Tag: trade

Trade Is Not a Trade-Off: The Stronger Case for Free Trade

Too many advocates of trade liberalization don’t really understand the case for free trade. Consider this sympathetic interview by Steve Inskeep of NPR with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, the chief negotiator of the Trans-Pacific Partnership:

INSKEEP: Froman argues the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will give U.S. industries more access to foreign markets. Granted, there’s a trade-off. Other nations get more access to the U.S. for their products. Froman contends that, at least, happens slowly as tariffs or import taxes drop.

FROMAN: The tariff on imported trucks from Japan, as an example, won’t go away for 30 years. On apparel and textiles, we worked very closely with the textile manufacturers in the U.S. to come up with an outcome that they could be comfortable with, so that we’ll let in clothes coming that are made Vietnam or made in Malaysia, but they’ve got to use U.S. fabric.

Inskeep refers to the lowering of U.S. tariffs as “a trade-off,” and Froman accepts that characterization. Both operate from the premise that Americans want other countries to reduce their barriers to our exports, and that the “trade-off” for that benefit is that we must reduce our own trade barriers.

That’s backwards. The benefit of trade is that we get access to goods and services that we might not get otherwise, or we get to pay lower prices for the goods we want. More broadly, we want free – or at least freer – trade in order to remove the impediments that prevent people from finding the best ways to satisfy their wants. Free trade allows us to benefit from the division of labor, specialization, comparative advantage, and economies of scale.

Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation: Possible, But Don’t Bet the House

As the prominence of tariffs in the transatlantic relationship has receded and transnational supply chains and investment have proliferated, regulatory barriers to transatlantic trade have become more evident. Reducing duplicative regulations that increase production and compliance costs without providing any meaningful social benefits is a chief aim of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. Indeed, most of the economic gains from the TTIP are expected to come from this exercise.

But that is easier said than done.  According to University of California-Irvine law school professor Gregory Shaffer, “regulatory barriers to trade can be more pernicious and more difficult to reduce than tariff barriers because they often reflect certain cultural values and preferences, and there are often more interests vested in the status quo.” In his Cato Online Forum essay, submitted in conjunction with last month’s TTIP conference, Shaffer describes five different approaches to regulatory coherence/harmonization (with pros and cons) that could be undertaken by U.S. and EU negotiators.

Depsite vastly different approaches to regulation on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Shaffer points to examples of successful cooperation in recent years as evidence that the TTIP’s regulatory coherence discussions could bear fruit. But he doesn’t bet the house on that outcome. Instead, he writes:

We should nonetheless be cautious in our optimism given the serious impediments to achieving regulatory coherence. Removing regulatory barriers to trade and investment while continuing to reflect local preferences and retain democratic accountability is, and always has been, a challenging undertaking.

Read Shaffer’s essay here.  Read the other Cato Online Forum essays here.

TTIP Is More Likely to Reinvigorate Than Subvert the WTO

In his Cato Online Forum essay, Georgetown University law professor Joost Pauwelyn deftly rebuts some of the central – but, as you will be convinced, outdated – objections to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Joost’s essay supports two main points:

First, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is less of a threat to multilateral trade than were first generation free trade agreements (FTAs), which involved a proliferation of preferential tariff treatment.  And second, unlike these shallow FTAs, deep FTAs – such as TTIP – force us to re-think the operating system of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Thoughout his presentation, Pauwelyn challenges certain long-held assumptions about the trade-diverting effects of preferential trade agreements, making a compelling case for why TTIP is a different animal.  He also exposes some of the conventional wisdom and calls into question some of the purist gospel about the need for WTO primacy, arguing that its role should be diminished and more focued.

Read Joost’s essay here.

Read the other essays published in conjuction with the Cato TTIP conference here.

Estimating TTIP’s Benefits and Costs: Not an Exact Science, But Enlightening Nevertheless?

Note: A previous version of this blog post included an incorrect claim that the Bertelsmann study was funded by the German government. It was not.

Ever since two econometric studies (CEPR and Bertelsmann) purporting to estimate the gains from a successful Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement were published in 2013 revealing positive – but vastly disparate – outcomes, TTIP opponents have been on the offensive, dismissing economic modelling as a subjective and politically motivated exercise.

Although estimating the benefits and costs of a massive trade agreement (for which the terms remain unknown) can hardly be considered an exact science, there is value to the public and to policymakers in understanding the range of possibilities. So, in other words, perhaps the problem is not the production of econometric estimates but, rather, the manner in which those estimates can be misused or misinterpreted that should concern us.

At the Cato TTIP conference earlier this month, there was a whole session devoted to the topic: Understanding the Economic Models and the Estimates They Produce.  That discussion is fleshed out a bit in two Cato Online Forum essays, which I want to bring to your attention.

The first is a critique of the models from University of Manchester economics professor Gabriel Siles-Brugge, who articulates his perception of the problem and suggests some remedies.  The second is a defense and broader explaination of the models from University of Munich professor and director of the Ifo Center for International Economics Gabriel Felbermayr, who is the primary modeller/author of the Bertelsmann study.

Other conference-related essays, including a couple more on econometric models (from Laura Baughman and Dan Pearson), can be found here.

The Strategic Opportunity and Strategic Imperative of TTIP’s Success

In her Cato Online Forum essay about the strategic dimensions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Fran Burwell of the Atlantic Council sees both opportunity and necessity in its successful conclusion.  The opportunity comes from – among other things – combining the strength of the transatlantic economies (which currently account for 46% of global GDP) through greater economic integration, which will provide the leverage necessary for the United States and Europe to continue to exert dominance over global trade rulemaking and standards setting.

The necessity of TTIP’s success stems from the threat to Europe (and, thus, to the transatlantic relationship) posed by Vladimir Putin, who is working to subvert the deal.  ”[F]ailure of the negotiations,” Burwell writes, “would be one of the best indications possible to Vladimir Putin and others that the U.S.-European partnership is just rhetoric without the capacity for action.”

Read Fran’s essay here.

Read the other essays published in conjunction with Cato’s TTIP conference last week here.

Pass the “Parmesan-like” Cheese, Please: Will Battle over Geographic Indications Kill TTIP?

The word “daunting” comes to mind when considering the task before U.S. and EU trade negotiators, who are meeting in Miami this week for the 11th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, which commenced in late spring of 2013.  If a TTIP deal is eventually reached, the 11th round may only be remembered as part of the early era of the negotiations. Not only are there so many issues on the table, but the number of issues that have drifted from low-hanging fruit to difficult, and from difficult to intractable, seems to be growing.

One seemingly intractable issue is the matter of “Geographic Indications,” (GIs) and what protections, if any, they should be afforded. EU negotiators consider GIs to be intellectual property deserving of robust protection, which includes proscribing use of words like “Champagne,” “Parma” ham, and “Muenster” cheese (yes, GIs could just as aptly signify gastrointestinal issues) unless the product is made in the named region using processes and standards traditional in the region.  It’s a priority issue for the EU negotiators, but the U.S. negotiators aren’t buying it at all.

My colleague Bill Watson has immersed himself in the details of the geographic indications issue and, in his Cato Online Forum essay (published in conjunction with last week’s Cato TTIP conference), describes the conflicting EU and U.S. positions and explains why there is very little room for compromiseBill does offer up some possible solutions, but he’s not betting the house that it will work:

The United States has demands of its own in the TTIP negotiations that are at least as unpopular in Europe as is GI protection in the United States.  American negotiators have been tasked with the near impossible mission of opening up Europe’s market to genetically modified crops and meat from hormone-treated cattle, ractopamine-fed swine, and chlorine-washed chicken.

It may be possible that TTIP could include a grand bargain in which some combination of these agricultural demands are met along with a commitment for stronger GI protection in the United States.  For traditional trade barriers like tariffs and quotas, that kind of bargain would be a welcome outcome and, indeed, is the basic way that reciprocal agreements work to liberalize trade.  

In the regulatory sphere, however, this sort of political horse-trading raises questions of democratic legitimacy and is, in any event, not a way to arrive at well-reasoned policies.  Many regulatory policies that impede market access are motivated by non-economic interests.  And the benefits for foreign producers that stem from changing those policies aren’t going to mollify irate domestic constituencies.  

The tradeoff strikes at the heart of the difference in American and European cultural approaches to agriculture.  It’s difficult to imagine that TTIP negotiators could strike a deal that overcomes the European desire to protect traditional foods and ways of life or America’s ingrained preference for high-tech production and innovation.

Read Bill’s essay here.  Read all of the Cato Online Forum essays here.



Is TTIP the European Union’s Last Chance to Right the Ship?

Harvard University Center for European Studies fellow John Gillingham doesn’t exactly make the case that the European Union is worth saving, but he argues in his Cato Online Forum essay that a successful Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement is essential to its survival. Among last week’s Cato conference participants, Dr. Gillingham was perhaps the most skeptical that the EU would be able to get its act together and achieve success, arguing that TTIP’s fate will hinge less on the deal’s specifics and more on the politics of the EU, which are poisonous.

Put quite simply, the adoption of TTIP, as it is presently conceived by the negotiating parties, would put the EU back onto a course of liberalization, from which it swerved in the mid-1990’s, and thereby bring it abreast of the concurrent globalization process being driven by China and the United States. Within Europe, the Single Market, something only half-complete, would become a reality. State interventionism would be sharply reduced and international competitiveness restored. Will this happen?

To help answer that question, check out the collection of essays from Cato’s TTIP conference participants.