Tag Archives: WTO

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

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Latin America Trade: Pacific Alliance v. Mercosur

Brazil-Uruguay frontiers

On May 23rd, 2013 in the Colombian city of Cali the presidents of four Latin American countries—Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru—signed  an agreement removing tariffs on 90% of their merchandise trade. They will also agree on a timetable of no more than seven years for eliminating tariffs on the remaining 10%. They have already removed visa requirements for each other’s citizens and will proclaim their aspiration to move swiftly towards setting up a common market.  The Pacific Alliance, as the group calls itself, is “the most exciting thing going on in Latin America today”, according to Felipe Larraín, Chile’s finance minister. Some outsiders think so, too. Costa Rica and Panama want to join; Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, and his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, have said they will attend the Cali meeting as observers.

Behind the excitement is the sense that the Pacific Alliance is a hard-nosed business deal, rather than the usual gassy rhetoric of Latin American summitry. Under the leftist governments that rule in much of South America, there has been plenty of talk of regional integration, but precious little practice of it. Intra-regional trade makes up just 27% of total trade in South and Central America, compared with 63% in the European Union and 52% in Asia….

The four founding members are free-market and mainly fast-growing economies which have embraced globalisation, with a web of regional trade-agreements and expanding commercial ties to Asia. Their combined GDP is around $2 trillion—35% of the Latin American total and not much less than that of Brazil, the region’s gian.

The private sectors in the member countries have played a big role in setting the Alliance’s priorities. The stock exchanges of Chile, Colombia and Peru have created a single regional bourse. Negotiators are working to smooth border procedures and standardise rules, such as on labelling. They are making progress in talks to harmonise the rules of origin—how much local content goods must have to be tariff-free—in their existing trade agreements with each other. “They are trying to resolve the problem of the spaghetti bowl of regional trade-agreements,” says Antoni Estevadeordal of the Inter-American Development Bank. This “exercise in regulatory convergence” could be a model for other parts of the world, he adds.

The Pacific Alliance marks a return to the principles of “open regionalism”—the idea, prevalent in Latin America in the 1990s, that opening up to world trade would be more advantageous if combined with creating a deeper regional market, to reap economies of scale. This idea lay behind the founding in 1991 of Mercosur, a group originally comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.  But the left-wing governments in charge of those countries for much of the past decade have turned Mercosur into a different kind of enterprise. “Today it is almost wholly a political front” with “protectionist internal tendencies which frequently collide with Mercosur’s original principles,” according to Luiz Felipe Lampreia, a former foreign minister of Brazil.  This was underlined last year when the other members suspended Paraguay (because of the impeachment of its left-wing president) and admitted Venezuela, then governed by Hugo Chávez. Under Brazil’s aegis, much of Chávez’s anti-American ALBA block is being absorbed by Mercosur. On May 9th Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff welcomed Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s chosen successor who was narrowly elected as president last month, and affirmed their “strategic partnership”. Brazil is also seeking closer ties with Cuba, which this month offered to send 6,000 doctors to the country.  Brazil’s two main regional partners, Argentina and Venezuela, have slow-growing, state-controlled economies, and their policies flirt with autarchy. That makes them captive markets for Brazilian construction companies and exporters of otherwise uncompetitive capital goods. Brazil had a trade surplus of $4 billion with Venezuela last year.

In the wider world, Mercosur has signed regional trade agreements only with Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Argentina has stalled a proposed trade deal with the European Union, on which talks began in 1999. Brazil’s bet has been on the Doha round of world trade talks. It was cheered when Roberto Azevêdo, a Brazilian diplomat, was chosen this month to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But many trade specialists consider the Doha round all but dead and the WTO increasingly irrelevant….

In its short life, the Pacific Alliance has proved to be a brilliant piece of diplomatic marketing. Now it has to add substance

Latin American geoeconomics: A continental divide, Economist, May 18, 2013, at 38

See also ALBA

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

WTO and the Level Playing Field, European Union and Russia

Europe’s trade chief threatened to take Russia to the World Trade Organization over a string of restrictive practices saying Moscow needed to play by the rules now it was a member of the global body.  Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht singled out Russia’s ban on European live animal imports, plans to levy fees on imported vehicles, two anti-dumping cases and another trade defense case launched by Moscow against Europe in recent months.  In the same week that the European Commission opened an investigation into Russia’s Gazprom and China’s solar panel exports, De Gucht said the measures sent “the wrong signal”, Reuters reports.

“Membership of the WTO means a country is subject to the dispute settlement mechanism of that organization,” he told an EU-Russia seminar in Helsinki. “Russia should understand that Europe takes that mechanism very seriously and that we will not hesitate to enforce our rights where they are violated,” he added.

Russia joined the WTO last month after an 18-year wait. President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the country would use its membership to try to develop freer trade across the world, but he’ll also be hoping it will further boost the energy-driven $1.9 trillion economy.  De Gucht said Russia was violating WTO rules by keeping its markets closed to competitors.  “What these and other measures … have in common is that they affect products where significant market opening is due to take place under Russia’s WTO commitments,” De Gucht said.  “This is the wrong signal to send at a time when liberalization is supposed to be moving forward.”

Russia and the EU are deeply intertwined, with Europe relying heavily on Russian energy exports and Russians hungry for EU products and access to its 500 million consumers.  But the two sides argue over issues ranging from energy supplies, trade and market access to human rights. While relations are at times frosty, both refer to each other as “strategic partners” and meet for twice-yearly summits.  Negotiations between Russia and the EU towards closer economic and political ties have also stalled, and Brussels is concerned by Putin’s plan to develop a “Eurasian union” of ex-Soviet states, including Kazakhstan and Belarus.

EU warns Russia to play by WTO rules or face action, Reuters, Sept. 7, 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree giving the government the right to protect its natural gas-export monopoly, OAO Gazprom (GAZP), from an anti-trust inquiry by the European Union.  Putin’s measure bans strategic companies from disclosing information, disposing of assets or amending contracts without government approval in case claims are made by foreign states or entities, the president’s office said in an e-mailed statement from Moscow today. The Russian leader on Sept. 9 warned the EU, which relies on Russia for a quarter of its gas needs, that there would be “losses on both sides” if the issue isn’t resolved. He accused the 27-nation bloc of trying to shift responsibility for subsidizing former communist EU members onto Russia by forcing Gazprom to cut prices for customers in eastern and central Europe.

Excerpt, By Henry Meyer, Putin Moves to Protect Gazprom From EU Pricing Dispute, Bloomberg, Sept. 11, 2012

World Trade Organization and Regional Deals: the FTAs and TPP

[W]ith the stalling of the Doha round of multilateral trade talks, regional free-trade agreements (FTAs) in Asia have become one of many arenas of strategic competition between America and China.  [So how likely is it that Japan, China and South  Korea will get together to establish a free trade area as they announced on May 13th, 2012?]

There are a couple of shrug-worthy elements to the proposed free-trade area. The first is that it will be terribly hard to bring to fruition. In all three countries, important lobbies will resist the opening to free competition: Japanese farmers, Chinese state-owned enterprises, South Korean exporters hoping to steal a march over Japan through a bilateral free-trade agreement with China. Secondly, any agreement is likely to be a “shallow” one—allowing plenty of exemptions. South Korea has signed “deep” agreements with the European Union and America, though they have been fiercely controversial. But China’s trade agreements, such as that with the Association of South-East Asian Nations, ASEAN, tend to be sneered at by American and European trade negotiators as feeble substitutes for the real thing—FTA-lite. Meanwhile, domestic political pressures suggest that Japan’s government is hardly in a position to negotiate a full-strength one.

It would be wrong to dismiss the effort as pure symbolism, however. China is the biggest trading partner for both Japan and South Korea. All three countries recognise that their futures are intertwined and are sincere in wanting both to ease the suspicion left by historic animosities and to remove barriers—at least to their own exports. At the summit meeting in Beijing where the planned talks were announced, they also agreed on an investment-protection agreement, their first trilateral treaty. And their three-way FTA is seen as a stepping stone to an even bigger free-trade area, including the ten-member ASEAN.

In the dreamland in which some trade negotiators live, this would then merge with another, parallel project, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is being pushed by America, to form a grand Asia-Pacific free-trade area. The failure of global trade negotiations would be mitigated by an encompassing regional achievement. In the real world, however, the TPP is not complementary to the China-promoted trilateral initiative. It is in competition with it. Besides America, the TPP brings in eight other countries (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) which met this week in Dallas for their 12th round of talks. America insists it would welcome talks on Chinese membership. But some of the provisions it has introduced to the TPP—such as those directed at the activities of state-owned enterprises—seem designed to hinder Chinese entry.

The Chinese government professes an “open” attitude to the TPP. But the official press has aired reasonable suspicions that the TPP is part of the broader rebalancing of American global strategy towards Asia and the Pacific, which China sees as part of a plan to contain its rise. The involvement of Vietnam, for example, lends weight to this interpretation. At odds with China over territorial disputes, it has strengthened ties with America. But in its economy, too, state-owned enterprises play a big role. It is not an obvious candidate for membership in a “21st-century” trade pact, as the TPP is advertised. Unlike the trilateral FTA, the TPP is to cover, for example, intellectual property and environmental and labour standards, as well as tariffs. These American concerns may be hard to impose on the other TPP countries.  The biggest problem facing the TPP, however, is the failure so far of Japan to join the process.

Excerpt, Trading strategies: China and America compete to lead regional free-trade arrangements, Economist, May 19, 2012, at 50

Regulating Greenhouse Gases; European Schemes, China, WTO and the ICAO

Could a fresh row over airline emissions lead to a global trade war? That is the scariest prospect raised by China’s objections this week to the European Union’s new plan for controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from aeroplanes. The scheme, which came into effect on January 1st, forces airlines flying into the EU to buy tradable carbon credits as part of its broader emissions-trading system.

Many countries are unhappy with the policy, but China’s proclamations this week—official news agencies report that China has “banned” its airlines from participation without specific government approval—appear to be an escalation. Not least because Chinese and European officials are expected to meet for high-level talks in Beijing next week. It also raises the temperature of the row in advance of a meeting of 26 dissenting countries, including India, China, Russia and America, in Moscow on February 21st.

As an effort to make airlines pay for their pollution, the EU’s action is overdue. In global terms, their emissions are modest, about 3% of the total. Yet they are rising fast: between 2005 and 2010 they grew by 11.2%. Meanwhile the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which was charged with taking steps to mitigate them, has done nothing of the sort…The EU decided to push ahead with its plan to make all flights into the EU subject to the emissions-trading scheme (ETS). This is now enshrined in European law. The only ways foreign governments could extricate their airlines from it would be to stop them flying into the EU, or make them subject to an equivalent mitigation regime of their own.

The main objection to the EU’s policy is that it applies to air-miles clocked up outside European airspace. The EU argues that its approach is consistent with ICAO’s own guidelines and that it would be impossible to regulate otherwise. But the dissenters claim this infringes their sovereignty and breaks the terms of the Chicago Convention, which has regulated aviation since 1944. A group of American airlines therefore launched a legal challenge to the policy; but it was dismissed by the European Court of Justice in December. There was a precedent supporting the Europeans: American green laws insist that ships docking locally be double hulled, even though that forces ship owners to pay for unwanted double hulls on international waters en route to American ports.

China also claims that the EU’s policy transgresses UN climate-change agreements which ordain that mitigation costs should be lower for developing countries than rich ones. Yet, even setting aside the difficult issue of how much of a free ride China can expect, the EU’s policy applies to individual companies, not countries, for which there is no such dispensation.

It is a troubling spat. But there is at least time to negotiate a way out. The airlines are not due to be billed for their emissions until April 2013. Even then, they will have to pay for only 15% of them. Under the ETS, they are required to buy tradable permits for a gradually rising portion of their emissions: this year the EU will give the airlines permits to cover 85% of them.  The airlines, naturally, say the cost will be onerous nonetheless. The China Air Transport Association, which represents China’s airlines, estimated the scheme would cost them 800m yuan ($127m) this year, and more than three times as much by 2020. It may well be less. EU officials say the costs of the scheme, if passed on to passengers, would add no more than around €2.50 ($3.30) to the price of a one-way ticket between Europe and China. By slapping ETS surcharges on tickets, as some non-Chinese airlines have done, they may even profit from the scheme.

The best solution would be through the ICAO. In November it resolved to accelerate steps to introduce its own mitigation efforts. It has drawn up a shortlist of options, including a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme that would apply to all airlines.

Excerpts, Planes and pollution:Trouble in the air, double on the ground, Economist, Feb. 11, 2012, at 66

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]-