By David Stringer and Rishaad Salamat (Bloomberg) — The U.S. risks losing out from its curbs on trade as rival nations including China will seek to do more business with each other, BHP Billiton Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie warned as the head of the world’s largest miner stepped up his criticism of rising protectionism.
“There’s a lot of countries in the world that want to trade more with each other, now that it looks like the U.S. wants to trade less with them,” Mackenzie said in a Bloomberg Television interview, citing discussions with global trade ministers. “ China will absolutely look to walk in that area and look to find exports with other people,” he said after BHP reported earnings.
With its global reach and stable of products from iron ore to copper and oil, BHP is well-positioned to assess the fallout from President Donald Trump’s push for protectionism and the responses from China and the European Union. In March, Mackenzie spoke out against metals tariffs, describing them as “bad for America and bad for the world.” In its latest outlook, the miner warned the curbs will slow global growth, boost prices and eventually prompt consumers to push back as they become aware of the “true economic costs.”
Increased protectionism will “have a dampening effect” on the global economy, though China is likely to mitigate some of the impact by stimulating domestic demand and encouraging its exporters, Mackenzie said on Tuesday.
BHP’s concerns reflect a groundswell of opposition among global business leaders against the curbs. This month, Soren Skou, who runs the world’s biggest shipping company, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, warned the U.S. economy will be hit many times harder than the rest of the world by a global trade war.
BHP said growth will slow from 3.5 to 4 percent this year to 3.25 and 3.75 percent. “We have revised our near-term world growth mid-case downward,” said Huw McKay, vice president of market analysis and economics. “The downgrade reflects the negative impact of rising trade protection, which we expect will be partially offset by more expansionary domestic policy settings.”
Copper has taken a heavy hit from concerns about the trade war and risks to growth, with the metal sinking into a bear market. BHP said the metal — used to make pipes and wires — had been hurt as “investor appetite for pro–growth asset classes declined on the back of escalating trade tension.”
The miner also highlighted steel, saying U.S. users are paying more. “The response to, and impact of, higher steel tariffs in the United States is a source of uncertainty,” McKay said. “What is certain is that end–users in the U.S. are paying considerably more for their steel than end–users in other regions.”
In time, the miner said consumers may rally against the tariffs. “As the true economic costs of trade protection are progressively recognized by global consumers, we anticipate that a popular mandate for a more open international trading environment will eventually emerge,” McKay said.
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