Tag: China

With Friends Like Sen. Sessions, Free Trade Is in Trouble

According to a story in Politico today, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been whipping his Republican colleagues to vote in favor of the China currency legislation that appears to be headed for passage in the Senate. (My Cato colleague Dan Ikenson has explained  why raising tariffs on imports from China would be a mistake.)

The Politico story says that Sessions is “traditionally a proponent of free trade,” but his actual voting record indicates otherwise. According to the trade vote data base we maintain on the home page of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at Cato, Sen. Sessions has voted in favor of lower trade barriers on a bare majority (26 out of 49) of the significant trade votes we’ve recorded.

Since 1997, Sen. Sessions has voted in favor of protectionist farm bills (2002, 2007, 2008), banning safety-certified Mexican trucks from U.S. roads (2007), country-of-origin labeling (2003), the WTO-illegal Byrd amendment (2003, 2005), the original Schumer-Graham bill to impose a 27.5 percent tariff against imports from China (2005), sugar import quotas (1999, 2000, 2001), and steel import quotas (1999)

Meanwhile, he’s voted against the Morocco free-trade agreement (2004), trade promotion authority (1998, 2002), and normal trade relations with Vietnam (2001) and China (1997, 1999).

And to top it all off, it was Sen. Sessions who single-handedly scuttled renewal last year of the Generalized System of Preferences, the long-standing program that had allowed certain imports from poor countries to enter the United States duty free. As my Cato colleague Sallie James has chronicled (here and here), the good senator refused to allow the program to be renewed because of a dispute affecting a small number of his constituents who are employed making sleeping bags.

Like too many of his fellow senators, Sen. Sessions supports our freedom to trade only as long as it does not affect any noisy special interests in his own state.

Explaining Aircraft Carriers

Yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made the following comment regarding China’s maiden voyage in the old Varyag carcass it has been tinkering with for over a decade:

We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment.

This echoes Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks at the 2005 Shangri-La Dialogue in which he puzzled in quintessentially Rumsfeldian fashion:

Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder:

* Why this growing investment?

* Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?

* Why these continuing robust deployments?

Maybe, like me, the Chinese are reading Aaron Friedberg’s new book on U.S.-China security competition (Friedberg worked on Asia for Vice President Cheney). Perhaps high-ranking military officials there shudder a bit when they read, on page 184, that someone very close to the levers of power in Washington admits mildly that

Stripped of diplomatic niceties, the ultimate aim of the American strategy is to hasten a revolution, albeit a peaceful one, that will sweep away China’s one-party authoritarian state and leave a liberal democracy in its place.

Given this, as Friedberg sensibly notes later (p. 231),

It is difficult to believe that the present Beijing regime will accept indefinitely a situation in which its fate could depend on American forbearance, and hard to see how it can escape that condition without building a much bigger and more capable navy.

I actually agree with David Axe’s characterization of the Shi Lang as “a piece of junk,” and given the geography of the region, I wouldn’t—as the Chinese aren’t—pour many resources into aircraft carriers to remedy this predicament. But if the roles were reversed, and China spent four times as much as we did on our military—and if China had naval bases ringing my coastline and fancied itself the “hub” of a “hub-and-spokes” set of alliances between itself and a variety of Latin American countries and Canada—I’d probably think that these facts, when assembled, constituted a pretty strong argument for spending more money on anything I could use to defend myself. Especially if China had recently gone on an ideological rampage trying to “hasten revolutions” and leaving smoldering wreckages in its wake.

At any rate, what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander, so I anxiously await the Pentagon’s detailed explanation for why we need each of our 11 aircraft carriers, every one of which is enormously more powerful than the PRC’s puny flattop.

Cross-posted from the National Interest.

Does Asia Need a Larger U.S. Handout?

Yesterday, AEI scholars Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza authored an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with a perplexing title: “Asia Needs a Larger U.S. Defense Budget.” There are a couple of more sensible arguments you could make: For instance, that Asian countries need larger defense budgets, or that U.S. interests in Asia require larger military expenditures that Asian countries can’t or won’t make themselves . Blumenthal and Mazza gesture at both of those arguments but don’t really make either one. As such, the piece is an emblem of what’s wrong with the Asia policy discussion–to the extent it exists–in Washington today.

In the opening paragraph, the authors state that “it is…difficult to assess how much cuts [to military spending] will cost tomorrow,” but in the next sentence defy that claim by promising that “in Asia, the price will be unacceptably high.” Either it is difficult to assess how much cuts will cost tomorrow, or we know that the price of cuts in Asia will be unacceptably high, but not both. The authors also are apparently unaware of the facts when they argue that U.S. military spending has been “slashed.”  It hasn’t even been cut. (For its part, the Asia studies department at AEI was last seen disseminating wildly inflated estimates  of Chinese military spending and then refusing to answer queries about how they came up with the figures.)

Blumenthal and Mazza then swerve widely to avoid explaining China’s military buildup, writing that

The international trade that has fueled the region’s economic boom is dependent upon the immeasurable strategic tasks undertaken by the U.S. military–from keeping safe maritime shipping to reassuring friends and allies while deterring China and North Korea.

The reason that China is building up its military forces and narrowly targeting them at securing their sea lines of communication (and perhaps a bit further out) is that they quite rationally do not want to rely on the eternal beneficence of the United States to do it for them, particularly when prominent Asia scholars mention in the same breath deterring and containing China as a primary goal of the U.S. in Asia.

There are other contradictions. For instance, Blumenthal and Mazza assert flatly that

If America skimps on its military, China will become the regional hegemon.

That’s one possibility, but aren’t there others? One paragraph later, the authors allow that sure there are: the alternative is that

Asian countries might find ways to resist Chinese pressure themselves.

So then maybe it’s not foreordained that China will run amok in East Asia absent Washington as its balancer-of-first-resort. But that brings us back around to the weirdness of the title of the piece: saying that Asia needs a larger U.S. defense budget is like saying that Greece needs more German stabilization money. (While we’re here, AEI calling for more military spending is like rock legend Bruce Dickinson calling for more cowbell.)

These kinds of arguments ought to at least try to show why the best way to achieve German (or American) interests is to dole out more largesse to third parties. That may or may not be true, but it would be good to at least see an argument to that effect, rather than all the hand waving and then backing down from the strongest claims in the article.

Zero Cheers for the Chinese Communist Party

The Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 90th birthday today. Pardon me if I do not attend the party.

It is undeniably true, as the authorities in Beijing are trumpeting, that the Chinese Mainland under one-party communist rule has enjoyed spectacular economic success during the past 30 years. China’s rapid growth was unleashed by the reforms of the late communist leader Deng Xiaoping that began in the late 1970s, but those reforms—private ownership of business, farms and housing, market pricing, foreign investment, and trade liberalization, among others—were hardly an extension of the Communist Party’s agenda. In fact, those reforms were a direct repudiation of everything the Chinese Communist Party and its co-founder Mao Tse-tung believed and practiced before and after the communist takeover of 1949.

Under Mao, tens of millions of Chinese starved in the Great Leap Forward of 1958-60. Millions suffered cruelly at the hands of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. During the first 30 years of communist rule, the Chinese people enjoyed neither economic nor political and civil freedom. Even amid rising economic prosperity today, China’s one-party state continues to imprison, torture, and kill people who practice their faith or question the party. That is not much of a record to celebrate.

The Chinese people do not need communist rule to prosper. We can see that plainly enough 112 miles across the Taiwan Strait. Under the rule of the Nationalist Party, the 23 million people of Taiwan made the transition from military rule to a lively, multiparty democracy with freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Behind liberal economic reforms dating back to the 1960s, the Taiwanese people have achieved a per capita gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) that is four and a half times greater than on the mainland—$35,700 vs. $7,600.

It does not take much imagination to envision what Mainland China would be like today if it had followed the path of Taiwan rather than that of the 90-year-old Chinese Communist Party.

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Antidumping Reform Crucial to U.S. Competitiveness

The Cato Institute today published its 13th policy paper on the topic of antidumping. “Economic Self-Flagellation: How U.S. Antidumping Policy Subverts the National Export Initiative” describes with compelling anecdotes and data how the outdated assumptions of a 90-year-old law—one purported to “level the playing field” and protect U.S. companies from “unfair” foreign competition—conspire with its overzealous application to erode the competitiveness of U.S. firms.

During the decade from January 2000 through December 2009, the U.S. government imposed 164 antidumping measures on a variety of products from dozens of countries. A total of 130 of those 164 measures restricted (and in most cases, still restrict) imports of intermediate goods and raw materials used by downstream U.S. producers in the production of their final products. Those restrictions raise the costs of production for the downstream firms, weakening their capacity to compete with foreign producers in the United States and abroad.

In all of those cases, trade-restricting antidumping measures were imposed without any of the downstream companies first having been afforded opportunities to demonstrate the likely adverse impact on their own business operations. This is by design. The antidumping statute forbids the administering authorities from considering the impact of prospective duties on consuming industries—or on the economy more broadly—when weighing whether or not to impose duties.

That asymmetry has always been insane, but given the emergence and proliferation of transnational production and supply chains and cross-border investment (i.e., globalization)—evidenced by the fact that 55% of all U.S. import value consists of raw materials, intermediate goods, and capital equipment (the purchases of U.S. producers)—it is now nothing short of self-flagellation.

Most of those import-consuming, downstream producers—those domestic victims of the U.S. antidumping law—are also struggling U.S. exporters. In fact those downstream companies are much more likely to export and create new jobs than are the firms that turn to the antidumping law to restrict trade. Antidumping duties on magnesium, polyvinyl chloride, and hot-rolled steel, for example, may please upstream, petitioning domestic producers, who can subsequently raise their prices and reap greater profits. But those same “protective” duties are extremely costly to U.S. producers of auto parts, paint, and appliances, who require those inputs for their own manufacturing processes.

President Obama acknowledges as much. On August 11, 2010, at a White House signing ceremony, the president offered the following rationale for a bill that he was about to sign into law:

The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 will create jobs, help American companies compete, and strengthen manufacturing as a key driver of our economic recovery. And here’s how it works. To make their products, manufacturers—some of whom are represented here today—often have to import certain materials from other countries and pay tariffs on those materials. This legislation will reduce or eliminate some of those tariffs, which will significantly lower costs for American companies across the manufacturing landscape—from cars to chemicals; medical devices to sporting goods. And that will boost output, support good jobs here at home, and lower prices for American consumers.

Higher input prices stemming from antidumping measures are only the first assault on these downstream firms. The next wave usually takes the form of stiffer competition from firms in countries where there are no antidumping duties on the critical input. As a result, the foreign competition often operates at a cost advantage in the United States and in other markets that enables it to sell profitably at lower prices than U.S. firms can charge.

Accordingly, the profits of downstream firms are squeezed by both higher costs, due to import restrictions, and lower revenues, due to lost sales. As a consequence, countless U.S. producers in downstream industries—including firms that were once thriving in the United States and foreign markets—have suffered severe losses, contraction, and bankruptcy.

Again, the administration is well aware of this connection. Indeed, the U.S. Trade Representative launched a formal complaint against China in the WTO for that country’s restrictions on exports of certain crucial raw materials, providing the following rationale:

China maintains a number of measures that restrain exports of raw material inputs for which it is the top, or near top, world producer. These measures skew the playing field against the United States and other countries by creating substantial competitive benefits for downstream Chinese producers that use the inputs in the production and export of numerous processed steel, aluminum and chemical products and a wide range of further processed products.

Moreover, the USTR demonstrates an appreciation for the fact that restrictions on upstream products generate downstream costs that compound at successive stages in the production supply chain:

These raw material inputs are used to make many processed products in a number of primary manufacturing industries, including steel, aluminum and various chemical industries. These products, in turn become essential components in even more numerous downstream products.

If you need more evidence that the antidumping status quo is weighted heavily against import-consuming U.S. industries, consider this gem: three of the nine mineral raw materials that are the subject of the U.S. case against China in the WTO (magnesium, silicon metal, and coke) are simultaneously subject to U.S antidumping restrictions. That’s right! With our own import restrictions firmly in place, the United States is suing China to remove its export restrictions on the same products. That sounds like an excellent use of resources.

As a final indignity, many U.S. exporters suffer the wrath of foreign antidumping restrictions and other forms of protectionism that are often the result of persistent U.S. opposition to antidumping reform, as well as outright retribution for specific U.S. antidumping actions. Among recent victims are U.S. exporters to China of automobiles, fiber optic cable, chicken, grain, and paper. In countless ways, the antidumping status quo subverts U.S. competitiveness and is an albatross around the neck of the U.S. economy.

To bestow real and enduring benefits upon the U.S. economy, the antidumping law should be reformed to—at a minimum—give legal standing to manufacturers and workers in consuming industries; require the administering authorities to conduct an analysis of the economic impact of prospective antidumping duties and to deny imposition if the costs exceed a certain threshold; and require that any antidumping duties imposed not be excessive.

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