Topic: International Economics and Development

At Least Somebody’s Listening (If Only It Were U.S. Policymakers)

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.) that the European Union is considering implementing a change that I have long advocated the United States implement: graduating China to market economy status for purposes of antidumping proceedings.  Among the reasons given in the article for the prospective change is that doing so might make it easier for Europe to “extract a range of concessions” from the Chinese on other issues deemed crucial to the trade relationship.

Though they have been stubbornly resistant, U.S. policymakers should be doing the same thing for the same reasons.  When we hear about the issues that define the U.S.-China trade relationship, those issues read like a litany of U.S. gripes.  The Chinese should: stop subsidizing industry; stop manipulating the currency; stop engaging in unfair labor practices; stop dumping; stop stealing intellectual property; stop imposing behind-the-border barriers; start opening services markets; start allowing uninhibited foreign ownership, start being a responsible stakeholder, and on and on.  (The presumption being that fulfillment of American objectives is the chief aim of Chinese policy.)

Can you name a single Chinese demand of the United States?  Well, there are several, but none of them are really “demands.”  They are requests, pursued diplomatically through ongoing dialogue and without a lot of political grandstanding. The single most important wish of the Chinese on the trade front is that they be given market economy status.  More than anything else, I believe, China’s interest in achieving that status is driven by a desire to be treated respectfully by the international community.  The non-market economy label carries a Cold War stigma and, in any event, is misapplied in the case of China, where the economy is increasingly market-oriented, if not market-based, by most metrics.

Under current European and American antidumping practices, China’s NME status means its rates of duty are not based on a comparison of prices.  Instead, they are based on a comparison of the Chinese company’s export prices to a fictitious guestimate of what the price would be in China if prices were in fact determined by market forces.  Got it?  Right!  NME rates tend to be higher than ME rates, but in any event are totally divorced from commercial reality.

Graduating China to ME status does not mean that Chinese exporters would be immune from antidumping allegations and actions by U.S. industries.  No, they would still be subject to a law that routinely produces high, and sometime prohibitive, tariffs.  But graduating China to that more respectable status would engender much good will and would likely inspire greater willingness among the Chinese to work with U.S. negotiators to resolve outstanding differences.

Ironically, the U.S. interests that are opposed to changing China’s status are the same interests that endorse the litany of gripes against China.  Eventually, they may smarten up like their European brethren and do the right thing.

Labor Union Members Protest against Pro-Growth Reforms in Czech Republic

Even though neighboring flat tax nations such as Slovakia are growing faster and creating more jobs, the labor movement in Prague is protesting reforms that would improve the Czech Republic’s competitiveness. The International Herald Tribune reports on this self-destructive impulse:

Around 15,000 labor union members protested in downtown Prague Saturday against the government’s proposed tax reforms and cuts in welfare spending. …If approved, a 15-percent flat tax on personal income would be introduced in 2008. Currently, the personal tax rate ranges from 12 percent to 32 percent, depending on income. The corporate tax rate would be cut from 24 percent to 19 percent by 2010. The draft also includes cuts in social benefits, unemployment benefits, maternity leave payments and health care spending. The labor unions claimed that only the wealthy would benefit from the proposed changes.

Europeans Leading on Postal Privatization

While many European governments deserve criticism for their high tax rates and destructive welfare states, sometimes America is the nation that is lagging when it comes to free market reform.

Corporate tax rates are one example, since every European nation has a lower rate than America. Social Security reform is another area, since many European nations have funded systems based on personal accounts.

And, as the Wall Street Journal explains, the Europeans are also beating America when it comes to postal reform. Several nations already have eliminated government monopoly systems and others are heading in that direction, though backwards nations such as France are trying to block continent-wide liberalization:

Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and the U.K. have opened their postal markets completely; Germany and the Netherlands have said they plan to do so soon. Brussels began liberalization efforts back in 1997 and a 2002 law envisioned an open postal market by January 1, 2009.

Yet five years after that tentative deadline was set, and with 18 months still to go, the likes of France’s La Poste complain that they need more time to prepare. It’s unclear what exactly they will be able to accomplish in those extra two years that they couldn’t manage in the first dozen.

One safe bet is they’ll continue piling up easy profits to use in new businesses they’ve started. To take one example, La Poste, Deutsche Post and others have used the proceeds from their letters monopolies — a €90 billion business in Europe — to open banks.

In the meantime, consumers increasingly have to break the bank just to send a letter. In the 10 members of the EU-15 that haven’t completed or planned postal liberalization, the average stamp price rose by 7 European cents, or about 18%, between December 2001 and February 2007, according to data from the Free and Fair Post Initiative. In the five countries that have liberalized, the average price fell by 2 cents, or about 4%. Studies show that full market opening, including cross-border competition, could drive prices down by as much as 20% to 25%.

Harsh Criticism for the Re-Packaged EU Constitution from a British Newspaper

The EU Constitution is being resuscitated by Europe’s political elites, and those elites are doing their best to figure out ways to bypass voters. British voters are the best chance of saving Europe from further centralization, but Tony Blair is maneuvering to avoid a referendum. An editorial from the Sun strongly denounces the EU Constitution and hopes that Gordon Brown will protect British interests:

Tony Blair faces a stark choice at his last EU summit. He can stand up for the country that trusted him with power in three general elections. Or he can sell us down the river to the faceless EU politicians and bureaucrats who run Europe … Mr. Blair’s vaunted “red lines” won’t protect the United Kingdom from the relentless erosion of power by our EU masters. Whatever written guarantees are offered in the coming days, Britain would be folding its hand into a European superstate … Gordon Brown may not be in Brussels — but he will have the final say on how the result is sold at home. We have been promised a referendum. The incoming Prime Minister cannot allow this deal to go through without one.

A columnist in the same paper outlines the many ways in which the EU Constitution gives more power to Brussels and threatens the UK’s more open economy:

…the Reform Treaty, is virtually the same as the rejected EU Constitution. It will rob us of powers to set our own laws and put industry back 30 years … Early drafts of the document show Britain will surrender 30 per cent of its voting power in EU meetings. This will make it far harder to stop barmy EU diktats becoming UK law.

Britain’s vetoes will be axed in as many as 51 areas … The power to set tax and spend policy could also be stripped away. The Commission also wants to rob us of our right to set social security payments. Experts say the draft Treaty would mean huge changes to British law. They say a Charter of Fundamental Rights would become more legally-binding than UK law. The Charter will also lumber Britain’s economy with job-destroying EU laws.

How Not To Rear Pigs (And Receive Money For Not Doing So)

I have only so much contempt to go around, and my job calls me to expend most of it on U.S. government policies. But I have of late been so immersed in criticizing U.S. farm programs (and rightly so) that I have to remind myself of the insanity across the pond.

Or my friends remind me. My mate Ken sent me this letter from a would-be non-pig-farmer from the U.K., anxious to feed at the European Union’s trough.

My favorite excerpt:

“In your opinion what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs. But if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers.”

Read the rest, though. It’s worth the time.

Antigua and Barbuda Raises the Stakes

$3.4 billion. That’s the price tag Antigua and Barbuda, the island nation which successfully argued that the United States was violating its obligations to open its market to foreign online gambling providers, puts on its lost revenues as a result of the U.S. ban on some internet gambling. (More here and here.)

They are seeking to recover the money by withdrawing the protection they provide for American intellectual property (see here). The idea behind this sort of action is to harness the power of a powerful lobby group (in this case, Hollywood and the software industry) to counteract the influence of anti-internet gambling groups: If intellectual property owners are caught in the cross-fire of the dispute, maybe the United States government would feel more pressure to comply with the series of rulings against current U.S. regulations.

The push to seek compensation through the World Trade Organization comes just one day after the European Union has indicated it wants compensation for the loss of market access, but through further opening of other sectors in lieu of lifting the ban. When the United States announced last month that it was responding to their loss at the WTO by seeking to “clarify” its commitments, they indicated that they would not provide compensation to Members harmed by the ban, as is called for by WTO rules. The USTR had reasoned that since they never intended to allow internet gambling in the first place (suggesting that their commitment to do just that was an “oversight”), then Members could not expect to receive any sort of compensation in return for solidifying the ban.

We’re planning to hold a forum on this topic on 25th July. Stay tuned for details.

More Farcical Trade Remedies Cases at the ITC

The menacing trade remedies laws have done their share to breed cynicism about U.S. free trade rhetoric. But this greeting on the website of the most recent U.S. petitioner is apropos of the tone conveyed by those laws.

Pretty scary, huh? Not as scary as being an importer of Chinese-manufactured, off-road tires, nowadays.

Having been acquainted with that grizzly, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Titan Tires, one of the biggest American manufacturers of tires for agricultural machines, went on the offensive Monday, when it (along with several labor unions) filed petitions with the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Commerce Department for relief from allegedly subsidized and dumped import competition from China.

To win trade relief, Titan et. al. will need to demonstrate that the domestic industry is materially injured or threatened with material injury by reason of subsidized or dumped imports. It’s generally not very hard to satisfy the meager statutory thresholds for demonstrating injury, but what is so absolutely stunning to those naïve enough to expect a modicum of justice from the process is how petitioners can distort the truth with impunity before the ITC.

Although most of the crucial economic facts are redacted from the public version of this latest petition (which is accessible on the ITC’s website), here is a sample of the injury argument presented therein. From page 18:

As the table below shows, Titan’s domestic production, capacity utilization, shipments and employment data all demonstrate current material injury.

Then there is a table with the relevant data for the periods 2004-2006 redacted. Then, on page 19:

Titan’s financial data regarding its certain OTR tire operations also indicate the company is experiencing material injury.

 Then there is another table with the financial data redacted.

So how can one know, without seeing those numbers, that petitioners are taking liberties with the truth? Well, beyond the grizzly on Titan’s website is a list of SEC filings, in which the company presents an entirely different assessment of its performance and prospects. Here’s the annual report from 2006, and here are some excerpts:

The Company recorded sales of $679.5 million for 2006, which were 45% higher than 2005 sales of $470.1 million. The significantly higher sales level was attributed to the expanded agricultural product offering of Goodyear branded farm tires and the expanded earthmoving, construction and mining product offering of Continental & General branded off-the-road (OTR) tires… Income from operations was $22.0 million for 2006 as compared to $12.0 million in 2005.

So the company’s sales were 45 percent higher in 2006, and its operating profits were 83 percent higher. The company’s first quarter 2007 10-Q filing reveals continued revenue and operating profit growth in 2007.

Titan is also having difficulty keeping up with growing U.S. demand:

Due to capacity constraints at Titan’s Bryan, Ohio, OTR tire facility, the Company is adding OTR tire capacity at its Freeport, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa, facilities.

Capital expenditures for 2006, 2005 and 2004 were $8.3 million, $6.8 million and $4.3 million, respectively. Capital expenditures in 2006 were used primarily for updating manufacturing equipment, expanding manufacturing capacity and for further automation at the Company’s facilities. Capital expenditures for 2007 are forecasted to be approximately $16 million to $18 million and will be used to enhance the Company’s existing facilities and manufacturing capabilities including additional capacity for OTR tire production.

Adding production capacity is not typical behavior for a company that is under assault by injurious imports. Adding capacity to the tune of more than doubling the previous year’s capital investment reflects confidence in the company’s future prospects. And confident, Titan should be:

As of January 31, 2007, Titan estimates $171 million in firm orders compared to $122 million at January 31, 2006, for the Company’s operations.

Titan’s 2006 Annual Report also boasts that $100 invested in Titan in 2001 would have been worth $436.47 at the end of 2006, whereas the same investment in the S&P 500 index would have been worth $135.03. That is some very impressive performance.

Of course, contrasting the dire self-assessments of industries petitioning for trade relief with the upbeat assessments of industries seeking to attract investors has been a favorite pastime of trade remedies’ observers. It’s been a running joke within the international trade bar that lying to the SEC lands you in jail, while lying to the ITC lands you protection from foreign competition.