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U.S. President Donald Trump signs a memorandum on tariffs on high-tech goods from China on Thursday.JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

Donald Trump’s declaration of a trade war with China may signal the end of globalization and a new, dark era of protectionism. How can Canada protect itself from the fallout?

“I wish I had an answer to this. I don’t,” says Paul Evans, a specialist in Asia-Pacific affairs at the University of British Columbia.

The American President’s imposition of US$60-billion of tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States is “the Fort Sumter of a new economic war,” he fears. (The shelling of that fort in 1861 by Confederate forces marked the beginning of the American Civil War.) Canada is almost certain to suffer as a result.

The current era of globalization (an earlier version ended with the outbreak of the First World War) followed the end of the Second World War, with the creation of a rules-based global trading order that encouraged lower tariffs. Globalization accelerated in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet and the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese imports and to restrict Chinese investment, following on his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from a number of countries, may mark the beginning of the end of globalization.

These new tariffs, “are another step in the direction of its potential collapse,” says Barry Eichengreen. He is a professor of economics and political science at University of California, Berkeley, and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), in Waterloo, Ont.

If the Chinese retaliate, as they have vowed they will, and Mr. Trump retaliates in turn, as he has vowed he will, “there is the danger of things spiralling out of control,” he fears.

“You have to hope that cooler minds prevail. But President Trump is not, obviously, in possession of a cool mind.”

Canada is uniquely vulnerable in any global trade war. With a small and scattered population, international trade represents almost a third of our gross domestic product. If tariffs go up, Canadian living standards will go down.

This country can also expect increased pressure from the Trump administration not to permit Chinese investment in Canadian firms or to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China.

For Randolph Mank, a former Canadian diplomat who is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, successfully concluding the North American free-trade renegotiations is a sine qua non of weathering any trade storm.

He would also like to see Ottawa improve business competitiveness, especially in the wake of American corporate tax cuts. But the latest Liberal budget, with its emphasis on social rather than economic issues, “left me rather nonplussed as to what the Trudeau government’s intentions really were,” he said.

The good news, if it’s true, may be that an American president cannot single-handedly bring down the global trading system. This is what Susan Ariel Aaronson, a CIGI senior fellow and professor of international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., believes.

“I would say the Congress is starting to check him,” she said, pointing to Friday’s spending bill, which angered the President by failing to fund his beloved wall on the Mexican border.

The bureaucracy – Mr. Trump calls it the Deep State – is also fighting back. The business community and ordinary investors have made their displeasure known: The Dow dropped more than 700 points on the day Mr. Trump announced the tariffs.

And other world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, continue to advance the cause of global trade, most recently through the signing of the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Perhaps the best approach to constraining protectionist pressures is to persuade millennial voters that the free flow of goods, services and people around the world benefits most Americans. After all, millennials are now the single largest voting block, outnumbering boomers.

“We are a failed state in that we have not been able to come up with compromises,” Prof. Aaronson believes. “But our children will not stand for that any more.”

In the meantime, Canadians can only hope that the Chinese and Americans find a way to compromise that saves face for both presidents, and that things go no further.

Because living in a closed, hostile post-global world does not bear contemplation.

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