Topic: International Economics and Development

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.

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.

What Is Meant by “Technical Barriers to Trade” and How Might TTIP Reduce Them?

One of the best presentations at the Cato TTIP conference on Monday was given by Michelle Egan, a professor at the American University’s School of International Service. Professor Egan managed to explain (in about 15 minutes) one of the most complex and possibly intractable subjects under negotiation in the Transatlantic trade talks: Standards-related trade barriers.

A major objective of the TTIP (as well as the TPP and other modern trade agreements) is to reduce “non-tariff barriers” (NTBs) of which so-called “technical barriers to trade” (TBTs) are an important subset. It turns out that differing product standards, which can act as TBTs, are more common than any other kind of NTB. According to Egan, “Governments, on average, impose TBTs on 30 percent of products. For firms active in international markets, different national requirements from conformity assessment measures can impede access to foreign markets.”

Magna Carta Has Chinese Officials Running Scared

Cynics, and sometimes realists too, dismiss the power of ideas. Tyrants don’t. The latest evidence comes from today’s New York Times, where we learn that a planned public display of Magna Carta at a museum at Beijing’s Renmin University has Chinese officials “running scared.” Accordingly, “the exhibit was abruptly moved to the British ambassador’s residence, with few tickets available to the public and no explanation given.”

While much of the world is celebrating the 800th anniversary of this muniment of English and American liberties—a cornerstone for constitutional government—“such a system is inimical to China’s leaders, who view ‘constitutionalism’ as a threat to Communist Party rule,” the Times reports. And that it is, as I detailed some time ago in a chapter contrasting the Chinese and American constitutions. Indeed, the very name “Magna Carta” is forbidden in China, the Times notes:

In 2013, the party issued its “seven unmentionables” — taboo topics for its members. The first unmentionable is promoting Western-style constitutional democracy. The Chinese characters for “Magna Carta” are censored in web searches on Sina Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like social media site.

A representative of the British Foreign Office said the decision to display Magna Carta at the residence was “based purely on administrative and logistical practicalities.” As we say on this side of the pond, “Yeah right.” Doubtless, that response too would get you in trouble in today’s China.

Senator Sanders and the Fixed Pie Fallacy

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” Senator Bernie Sanders first said those words in 1974 and has been repeating them ever since. Senator Sanders is not alone in his belief. Three out of four Americans agree with the statement, “Today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.”

Senator Sanders is half right: the rich are getting richer. However, his assertion that the poor are becoming poorer is incorrect. The poor are becoming richer as well.

Economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute showed that between 1979 and 2010, the real (inflation-adjusted) after-tax income of the top 1% of U.S. income-earners grew by an impressive 202%. He also showed that the real after-tax income of the bottom fifth of income-earners grew by 49%. All groups made real income gains. While the rich are making gains at a faster pace, both the rich and the poor are in fact becoming richer.

In addition to these measurable real income gains, decreases in prices have given the poor increased purchasing power, helping to raise living standards for the worst off in society. As a result of falling prices such as for groceries and material goods, along with gains in real income, Americans have more income left after basic expenses.

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.

To Be, or Not to Be - Denmark? That, Apparently, Is the Question.

For those of you who did not watch the Democratic Party presidential debate last night, Senator Bernie Sanders says he wants America to be more like Denmark. In some ways, that is an excellent idea. Denmark, it turns out, has freer trade and better business environment than the United States. Its overall economic freedom is almost identical to that of the United States, as is its well-being index. But, don’t take my word for it. Look at the United Nations and World Bank data brought to you courtesy of 

The one area where the United States might not want to copy Denmark is the size of government, which is a proxy measure of taxation and redistribution. 


1. Free trade

2. Business environment