

President Trump has done 'incredible damage' with tariff talk: Former ambassador

Key Points
  • Trump should be focusing on the trade challenge posed by China, not attacking friends and neighbors, former Ambassador Ira Shapiro says.
  • "He has done incredible damage to our relationship with Mexico, some to Canada and a lot to the European Union," he says.
  • Last week, Trump signed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He exempted Canada and Mexico.
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US must be careful of trade threats with China: Expert

President Donald Trump should be focusing on the trade challenge posed by China, not attacking friends and neighbors, former Ambassador Ira Shapiro told CNBC on Wednesday.

"He has done incredible damage to our relationship with Mexico, some to Canada and a lot to the European Union, all of which was not necessary and not desirable," said Shapiro, who served as a trade negotiator during President Bill Clinton's administration and helped complete the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Last week, Trump signed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He exempted Canada and Mexico. At the time, the White House said it will give other nations a chance to justify why they shouldn't be included.

President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation during a White House ceremony to establish tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum at the White House in Washington, March 8, 2018.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Critics have argued that the tariffs shouldn't be broad and the real offenders, such as China, should be targeted.

The move has also provoked outcry around the world. The European Union threatened to raise import duties on things like bourbon, peanuts and cranberries. Earlier this week, the French economy and finance minister told CNBC the EU could retaliate alongside nations from outside Europe.

In the end, several countries will wind up being hit, including China, Russia and perhaps Korea and Japan, Shapiro told "Power Lunch."

In addition to those tariffs, the Trump administration is preparing to go after China for alleged intellectual property theft.

A source told CNBC on Tuesday the White House is considering a trade package including indefinite tariffs, investment restrictions and possible visa restrictions on Chinese travelers.

Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management and adjunct professor at Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, agrees there is a real issue with China.

However, he believes the U.S. should work with its allies to remedy the situation.

"If you go alone, unilaterally, it is going to make it a lot easier for the Chinese to target industries of the United States and retaliate," he told "Power Lunch."

"We have burned a lot of bridges over the past month in terms of working with those countries on China," he added.