Europe on US Trade Rivalry: a Dark Horse or a Geopolitical Outcast? A Comparative Case Study on Europe’s Perspective on American Trade Wars

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The current US-China trade war has become a contentious topic for scholars of international political economy. Studies show the dynamics of historical American trade wars – including its actors, methods, and distributional consequences – are in line with the broader debate on trade. However, research lacks both a European perspective on these trade wars and a comprehensive comparative examination. This study aims to determine how the European perspective has changed and how the historical tendency on trade throughout American trade war episodes helps understand the debate on trade over time. Relying on a theoretical framework of literature on American and European trade policy, and the context, dynamics, and consequences of trade wars, a comparative case study is conducted. The results indicate that similarities are best explained using arguments based on economic logic. Differences are best explained using political economy arguments in which the return of protectionism is explained by the changing debate on trade and European perspective. Hence, the EU should increase its political power equaling its economic strength. Further research should focus on additional factors that explain the contemporary tendency towards protectionism in trade policy in light of the shifting drivers of the global economy from the Transatlantic axis towards Asia.
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