Tag: national export initiative

The Ravages of Antidumping (in a 3.5 Minute Video)

Earlier this year, the Cato Institute published a study of mine titled “Economic Self-Flagellation: How U.S. Antidumping Policy Subverts the National Export Initiative.” The thrust of the paper is that most U.S. antidumping measures restrict and tax the importation of crucial raw materials and intermediate goods used by U.S. producers to make their own final goods. Accordingly, these antidumping measures—imposed for the benefit of one or two or a few firms in less competitive upstream industries—raise the costs of production for downstream U.S. producers and undermine their ability to compete at home and abroad.

The paper contains many statistics and details, and makes a very practical case for antidumping reform. But if you want just the highlights and would prefer to absorb them through a more passive medium, my Cato colleagues Caleb Brown and Austin Bragg have produced an excellent, 3-and-a-half-minute video, which gets straight to the point:

On the other hand, if you can’t get enough original research on U.S. antidumping policy, please visit our growing online library of antidumping resources (most, but not all, of the content there pertains to antidumping policy).

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U.S. Antidumping Policy Subverts the National Export Initiative” describes with compelling anecdotes and data how the outdated assumptions of a 90-year-old law—one purported to “level the playing field” and protect U.S. companies from “unfair” foreign competition—conspire with its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.

Mexican Retaliation for U.S. Truck Ban is Proper

The Mexican government announced yesterday that it will expand the list of U.S. products subject to punitive import duties in retaliation for a brazen, 15-year-long refusal of the United States to honor its NAFTA commitment to allow Mexican long-haul trucks to compete in the U.S. market.  Given continued U.S. intransigence on the issue, Mexico’s decision is understandable, if not laudable.

The dispute is not very complicated.  Under the terms of the deal, Mexican trucks were to have been able to compete in U.S. border states by 1995, and throughout the United States by 2000.  But President Clinton, at the behest of the Teamsters union, suspended implementation of the trucking provision on the grounds that Mexican trucks weren’t safe enough for U.S. highways.

By 1998, the Mexicans had had enough, and brought a formal complaint under the NAFTA dispute settlement system, and in 2001, prevailed with a unanimous panel decision that found the United States in violation of the agreement, and ruled that Mexican trucks meeting U.S. safety standards had to be given access to the U.S. market.

In response to the NAFTA decision, Congress stipulated 22 safety requirements that Mexican trucks had to satisfy in order to gain access to the U.S. market.  But before the U.S. Department of Transportation could grant any permits to Mexican truckers, in 2002, environmental and labor groups filed a lawsuit to block implementation on the grounds that the regulations violated U.S. environmental law.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down the truck ban, and soon after a government pilot program was developed to allow a limited number of Mexican trucks to serve the U.S. market.  But funding for the pilot program was cut off by a Teamsters-friendly Congress in 2008, which effectively put the U.S. market off limits to Mexican trucks once again—and the United States squarely in violation of its NAFTA obligations, again.

In August 2009, after it became apparent that the administration and Congress preferred the economic cost of the trucking ban to the political cost of crossing the Teamsters, the Mexican government tried to change the equation by imposing $2.4 billion in retaliatory duties on about 90 U.S. products.  A Mexican trucking association also filed a $6-billion lawsuit against the U.S. government.

But with no discernible progress toward resolution over the past year, the Mexican government announced yesterday that it will expand the list of U.S. products subject to punitive, retaliatory duties in an effort to convince Congress and the administration to finally live up to America’s word.

The Mexican government is right to retaliate—and to expand the list of products subject to punitive duties.  Of course, retaliation hurts innocents, like U.S. businesses and workers, and Mexican businesses and consumers, who have nothing to do with the central dispute.  And it increases the amount of red tape and the role of governments in international trade.  But retaliation—when authorized by agreement and properly targeted—can also be an effective tool in promoting trade liberalization, reducing red tape, and diminishing the impositions of government.

It is by changing the political calculus that retaliation can be effective.  Thus far, U.S. politicians have found the economic costs of the Mexican trucking ban and the retaliation to be tolerable (for themselves)—at least relative to the expected political costs from doing the right thing by ending the ban.  By expanding the list to include other products, like oranges, the Mexicans hope to impress upon other U.S. interests, like the citrus industry in a very important swing state, that they have dogs in this fight as well.

Between the rising costs on the economic side of the equation and the diminishing political benefits on the other, support among politicians for the truck ban should dissipate.

The Obama administration’s failure to connect the dots is surprising.  Its fealty to the Teamsters directly undermines the lofty goals of its National Export Initiative—which seeks to double U.S. exports in five years.  On trade policy, the administration appears yet to fully grasp that the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the ankle bone, etc.  When you restrict imports (in the immediate case, imports of Mexican trucking services), you restrict exports.

The rising economic and political costs of the truck ban suggest that something’s going to have to give soon.  By amplifying the stakes, the Mexicans are right to hasten that day.

The Half-a-Loaf National Export Initiative

In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama announced a goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years.  The “National Export Initiative” has since become the centerpiece of his administration’s trade policy, complete with its own Executive Order, organizational structure, and dedicated website.

Although I would be happy to see exports double in five years, I am skeptical of efforts to enshrine that goal as a national imperative.  I worry that Five Year Plans and the setting of export targets puts the United States on the slippery slope to industrial policy, which is being touted nowadays with growing vim and vigor by columnists, politicians and other analysts who wish the United States were more like China.

But the economic straight jacket of industrial policy is not an imminent outcome of the NEI.  And some of the reforms under consideration are sensible.  For example, efforts to clarify, simplify, and streamline U.S. export control procedures are likely to reduce regulatory obstacles and spur meaningful export growth without imposing new burdens or diverting resources from elsewhere in the economy.  Likewise, the administration’s discovery of the virtues of passing the long-pending bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama could lead to the reduction or elimination of artificial barriers to U.S. exports in a variety of economic sectors.

But while we might rejoice in export-led economic growth, the National Export Initiative suffers from myopia, as it institutionalizes public misperceptions about how trade bestows its benefits on consumers and businesses.  Just take a look at the program’s eight focus priorities:

(a) Exports by Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Members of the Export Promotion Cabinet shall develop programs, in consultation with the TPCC, designed to enhance export assistance to SMEs, including programs that improve information and other technical assistance to first-time exporters and assist current exporters in identifying new export opportunities in international markets.
(b) Federal Export Assistance. Members of the Export Promotion Cabinet, in consultation with the TPCC, shall promote Federal resources currently available to assist exports by U.S. companies.
(c) Trade Missions. The Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the TPCC and, to the extent possible, with State and local government officials and the private sector, shall ensure that U.S. Government-led trade missions effectively promote exports by U.S. companies.
(d) Commercial Advocacy. Members of the Export Promotion Cabinet, in consultation with other departments and agencies and in coordination with the Advocacy Center at the Department of Commerce, shall take steps to ensure that the Federal Government’s commercial advocacy effectively promotes exports by U.S. companies.
(e) Increasing Export Credit. The President of the Export-Import Bank, in consultation with other members of the Export Promotion Cabinet, shall take steps to increase the availability of credit to SMEs.
(f) Macroeconomic Rebalancing. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with other members of the Export Promotion Cabinet, shall promote balanced and strong growth in the global economy through the G20 Financial Ministers’ process or other appropriate mechanisms.
(g) Reducing Barriers to Trade. The United States Trade Representative, in consultation with other members of the Export Promotion Cabinet, shall take steps to improve market access overseas for our manufacturers, farmers, and service providers by actively opening new markets, reducing significant trade barriers, and robustly enforcing our trade agreements.
(h) Export Promotion of Services. Members of the Export Promotion Cabinet shall develop a framework for promoting services trade, including the necessary policy and export promotion tools.

Beside the amorphous, bureaucratese task descriptions — and the fact that several of the eight priorities seem to be redundant (really, what are the substantive differences between priorities (b), (c), (d), and (h)?) — the NEI systemically neglects a broad swath of opportunities to facilitate exports because it only contemplates the export-oriented activities of exporters.  It’s as if the administration believes that U.S. exporters are born exporters and never experience life as producers or as consumers of input.  It’s as if they incur no costs until their goods reach foreign ports — after which they face a gauntlet of taxes, regulations, and other barriers abroad.

The NEI enshrines the fallacy that it is exclusively foreign-borne obstacles that inhibit U.S. export potential, when it should be obvious that U.S. policies also undermine U.S. competitiveness.  Before U.S. companies are exporters, they are producers.  And as producers of goods, they are consumers of capital equipment, industrial components, other raw materials, energy, capital and labor.  And as consumers of all of those inputs, our producers face a host of U.S. taxes, tariffs, regulations, mandates, and other U.S. government-imposed impediments that reduce their competitiveness at home, and as exporters.  If the administration wants to get serious about doubling U.S. exports by 2015, everything should be on the table.  The scope of potential reforms should be broadened to include policies that affect the pre-export activities of U.S. exporters.

Otherwise, what’s the point of squandering resources on “export promotion,” “federal export assistance,” “trade missions,” or “commercial advocacy” when the exporters in question are getting hammered as manufacturers by U.S. policies that limit their access to imported materials?  What’s so great about the Secretary of Commerce accompanying prospective U.S. exporters of magnesium die-cast auto parts on a marketing trip to Asia when the cost structures of those companies are uncompetitive because antidumping restrictions render the U.S. price of magnesium more than double the world price?

U.S. producers account for over half of the value of U.S. imports, which means there is great potential to increase their competitiveness by improving their access to imports.  It also explains the strong correlation between imports and exports, between imports and GDP, and between imports and job growth — facts that too many politicians wish to expunge from the record.  But during the depths of the recent recession, both the Mexican and Canadian governments moved decisively to cut tariffs across the board on industrial inputs and capital equipment in an effort to make their producers more competitive.

The Obama administration, as part of the NEI, should press Congress to take a similar initiative to increase U.S. competitiveness by eliminating tariffs on all industrial inputs — not just those “non-controversial” tariff items in the Manufacturing Enhancement Act (also known as the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill) that just passed both chambers of Congress — for the purpose of making U.S. manufacturers more competitive.

Furthermore, the NEI should include a strong effort to compel Congress to change the U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws to require the International Trade Commission to consider the impact of trade restrictions on downstream U.S. industries.  Under the current statutes, the ITC is forbidden from considering such impact even though most of the approximately 300 existing U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty orders restrict imports of upstream raw materials and other industrial inputs required by downstream U.S. industries.  That statutory bias clearly undermines U.S. export competitiveness, particularly since downstream, consuming industries are much more likely to export than are firms in those industries that seek relief under the trade remedies laws.

Let’s change the name to the National “Economic” Initiative and make its mission the elimination of all political impediments in the international supply chain.