Tag: wto

How To Get Back To Multilateral Trade Liberalization: Cut Agriculture Subsidies!

Recent discussions of trade negotiations have focused on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), often referred to as “mega-regional” trade talks.  But most economists and other trade experts agree that trade liberalization would be more beneficial if done on a multilateral basis, at the World Trade Organization (WTO).  There are talks going on at the WTO, referred to as the Doha Round, but they started in 2001 and are widely seen as not likely to achieve much.

What would it take to get WTO liberalization going again?  There are lots of theories on this, but my view is that it’s really pretty simple:  The major trading countries need to propose significant liberalization.  That hasn’t happened yet, and that’s why there has been so little progress.

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Georgetown University law professor Joost Pauwelyn deftly rebuts some of the central – but, as you will be convinced, outdated – objections to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.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.

How TTIP Will Affect the Structure of Global Trade Policy

Swedish economist Fredrik Erixon, an authority on international trade policy, who heads up the Brussels-based think tank known as ECIPE (the European Centre for International Political Economy), was a big contributor to the discussions held this week in conjunction with Cato’s TTIP conference.  Among many other trade topics, Fredrik has written extensively on TTIP, the WTO, and how the former may impact the latter.

In his conference essay, Erixon agrees with alarmed, “pure” multilateralists that the TTIP will supplant the WTO as “the organising entity of future trade policy,” but explains why that is not necessarily a bad thing.  While he dismisses fears that the United States and European Union may be turning toward an arrangement that excludes the rest of the world, and explains how they will “leverage TTIP for global trade liberalisation,”  Fredrik does worry that TTIP – if it “succeeds” in the area of regulatory harmonization – will result in the export of failed regulatory policies to the rest of the world.

His concluding remarks on that topic: 

Currently, the differences between EU and U.S. regulations and regulatory approaches are far too wide for the TTIP to be a realistic candidate for setting the global rules in this area. But TTIP will likely push trade agreements further in the direction of prescriptive regulatory conditionality, making it harder for trade agreements in the future to advance global commercial freedom through deregulation and simple, transparent rules.

Read Erixon’s essay here; see him discuss the issues during this conference session; see all the conference essays here.

How Will TTIP Affect Developing Countries and the Multilateral Trading System?

By all accounts (well, at least those conveyed to me), this week’s TTIP conference at the Cato Institute was a resounding success. It featured a diversity of excellent speakers from across the political, ideological, geographic, and professional spectra, and it covered a broad swath of economic, political, geopolitical, and technical issues. Though opinions varied over the numerous substantive issues discussed by the conferees, there was fairly strong agreement that TTIP (at least the TTIP envisioned at the outset of the negotiations) will require an enormous amount of effort, political will, and flexibility to deviate from script to have any chance of coming to fruition.

As if the road to success weren’t daunting enough, many observers worry that success, if not too elusive, might be too costly.  That is, as a large exclusive club, TTIP would hasten the demise of the World Trade Organization and the multilateral trading rules under its auspices, and that it would put third countries–especially developing ones–at disadvantages that reduce their economic prospects.

One of the panel discussions was devoted to consideration of the impact of TTIP on the multilateral trading system, including the impact on developing countries. Two of the speakers in that session were former WTO heavyweights: Joakim Reiter (former Swedish Ambassador to the WTO) and Harsha Singh (former Deputy Director General of the WTO), who are now, respectively, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and Senior Associate at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. In their conference essays, each explains how a successful TTIP can be formulated to ensure that it doesn’t subvert the WTO or hurt developing countries.  

Harsha’s essay is TTIP: A Bridge or Gulf for Multilateralizing Plurilaterals.

Joakim’s essay is The Effects of TTIP on Developing Countries.

All of the essays published in conjunction with the conference can be found here.

U.S.–China Relations Hurt by American Antidumping Abuse

As expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping raised the issue of antidumping abuse during his recent visit to Washington.  Specifically, he called on the United States to stop using “nonmarket economy” methodology when imposing antidumping duties on imports from China.  The issue is going to become more and more pressing as a diplomatic problem over the next year, because the United States is required under WTO rules to end NME treatment by December 2016. 

NME methodology is one of many ways the United States inflates the protectionist impact of U.S. antidumping law.  My colleague Dan Ikenson has thoroughly documented the senselessness of NME treatment.  Last year, I wrote a Cato Policy Analysis looking at how U.S. officials and policymakers might respond to the December 2016 deadline.

That deadline coincides closely with the end of President Obama’s term in office.  The president can choose to leave his successor years of trade conflict and WTO litigation by refusing to act.  Or he can do the right thing for the American economy and U.S.–China relations by ending NME treatment as soon as possible. 

Enduring Myths that Obscure the Case for Free Trade

Most economists agree that free trade works better than restricted trade to increase the size of the economic pie. By enlarging markets to span national borders, free trade increases the pool of potential producers, consumers, partners, and investors, which permits greater specialization and economies of scale – both essential ingredients of per capita economic growth.

But, in practice, free trade remains elusive. It is the exception, not the rule. Sure, many tariffs and other border barriers have been reduced in the United States (and elsewhere) over the years, but protectionism persists in various guises. There are “Buy American” rules limiting government procurement spending to local firms and US-made products; heavily protected services industries; seemingly endless incarnations of agriculture subsidies; import quotas on sugar; green-energy and other industrial subsidies; shipbuilding and shipping restrictions; the Export-Import bank; antidumping duties; and, regulatory protectionism masquerading as public health and safety regulations, to list some. Ironically, protectionism is baked into our so-called free trade agreements. It takes the form of rules of origin requirements, local content mandates, intellectual property and investor protections, enforceable labor and environmental standards, and special carve-outs that shield entire products and industries from international competition.

Trade agreements may be the primary vehicle through which U.S. trade barriers are reduced, but they are predicated on the fallacy that protectionism is an asset to be dispensed with only if reciprocated, in roughly equal measure, by negotiators on the other side of the table. If the free trade consensus were meaningful outside of economics circles, trade negotiations would be unnecessary. They would have no purpose. If free trade were the rule, trade policy would have a purely domestic orientation and U.S. barriers would be removed without any need for negotiation because they would be recognized for what they are: taxes on domestic consumers and businesses.

India Tosses out the WTO’s Agricultural Subsidy Disciplines

The World Trade Organization (WTO) seems on the verge of approving an agreement with India to allow the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) to move forward.  The TFA is to be applauded.  It will make a useful contribution toward helping goods move across borders more efficiently, which will tend to increase trade and promote economic growth.

The problem is not with the TFA, but rather with the high price that the global community seems ready to pay for it.  India has asked that it be allowed to exceed the level of domestic agricultural subsidies to which it agreed twenty years ago in the Uruguay Round negotiations.  For the first time in history, those talks led to limits on the ability of countries to use trade distorting agricultural supports.  Those subsidies had been rampant, often leading to surplus production that depressed crop prices in global markets.  Farmers who were being subsidized generally were happy enough with that arrangement, but it was a very different story for unprotected farmers in other countries.  Many of the world’s farmers are quite poor to start with.  Government-driven decreases in commodity prices make them even poorer.

A teachable moment is slipping away because no WTO member has been willing to stand up and explain what’s going on.  India sanctimoniously declares that it needs to promote food security through use of a robust public stockholding program, and would like the world to believe that existing WTO rules prohibit them from doing so.  This is simply not correct.  The Uruguay Round includes specific provisions detailing how public stockholding may be used for food security purposes.  A great deal of time, effort and tough negotiating went into developing those provisions.  There is no limit on government expenditures to provide food – including free or reduced-price food – to low-income people.  However, there is a clear requirement that purchases of commodities for public stocks must be made at open-market prices.  It is not allowable to purchase commodities at above-market prices in order to provide a subsidy to farmers. 

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