Topic: Trade and Immigration

Mr. Frank Gets Mixed Up

In an article today in the Boston Globe, Rep. Barney Frank (D, MA) commented on the closure of a fabric maker located in or near (the article is unclear) his district:

These working-class people are bearing the brunt of a policy of globalization that benefits the few and damages the many,” Frank said. (my emphasis)

Mr. Frank has the problem precisely backwards. Open trade benefits the many — through more competition and lower prices — even though it takes away the protection of a chosen few. It is tariffs that impose (relatively small) costs on many dispersed consumers, but benefits concentrated interests (and harms the economy overall). In this case, the closure of a 900-employee textile plant is a highly visible manifestation of a phenomenon that has been largely postive on net. It is sad for those losing their jobs, to be sure, but millions of American consumers benefit every day from opening the U.S. market to cheaper imports.

As a Wall Street Journal article yesterday pointed out (and my colleague Dan Ikenson blogged about here last week), the power of organized labor in the Democratic Party has probably spoiled any further trade liberalization in the near future, despite the month-old and much-hyped “bipartisan deal” on trade. This backtracking comes after the administration agreed to Democrats’ demands for stronger labor and environmental provisions in trade agreements.

The recently-inked deal with Korea — the biggest trade deal for the United States since NAFTA, and one that promises large market opportunities for American farmers and service providers, not to mention deals for U.S. consumers — is probably off, all because of American automobile makers who fear competition from Korean imports and assert that the Korean market was not going to open enough for their liking. (Of course, if the deal fails, then the market probably won’t open further at all, but that logic is apparently unconvincing.) Talk about benefiting the few and damaging the many.

The ‘Pseudo-Dictatorship of the Market’

Some people hoped that new French president Nicolas Sarkozy would liberalize France’s economy and reduce the burden of government. But all the evidence points in the other direction.

The International Herald Tribune reports on Sarkozy’s statist choices:

[C]riticism of Sarkozy’s interventionist language…is mounting. The question that Eurocrats, central bankers and fellow politicians are asking is the same they asked three years ago: Is the man who wants to shake up France’s labor market and ignite economic growth with a flurry of tax cuts the liberal European he claims? Or is he an old-style Gaullist in modern disguise?

“Institutions, procedures, directives and rules are not ends in themselves,” Sarkozy declared in Strasbourg, calling for a Europe “that does not submit itself to the pseudo-dictatorship of the market….

Sarkozy has shown little willingness to abandon certain nationalist instincts of past French leaders. He has defended EU agricultural subsidies against demands for greater trade liberalization. He has shown little inclination to withdraw from France’s aim of creating national champions, particularly in the energy sector. On Thursday, he debated the future of the state-controlled gas company Gaz de France with his prime minister and finance minister. And rather than encouraging globalization, he has appeared to reinforce French fears of unfettered capitalism — for example, by fighting to remove a largely symbolic affirmation of EU competition policy from the revamped treaty agreed last month in Brussels.

“Sarkozy talks right but rules left. Portrayals of him as a French Thatcher who will shake things up are vastly exaggerated,” said one EU official in reference to the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. “He is, after all, French.”

An EU Minimum Wage Law?

The European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Joaquin Almunia, thinks there should be a minimum wage for all EU member nations. This is a destructive notion, considering many European nations suffer from substantional unemployment and under-employment. To the extent that minimum wage policy is harmonized (as opposed to 27 different minimum wage policies in 27 EU nations), poorer countries will be hardest hit.

The EU Observer reports on the latest proposal from the statists in Brussels:

EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner Joaquin Almunia has mooted the idea of minimum wages being introduced in each of the 27 member states across the European Union. “Every country in the EU should have a minimum wage,” Mr Almunia told the German weekly Die Zeit in an interview.

…[O]nly 20 EU member states currently have a set level of minimum wages…. Germany … is one of the few major world economies without a minimum wage.

Happy Birthday, America—and Thanks for Having Me

This will be my first July 4th holiday in Washington, DC. Last year I was in New York City with my family, celebrating my 30th birthday (yes, I’m a bicentennial baby). So I am looking forward to seeing how the nation’s capital celebrates Independence Day.

As a recent arrival, I know that my experience of Independence Day is necessarily limited. But the ideals upon which America was based and which we celebrate tomorrow are common to many around the world, no matter where they call home. The American dream–to make a better life for yourself and to pursue whatever brand of happiness to which you aspire–is the human dream. As David Boaz notes in his podcast (mp3) today, the line of people at the immigration centers of American embassies is larger than the line of picketers outside, no matter how harsh the criticisms of the rest of the world can seem.

The government and the country are not the same thing. So for all those who have taken offense at a foreigner criticising U.S. farm and trade policy over the last year, please know that I will be celebrating a wonderful country tomorrow, along with all of you.

Last Wishes for Trade Policy

With 19 months left in the Bush presidency, June 30 marks the unceremonious end of his trade policy. Though things haven’t looked bright on the trade liberalization front for quite a while, there was a time when the agenda had promise and its keepers had enthusiasm. Tomorrow’s expiration of the president’s trade promotion authority, thus, accentuates the sadness of promise unfilled. On top of that, responsibility for trade policy is returning to a Congress that is, perhaps, more skeptical of trade than any Congress since the days of Smoot and Hawley.

The main goal of the administration’s trade policy was a multilateral trade agreement. That proved elusive, and now the Doha Round lies in a cryogenic state. The administration did bring home some bilateral and regional deals that are important, but relative to what could have and should have been accomplished, it ain’t much.

As we enter the post-TPA period, there are four trade agreements that have been signed, but not yet approved by Congress. The congressional leadership today finally came out and said they will not support the deals with Korea or Colombia (as expected). They offered support for Peru and Panama, but we’ll see whether the rank and file goes along. I’m skeptical.

Regrettably, we may have to endure a dark period on trade policy as members of Congress work to outdo each other with ridiculous, self-defeating legislation. The last responsibility of the Bush administration on trade policy, then, is to hold the line against the onslaught of anti-trade, anti-China legislation and make sure none of those bills becomes law.

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.