The United States, China and the EU are the main players - economic prosperity the aim of the game. They can adopt a strategy of protectionism or free trade, with measures ranging from provocative trade tariffs to calming de-escalation tactics.
The EU and Japan have signed an unprecedented free trade agreement which will create one of the world's largest trading blocs. European Council President Donald Tusk says it is a "clear message" against protectionism.
Since helping shape the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1948, the World Trade Organization’s forerunner, the US has been at the forefront of trade liberalization. That era appears to be ending.
European member states have given the go-ahead for a free trade deal with Japan, the world's third-largest economy. Brussels said the agreement was sending "a very powerful signal against protectionism."
The US Federal Reserve says US business owners are already scaling back investment plans on the back of concerns over the escalating trade conflict with China. Nonetheless, the US economy is in good shape, it says.
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