Archive for the 'WTO' Category

Oct 07 2010

US / China Trade War – Could this be the beginning?

This post was originally published on September 15, 2009. It is being reposted today for my year 2 IB Econ students, who are studying free trade and protectionism as part of Unit 4 of the IB Econ course.

US president Barack Obama made a speech directly to Wall Street today. In his speech, Obama reflected on the many lessons America has learned in the last year since the financial crisis began. He urged his audience of investors, bankers and brokers that

“Normalcy cannot lead to complacency,” Obama said. “Unfortunately, there are some in the financial industry who are misreading this moment. Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we are still recovering, they are choosing to ignore them.”

“They do so not just at their own peril, but at our nation’s,” the president added.

In addition to his warnings about the threat posed by overly risky financial markets to the US economy, President Obama expressed his commitment to free trade and “the fight against protectionism”.

Obama says:

…enforcing trade agreements is part and parcel of maintaining an open and free trading system.

The enforcement of existing trade agreements Obama refers to is his way of justifying a decision his administration made over the weekend that actually limits free trade between America and one of its largest trading partners, China.

Trade relations between two of the world’s biggest economies deteriorated after Barack Obama, US president, signed an order late on Friday to impose a new duty of 35 per cent on Chinese tyre imports on top of an existing 4 per cent tariff.

In his first big test on world trade since taking office in January, Mr Obama sided with America’s trade unions, which have complained that a “surge” in imports of Chinese-made tyres had caused 7,000 job losses among US factory workers.

So, in his speech today, Obama decries protectionism and calls for expanded trade and free trade agreements which are “absolutely essential to our economic future”. But only three days ago, he supported a blatantly protectionist measure aimed at keeping foreign produced goods out of America in order to save a few thousand American jobs.

Obama’s decision is a bad one for several reasons. As an economics teacher, I will turn firstly to a diagram for an illustration of the net loss to the American people of higher tariffs on imported tires:
Tire protection

The key point to notice in the above graph is that a tariff on imported tires results in a net loss of welfare in America. The blue area represents the increase in the welfare of tire manufactures (this could be interpreted as the jobs saved in the tire industry and the profits earned due to higher prices); the black areas, on the other hand, are welfare loss. Since all tire consumers in America pay more for their tires due to the 35% tariff, real income is affected negatively for the nation as a whole.

One effect of the protectionist policy the graph does not illustrate, and perhaps the most serious negative impact of the tariff on America, is the response the Chinese are likely to take to what they interpret as a violation of existing free trade agreements between the US and China.

“This is a grave act of trade protectionism,” Mr Chen said in a statement. “Not only does it violate WTO rules, it contravenes commitments the US government made at the [April] G20 financial summit.”

Beijing said it had requested WTO-sanctioned consultations with the US over Washington’s new duties on tyres. Yao Jian, a commerce ministry spokesman, said the duties were in ”violation of WTO rules”.

China said it would now investigate imports of US poultry and vehicles, responding to complaints from domestic companies.

The problems with protectionism are myriad. Clearly American consumers suffer through higher tire prices. In addition, Chinese manufacturers will see sales fall as their product becomes less competitive in the US market. According to the CCTV report below, as many as 9,000 workers in the Chinese tire industry will lose their livelihoods due to declining demand from the US. But the unforseen effects of the US tariff on Chinese tires is the retaliatory measures China will almost certainly take. If China imposes new tariffs on American automobiles and poultry, the scenario in the graph above will be reversed, and Chinese consumers will face higher prices, Chinese car and poultry producers will experience rising sales, while the American auto worker and chicken farmer will suffer.

Free trade tends to result in net benefits for economies that choose to participate in it. American tire manufacturers are certainly harmed by cheap Chinese imports; however, America as a whole benefits through cheaper goods, more consumer surplus, higher incomes in China and therefore greater demand for imports of products made in America. The road to protectionism is a dangerous path to take for the Obama administration. Justifying these new tariffs by claiming that they “enforce existing free trade agreements” is a political maneuver aimed at covering up the truth, which is that the Obama administration has sided with a special interest group to save a few thousand jobs and garner political favor at a time when 700,000 American jobs are being lost each month. By doing so, he is calling into question his own commitment to free trade, and harming America’s image as a global proponent of global economic integration.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is the Chinese government so upset about a new tax on such an insignificant product as automobile tires?
  2. “Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty”: Do you agree?
  3. Some would say that it is a small price to pay for Americans to face higher prices for one product like tires in order to “save” 7,000 Americans’ jobs. Would you agree? Why or why not?
  4. If 7,000 Americans were to lose their jobs due to free trade with China, what would we call the type of unemployment experienced by these workers? Is this the same type of unemployment experienced by the 700,000 workers who have lost their jobs each month during the last year of recession in the United States?

33 responses so far

Oct 26 2009

Exchange rates, currency manipulations, and the balance of trade

FT.com | The Economists’ Forum | Imbalances and undervalued exchange rates: Rehabilitating Keynes

In our year 2 IB Economics class, we are beginning the part of our International Trade unit on exchange rates and the balance of trade . While the market for a particular currency reflects many of the same characteristics as a product market (i.e. upward sloping supply curve, downward sloping demand curve), the consequences of a change the price of a currency (the exchange rate) is far more powerful than a change in the price of a particular good or service in a product market.

How does the value of a country’s currency affect that country’s balance of trade with other countries? To understand this important concept, we first need to know something about the process by which currencies are exchanged when two countries trade. Let’s look at an example:

When an American consumer wants to buy an iPod that was made in China she will have to pay for it in US dollars, since that’s what she earns her wages in from selling her labor in the resource market. Apple now has the consumer’s $300, which gets split up to cover all the costs the company faced in the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of the iPod. Part of that $300 (say $100) will go to the manager of the factory in China where it was made.

The factory manager in Shanghai faces his own costs he must cover. He must pay rent on his factory space, interest on the loans he took out to acquire capital, and wages to the workers assembling iPods on his factory floor. The problem is, these costs are all in Chinese yuan, but he’s holding the US dollars that Apple paid him for his iPod. In order to cover his costs, the Chinese factory owner must take the $100 to a Chinese bank and swap it for RMB. The local bank that changes his money now hands the $100 over to China’s central bank (the PBOC) which prints and exchanges RMB to the bank at whatever the prevailing exchange rate is at the time.

Ultimately, China’s central bank will decide what to do with its holding of US dollars. Most of the dollars are loaned back to the United States through China’s purchase of US Treasury securities (the IOUs the US government sells to finance its deficits). China’s voracious demand for US dollar denominated assets keeps the demand for (and the the value of) dollars high on foreign exchange markets, meaning the RMB remains relatively cheap for Americans and therefore Chinese manufactured goods attractive.

China’s policy of exchange rate manipulation has upset many American politicians over the years, who often blame China for America’s shrinking manufacturing sector. A weak RMB means the cost of producing things like iPods in China is far lower than it would be in the US. By keeping demand for dollars high on the foreign exchange markets through its incessant demand for US treasury securities and other financial and real assets, while simultaneously hoarding vast reserves of US dollars in its central bank, thus keeping supply of dollars on foreign exchange markets low (see graph), China has prevented the RMB from appreciating, fueling the growth of the country’s export-manufacturing sector.

China’s currency manipulations may soon ilicit a response from the United States as president-elect Barack Obama takes office next year. Facing a recession and rising unemployment, combined with the recent appreciation of the US dollar, the pressure is on Obama to take immediate action to restore America’s manufacturing sector. According to the Financial Times blog “the Economists’ Forum”:

If the US economy takes a downturn and the dollar continues to strengthen, a resurgence of protectionist pressures is likely. This time around, these pressures could well take the form of unilateral action against competitive currencies. It is noteworthy that President-elect Obama has actively and repeatedly supported action against “currency manipulation.”

The “competitive currency” perceived to pose the greatest threat to America’s inustrial sector is certainly the Chinese RMB. Currency manipulation is a form of protectionism, which in a time of global economic slowdowns poses a larger threat than ever to both developed and developing nations’ economies alike. For this reason, the World Trade Organization may need to employ carrot and stick methods to create incentives for China to liberalize its currency controls and allow the RMB to strengthan against the dollar and other major currencies:

How would this new rule against undervalued exchange rates be incorporated in the WTO? Through negotiation. The (WTO) should place rules on undervalued exchange rates…. The US and EU have been the principal demandeurs for action by China in the past. But it is important to remember that until very recently, a number of developing countries—Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Turkey and South Africa—were affected by the competitive pressure from the undervalued (RMB). Indeed, some months ago, the Indian Prime Minister urged China to follow a more market-based exchange rate policy. For obvious reasons, more emerging market countries have not voiced their concerns, but it is possible that a coalition of affected countries could unite on this issue.

Clearly, Chinese concerns have to be addressed for any new rules to be crafted and commonly agreed… First, China’s major trading partners could pledge granting China the status of a “market economy” in the WTO contingent on it eliminating currency undervaluation and moving to a market-based system. This status would have significant value for China by shielding it against unilateral trade actions such as anti-dumping and countervailing duties by trading partners. Second, as part of radical governance reform of the IMF, which is desirable in itself, China should be offered a substantially larger voting share in the IMF commensurate with its economic status.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does China continuing to undervalue its currency threaten the industrial economies of its largest trading partners?
  2. What is China’s purpose for maintaining the low value of the RMB relative to the currencies of other nations?
  3. What would be a unilateral protectionist measure an Obama administration may advocate if the WTO refuses to take action against China’s currency manipulations? How would you advise president-elect Obama on the issue of whether to take protectionist action against China in the context of the current economic crisis in America?

103 responses so far

Oct 23 2007

The World Trade Organization – a podcast introduction by IB Econ students at SAS

Understanding the World Trade Organization

Below is an audio introduction to the World Trade Organization, courtesy of my year 2 IB Econ students here at SAS. Our current unit (IB Unit 4) examines free trade, global economic integration, and the WTO among other topics. As an introduction to the WTO, student were asked to record a two-minute podcast of the main ideas from a specific page on the WTO’s website. Below are their summaries of the basic functions and agreements of the organization, summarized and podcasted for your listening pleasure!


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Oct 23 2007

WTO – a podcast introduction, continued…

Introduction to the WTO, continued…

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Apr 22 2007

Globalization’s winners and losers, and losers, and losers…

Globalization for Whom? (July-August 2002)

Thanks to Katie Daily for posting the above article to the new Wikinomics page “AP Econ in the News”. Several very interesting articles were linked to this page over the weekend, but this one just jumped out at me as particularly interesting.

This piece looks at the question of whether globalization reduces poverty. Many critics of globalization (you know, those union members and see turtle costumed folks who protest at WTO and IMF meetings, and millions like them in the develop and developing worlds), claim that the record of the 1990s shows that a more integrated global economy does not necessarily mean less poverty in poor countries. The author here claims that while global poverty may not have been eliminated during this decade of global integration, this is only because some of the poorest countries have not yet become “globalizers”, rather have remained “non-globalizers”

“…countries that have the best shot at lifting themselves out of poverty are those that open themselves up to the world economy.”

The author points to several figures supporting the positive impact globalization has had on countries that have chosen to participate in the integration of global markets, such as China and India.

“By selling its products on world markets, China has been able to purchase the capital equipment and inputs needed for its modernization. And the surge in foreign investment has brought much-needed managerial and technical expertise. The regions of China that have grown fastest are those that took the greatest advantage of foreign trade and investment.”

Read: SHANGHAI folks. This article points perfectly to the phenomenal growth we’ve observed here in our own home. China’s decision in 1978 with Deng’s “Reform and Opening” to participate in, rather than isolate itself from the global marketplace has resulted in a doubling of life expectancy, a near doubling in literacy rates, rapid development of the country’s infrastructure and the emergence of China as a dominant and undeniable force in the economic and political landscape.

The author explores the idea that China’s (as well as its East Asian neighbors’) economic emergence may have been achieved by shunning free market principles and turning instead to protectionist methods such as quotas, tariffs on imports, subsidies to domestic producers, etc…

Perhaps China has unlocked a secret of successful integration in the global economy. Despite the West’s desire to liberalize and open the economies of all poor nations and their claim that this is the best means to eradicate poverty rapidly, China’s experience shows that a healthy dose of government control and protectionist policy may actually result in the greatest economic gains for the world’s poorest countries. I’m interested to know what students think about China in the world today. Does the high level of government control over the economy stifle further growth and prevent the total eradication of poverty? Or should the government continue to meddle in the market, protecting domestic industries and hope that its interference does not limit the country’s growth, thus halting continued improvements in standard of living experienced by the majority of Chinese over the last 40 years? This may be a good topic to bring up over dinner with your families this week! Share your thoughts here!

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9 responses so far