Tag Archives: trade wars

Can’t Touch This! America FANG v. China BATX

The Economist magazine has considered four measures of Chinese corporate unfairness, using data from Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg. The first is the weight of China in the foreign sales that American firms bring in. It stands at 15%; if it was in line with China’s share of world GDP, it would be 20%. This shortfall amounts to a small 1% of American firms’ global sales (both foreign and domestic). America Inc is similarly underweight in the rest of Asia, but there is much less fighting talk about South Korea or Japan.

The second test is whether there is parity in the commercial relationship. Firms based in China make sales to America almost exclusively through goods exports, which were worth $506bn last year. American companies make their sales to China both through exports and through their subsidiaries there, which together delivered about $450bn-500bn in revenue. Again, there is not much of a gap. American firms’ aggregate market share in China, of 6%, is almost double Chinese firms’ share in America, based on the sales of all listed firms.

The third yardstick is whether American firms underperform other multinationals and local firms. In some cases failure is not China-specific. Walmart has had a tough time in China, but has also struggled in Brazil and Britain. Uber sold out to a competitor in China, but has done the same in South-East Asia. American consumer and industrial blue chips are typically of a similar scale in China to their nearest rivals. Thus the sales of Boeing and Airbus, Nike and Adidas, and General Electric and Siemens are all broadly in line with each other. Where America has a comparative advantage—tech—it leads (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google (FANG)). Over half of USA Inc’s sales in China are from tech firms, led by Apple, Intel and Qualcomm. Overall, American firms outperform. For the top 50 that reveal data, sales in China have risen at a compound annual rate of 12% since 2012. That is higher than local firms (9%) and European ones (5%).

The final measure is whether American firms are shut out of some sectors. This is important as China shifts towards services and as the smartphone market, a goldmine, matures. The answer is clearly “yes”. Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix are nowhere, and Wall Street firms are all but excluded from the mainland. Chinese firms, however, can make a similar complaint. The market share of all foreign firms (incuding China’s Baidu, Alibaba,Tencent and Xiaomi popularly called BATX) in Silicon Valley’s software and internet activities, and on Wall Street, is probably below 20%. America’s national-security rules, thickets of regulation, lobbying culture and political climate make it inconceivable that a Chinese firm could play a big role in the internet or in finance there.

Far-sighted bosses know their stance on China must reflect a balanced assessment, not a delusional vision of globalisation in which anything less than a triumph is considered a travesty. But their voices are being drowned out. The shift of the business establishment to hawkishness on China has probably emboldened the White House and also led the Treasury and Department of Commerce to be more combative. Most big firms are blasé about tariffs; they can pass on the cost to clients. Few export lots to China. But soon China will run out of American imports to subject to retaliatory tariffs; in a tit-for-tar war, beating up American firms’ Chinese subsidiaries is a logical next step. USA Inc’s Sino-strop would then end up enabling the opposite of what it wants.

Excerpts from Raging Against Beijing, Economist,  June 30, 2018, at 58

Resuscitating Democracy: the role of Wikileaks

wikileaks ttip

On August 11, 2015 WikiLeaks has launched a campaign to crowd-source a €100,000 reward for Europe’s most wanted secret: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Starting pledges have already been made by a number of high profile activists and luminaries from Europe and the United States….Since it began to face opposition from BRICS countries at the World Trade Organisation, US policy has been to push through a triad of international “trade agreements” outside of the WTO framework, aimed at radically restructuring the economies of negotiating countries, and cutting out the rising economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).

The three treaties, the “Three Big T’s”, aim to create a new international legal regime that will allow transnational corporations to bypass domestic courts, evade environmental protections, police the internet on behalf of the content industry, limit the availability of affordable generic medicines, and drastically curtail each country’s legislative sovereignty.  Two of these super-secret trade deals have already been published in large part by WikiLeaks – the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) – defeating unprecedented efforts by negotiating governments to keep them under wraps.

But for Europeans the most significant of these agreements remains shrouded in almost complete secrecy. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is currently under negotiation between the US and the European Union, remains closely guarded by negotiators and big corporations have been given privileged access. The public cannot read it.

Today WikiLeaks is taking steps to ensure that Europeans can finally read the monster trade deal, which has been dubbed an “economic NATO” by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Using the new WikiLeaks pledge system everyone can help raise the bounty for Europe’s most wanted leak. The system was deployed in June to raise a $100,000 bounty for the TTIP’s sister-treaty for the Pacific Rim, the TPP.

The pledge system has been hailed by the New York Times as “a great disrupter”, which gives “millions of citizens… the ability to debate a major piece of public policy,” and which “may be the best shot we have at transforming the [treaty negotiation] process from a back-room deal to an open debate.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said,

“The secrecy of the TTIP casts a shadow on the future of European democracy. Under this cover, special interests are running wild, much as we saw with the recent financial siege against the people of Greece. The TTIP affects the life of every European and draws Europe into long term conflict with Asia. The time for its secrecy to end is now.”

Excerpts from WikiLeaks goes after hyper-secret Euro-American trade pact

Bilateral Trade Wars: farmers v.carmakers

rice paddies japan. image from wikipedia

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was supposed to be central to plans by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to pep up the economy. Japanese farming is heavily protected and inefficient. Mr Abe promised big changes when it came to “sacred” areas protected by swingeing import tariffs including rice, wheat, beef, dairy and sugar.

The American side knows Japanese farmers need time to adjust. Still, negotiators have recently been underwhelmed by what was on offer—a refusal by the Japanese side to contemplate big cuts in tariffs. Perhaps the Japanese judged that the Americans needed a deal more. If so, they miscalculated. Piqued, the Americans withdrew an offer to cut tariffs on imported car parts. And that was that. One Japanese policymaker describes it as the most acrimonious episode since the bruising bilateral trade wars of the 1980s….The TPP bus is stalled.

Japan, America and the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Stalemate, Economist, Oct. 4, 2014, at 47

Trade Wars: the Partnerships

tpp protest

The American administration is serious about its goal of realising the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this year (2013), a free-trade agreement bringing together a dozen countries, two-fifths of the world economy and one-third of all trade.Since it also involves Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, this is ambitious… But  the secrecy that cloaks the TPP talks, fuel the anxieties of anti-globalisation protesters worldwide. They see a plot to impose American standards and products on an unwitting and unwilling world…

Each of the 12 countries [that participate in the negotiations] wants its own exemptions, known as “carve-outs” in the jargon. Vietnam resists rules that have the effect of forcing textile manufacturers to buy yarn from other TPP members rather than non-members (ie, China). Australia objects to “investor-state dispute-settlement” provisions, which it sees as a threat to the government’s ability to stand up to multinationals. In many countries politicians have expressed concern about new intellectual-property protections. And everywhere, the lack of transparency in the talks feeds conspiracy theories.

Nor is the TPP the only trade game in Asia. Also (and not coincidentally) in Brunei this week there were talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The RCEP groups the ten members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Seen as of lower “quality” than the TPP, the RCEP might for that reason have better prospects. But it is at a very early stage….

With provisions that seem aimed at ensuring China’s exclusion, many still see the TPP as the trade-policy arm of America’s strategic “pivot” to Asia. China has said it is “studying” the TPP. But for now, its involvement in the RCEP makes the two pacts look like rivals. America is trying to design a trade regime which China will eventually have to join—rather than getting to set its own rules as its clout increases. It is an ambition worth a few takeaway dinners; but not one susceptible to a quick fix.

Trade, Partnership and Politics, Economist, Aug. 24, 2013, at 40

Big and Rich: the US-EU Trade

Beef suet raw beef or mutton fat.  It is used to make tallow. Tallow is used to make biodiesel.

The guns of the long transatlantic beef war are silenced. Last year the European Union more than doubled its quota of American beef imports (so long as it is not treated with hormones) and America removed punitive duties on imports of Roquefort cheese. The Americans should soon ease a ban on beef imports imposed in 1997 to prevent the spread of mad cow disease. In November the EU accepted the American practice of decontaminating meat with lactic acid. A final skirmish, over American beef fat, could soon be settled through plans to allow imports of tallow for biodiesel (but not for cosmetics).

After decades of trade rows and lawsuits, the truce is meant to clear the air for an ambitious transatlantic free-trade deal. EU officials speak of creating “something approaching a transatlantic single market in goods”. Even a less grand pact could help to re-energise struggling economies on both sides of the Atlantic. It could also help America and Europe to set international trade rules in the face of a fast-rising China.

Big business wants a deal. Trade unions and greens are no longer so worried about a race to the bottom. The ever-protectionist French and Italians are on board. And yet there is genuine wariness, particularly on the American side. The report of a high-level group that is expected to recommend the start of talks has been delayed. Perhaps, think some, President Barack Obama is trying to squeeze concessions out of the Europeans; or, Europeans worry, he cares more about a transpacific deal?….American officials say they want to ensure that any negotiation is both unusually ambitious and unusually fast. The deal, they say, has to be done “on one tank of gas”, by which they mean in the next two years. Neither side wants a repeat of the moribund Doha round, now in its 12th year.

America and the EU make up the world’s biggest and richest trading partnership, accounting for about half of global GDP and one-third of trade. They are the biggest investors in each others’ economies. But this very closeness makes progress harder. Easy deals have mostly been done; what is left is complicated. Tariffs are low (below 3% on average, though higher on farm products) but non-tariff barriers abound. Many have to do with consumers, public health, the environment or national security. Governments are not usually elected to compromise on such matters.

One European aim is to open up America’s public-procurement market, which is more protected than Europe’s; one reason is that the federal government cannot force states to open tenders to foreign bidders. Another is to dismantle restrictions on services, which represent the lion’s share of output but a relatively small part of exports. European airlines cannot take over American carriers or carry passengers between American cities. Similar restrictions apply to coastal shipping under the 1920 Jones Act. Yet the EU market in services also remains fragmented. A transatlantic deal could spur further integration. Other difficulties include France’s insistence on the “cultural exception” to protect French-language audio-visual products, and the EU’s wish for America to respect hundreds of “geographical indications” on everything from Parmesan cheese to French wines.

For some officials, the biggest prize and the hardest brainteaser will be greater “regulatory convergence”, ie, to get both sides to move towards common rules, or at least regulations that are close enough that each can accept the other’s. There could be big savings if, say, pharmaceutical firms did not have to submit new drugs to two sets of safety tests. The EU has tried to pursue global standards for decades, often acrimoniously, by relying on supranational bodies. Yet across the Atlantic, successive dialogues between regulators have yielded little. The Transatlantic Economic Council was created in 2007 to increase political pressure. Rather than trying to redesign past rules, attention has shifted to new technologies such as electric cars and nanotechnology. Even so, after a year of negotiation on electric cars, one forlorn American official moans that “we have a common standard on the plug.”

Any trade deal will have to be broad to maximise the possible trade-offs. And it will, inevitably, have to address the minor but contentious subject of agriculture. Congressional leaders in America will not support a deal that excludes farming, to which European officials retort that the best way to kill one would be for America to ignore consumers’ fears of “Frankenfoods”, such as hormone-treated beef and genetically modified crops. Part of the answer is to have clear labelling and let consumers choose what they want to buy.

Excerpt from Transatlantic trading, Economist, Feb. 2, 2013, at 44

Scrambling for Raw Materials, the United States v. China Trade Dispute, WTO

This dispute between China and the United States concerns four types of export restraint that China imposes on the export of a number of raw materials. The raw materials subject to the export restraints are various forms of bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon carbide, silicon metal, yellow phosphorus and zinc. China is a leading producer of each of the raw materials which are used to produce everyday items as well as technology products.

The complainants [United States and other countries]-