Tag: Doha round

Getting Serious about Antidumping Reform in 2011

The U.S. antidumping law still enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress and within pockets of the executive branch. Although some of that support can be chalked up to politicians representing the narrow interests of influential constituencies that have mastered the use of antidumping as a bludgeon to cripple the competition, much more support stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose, history, mechanics, and consequences of the law.

Too many policymakers passively accept the anachronistic rationalizations proffered by the steel industry, labor unions, other big antidumping users, and their hired guns in Washington. Too many buy into the idealized imagery of a patriotic, upstanding American producer working tirelessly to ensure the preservation of well-paying jobs for hard-working Americans, but is suffering the ravages of unscrupulous, predatory foreign traders intent on destroying U.S. firms and monopolizing the U.S. market. What politician could oppose a law presumed to protect that kind of a company against that kind of a scourge?

But when the curtain is peeled back, exposing the reality of the operation of the U.S. antidumping law, one discerns a very different reality.  Antidumping measures always raise the costs of firms in downstream industries that rely on the affected imports.  The law routinely claims domestic firms as victims.  The law is often used as a tool by domestic firms waging battle for supremacy over other domestic firms.  Sometimes foreign-owned firms are the petitioners and U.S-owned firms are the respondents.  Rarely does the law lead to job creation or job restoration in the domestic industry.  And never is the allegation of “unfair trade” substantiated, or even investigated.  Myth and misinformation explains the persistence of the U.S. antidumping regime.

Over the next few months, the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies will shine the spotlight on  U.S. antidumping policy and update its large body of research on the subject by publishing some new papers and hosting discussions about the prospects for meaningful antidumping reform. The new Congress should pay attention.  After all, if renewed talk about completing the Doha Round in 2011 is to become action, so must antidumping reform.

The first of those studies is now available on the Cato home page. That paper describes the evolution of U.S. antidumping policy from an obscure offshoot of competition law into the predominant instrument of contingent protection that it is today and provides an account of some of the crucial statutory and administrative changes that have occurred over the decades. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the increase in antidumping activity reflects several developments that have nothing to do with foreign behavior whatsoever, including a progressive expansion of the definition of dumping, relaxation of evidentiary standards, and a pro-domestic-industry bias in the law’s administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. The arcane mix of statutory rules and discretionary whims that emerged as contemporary antidumping policy is a far cry from the first antidumping law—in practice and intent. Today, antidumping is little more than an elaborate excuse for run-of-the-mill protectionism. And overwhelmingly, U.S. businesses and consumers are its victims.

The Odd Couple

Well, here’s an interesting pair. Today’s Washington Post contains an op-ed on climate change and trade, written jointly by Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, and Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen. 

The authors readily admit, quite early in the piece, that they are usually on opposing sides of the trade debate.  The Peterson Institute scholars are well-known and well-respected advocates of freer international trade. Global Trade Watch, and Wallach in particular? Not so much. She has called NAFTA a “disastrous experiment” and has a special section on her website calling on people to Take Action! on trade (example: by hosting a house party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of ” the historic 1999 Seattle protest victory of people power over corporate rule.”)

Yet here they are, claiming to agree on “a suprising number of aspects of the climate change debate and on the related need to overhaul global trade negotiations.” I am still trying to make sense of the op-ed, because it lurches around a bit, and to work out exactly how deep the agreement of these strange bedfellows really is. But for now, let me comment briefly on what I think is the main thrust of their op-ed: a proposal for launching a new round of trade talks.

The authors point out that a new treaty on global warming would “require new trade rules in intellectual property, services, government procurement and product standards.” So, hey, why not combine that into trade talks?The Obama Round (as if Obama-worship has not gone far enough) “would include, as a centerpiece, addressing these potential commercial and climate trade-offs and updating the negotiating agenda.”

That, quite frankly, would be fatal for the World Trade Organization. Developing countries, now in the majority in the WTO, are in general very resistant to the idea of bringing extraneous issues into its agenda (witness constant struggles over linking trade to labor and environment issues, to name just two). More to the point, we already have a round in progress. The Doha round has been struggling over old-fashioned trade concerns like tariffs and subsidies (remember them?)  since launching in 2001. The risks of overburdening the WTO agenda are, in my opinion, far greater than the possible benefits. It’s fairly clear to me why Wallach would advocate a new round full of poison pills, but not so clear why Bergsten would put his name to such a suggestion.

It’s not even clear to me that such an approach would “help the environment.” Why the optimism about the possibility of agreement under the auspices of the WTO when negotiations in forums designed explicitly and solely for the purpose of halting climate change have been unsuccessful?

( Speaking of which, expectations for a breakthrough at the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change are being rapidly scaled back, with talk of an “interim” agreement — likely some anodyne political statement — rather than the final deal that environmental groups had hoped for. The international diplomacy circus rolls on, though: conferences are planned for Mexico and South Africa — talk about a carbon footprint! — next year.)

For my take on the climate change and trade debate, the solution to which does not involve launching an Obama Round, see here.