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It seems like the economic policy world is all abuzz about the news that the European Union (EU) and Japan have agreed to the broad outlines of a trade agreement. That’s odd, to put it mildly, since reviewing what’s known about the deal for about five minutes is enough to debunk the notion that it’s a global economic game-changer – and the related claims that it will represents a stinging rebuke to President Trump’s moves toward a more results-oriented U.S. trade policy.

It’s true that the EU and Japan are enormous economic entities. They’re also high-income entities. But they haven’t been very dynamic economic entities. From 2005 to 2016, the former increased its output by just under 28 percent (in euro terms) before factoring in inflation. The latter has grown by less than 2.50 percent in yen terms. By contrast, the United States (which hasn’t been killing it, either) has boosted its current dollar gross domestic product by 41.82 percent during this period in U.S. dollars

They’re also regions that tend to run trade surpluses – although massive energy imports following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster have generally tipped Japan’s total trade into deficit. So from a macro-economic standpoint there’s a major question regarding how willing they are to open their markets significantly on a net basis – especially given how slow their overall growth has been. Maybe that’s why one joint European-Japanese effort to estimate their welfare effects came out with results that barely move the needle. And interestingly, this study projects that the United States will be a net winner.

But the strangest aspect of the prospective deal, especially from the EU perspective, concerns the specific trade flows that are apparently targeted. For Brussels is aiming mainly to boost its exports of food products like meat, wine, and dairy, and in return has been willing to lower its automotive tariffs. The agreement has even been nicknamed the “cars for cheese” deal.

In other words, the Europeans supposedly believe they’ll prosper – and show the Trump administration a thing or two – by giving pride of place to industries that, however politically powerful, have relatively little ability to generate big positive spillovers to the rest of the economy, and welcoming more predatory competition to an industry with phenomenal potential to foster future innovation and productivity growth. (Think “driverless cars.”) In fact, this quid pro quo is so bad for Europe that it casts considerable doubt as to whether its terms will be honored.

Also interesting – for all the European ire about the steel tariffs being mulled by the United States (which runs a big trade deficit in this sector), Brussels has said little about the industry during its trade talks with Japan (which runs a big surplus).

Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau has admirably dissented from the Mainstream Media groupthink and dismissed the EU-Japan deal as “a shameful attempt at manipulation” of the narrative surrounding the recent G20 summit that was hyped by journalists exhibiting “confirmation bias” of their pro-internationalist, anti-Trump views. On this side of the pond, we’ve come up with a simpler description: fake news.

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