What is a trade war? And all your other questions, answered

President Trump’s announcement of steep steel and aluminum tariffs has triggered international fears about a trade war.

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What is a trade war, anyway?

It’s a situation in which countries retaliate against a country that imposes trade barriers such as tariffs.

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So, um, what is a tariff?

It’s basically a tax the government places on a type of imported goods. In theory, this makes the foreign products more expensive and less desirable to consumers. Domestic producers don’t have to pay the tax.

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Why does the Trump administration want to do this?

The goal is to prop up US steel and aluminum manufacturers — a segment of the American economy that has been struggling for years.

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Would the tariffs actually help those businesses?

Maybe. Steel and aluminum manufacturers would get a boost, but they might not have capacity to meet increased demand.

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And other industries — think automakers and airplane manufacturers — would be hurt by rising prices for materials. That could mean bad news for those companies' employees.

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Will it affect me?

That depends. Although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says price increases would be minimal, it’s likely that the costs of products such as beer, other canned goods, baseball bats and cars would go up.

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What are other countries saying about the tariffs?

Oh, they don’t like the idea at all. They’re worried about the negative impact on their own industries — and they claim it could ultimately disrupt the whole global trading system.

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Other countries also could target US industries with their own tariffs. US agricultural exports such as soybeans are thought to be particularly vulnerable. Consumer electronics companies like Apple could suffer, too.

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