Archive for the ‘Non-Tariff Barriers’ Category

The Chinese government didn’t allocate its MFA quotas efficiently

15 January 2013

Amit Khandelwal, Pete Schott, and Shang-Jin Wei have a nice VoxEU column describing their forthcoming AER article on Chinese textile exports under the Multifibre Arrangementquotas. In short, inefficiently implemented policy can substantially amplify the economic distortions introduced by trade barriers:

If trade barriers are managed by inefficient institutions, trade liberalization can lead to greater-than-expected gains. We examine Chinese textile and clothing exports before and after the elimination of externally imposed export quotas. Both the surge in export volume and the decline in export prices following quota removal are driven by net entry. This outcome is inconsistent with a model in which quotas are allocated based on firm productivity, implying misallocation of resources. Removing this misallocation accounts for a substantial share of the overall gain in productivity associated with quota removal.

WTO: WTR 2012 discussion forum

18 November 2011

The WTO’s World Trade Report 2012 will focus on non-tariff barriers. Of course, NTBs are nothing new, but they’re more relevant in a low-tariff world. Their relative opaqueness makes them more difficult to negotiate, discipline, and study. The WTO invites submissions of short articles for their discussion forum, though I have no idea about the scope for influencing the report (due out in July).

Patent wars at the US ITC

8 November 2011

Intellectual-property disputes are being adjudicated by the US International Trade Commission in the form of Section 337 disputes, which may result in US Customs banning importation of infringing products. Here’s a long list of open investigations, and here’s a blog dedicated to such disputes. Here’s a patents blog that often covers ITC disputes. I learned of Section 337 disputes from this story about HTC and Apple’s patent war.

A New York Law Journal article describes why IP battles are being waged at the US ITC forum:

The ITC has some distinct advantages for the patent plaintiff as compared to a federal district court. To start with, it is generally not necessary to establish personal jurisdiction and proper venue over each of the respondents, as the commission has in rem jurisdiction over the articles being imported. In addition, the ITC’s procedural schedules are enormously accelerated as compared to the average district court…

The 2006 Supreme Court decision in eBay v. MercExchange made it more difficult for plaintiffs in district court patent litigation to be granted an injunction. Under earlier Federal Circuit precedent, a prevailing plaintiff was virtually guaranteed an injunction, which forced an infringer to settle on the patent holder’s terms or face a complete shutdown of its business. In eBay, the Supreme Court rejected this long-standing rule and instead instructed the lower courts to make a case-by-case determination, based on “well-established principles of equity.”5 This determination is not applicable to exclusion orders in the ITC…

The combination of fast-moving schedules, reduced jurisdictional requirements, and the ready availability of injunction-like remedies make the ITC an ideal forum for the enforcement of patent rights. In addition, the domestic industry requirement, once a significant barrier for NPEs, has become easier to satisfy. As traditional manufacturing facilities abandon the United States, the ITC can still be the forum of choice for those American businesses that manufacture abroad, or even those whose sole business is to exploit patents.

Here’s another piece on the ITC forum, dubbed “outbidding the Supreme Court” (pdf), which says that “a Section 337 action before the ITC may be the most efficient, cost-effective and surefire way for a patentee to obtain the equivalent of a permanent injunction against an infringing party.”

Is the NAFTA trucking dispute finally over?

21 October 2011

A Mexican truck will make a delivery to a Dallas suburb this afternoon, thereby realizing some of the liberalization promised by NAFTA 17 years ago. WaPo:

The first Mexican carrier to deliver goods in the U.S. interior under a long-delayed free-trade provision is scheduled to enter the country at Laredo, Texas, shortly after midday Friday.

The truck owned by Nuevo Leon, Mexico-based Transportes Olympic will make a delivery to the Dallas suburb of Garland. That’s despite continuing opposition from the Teamsters union and some lawmakers who fear the program will make U.S. highways more dangerous and cost American jobs.

The truck will carry a monitoring device. The move complies with a provision of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The company was also the first approved under the 2007 pilot program before President Barack Obama’s administration canceled it [in 2009]. Mexico retaliated by placing tariffs on 99 agricultural products worth more than $2 billion annually.

A little over a year ago, I noted that Washington insiders didn’t expect the dispute to be resolved “any time soon”, but in the broader context, 14 months isn’t bad. So what does the program do? It includes a lot of measures to address the safety concerns raised by its opponents:

Supporters say especially strict safeguards have been implemented: Electronic devices will track the routes drivers take, how long they drive and how long they rest. Participating drivers must undergo national security and criminal background checks, and inspectors will administer oral English-proficiency exams.

Does this end the dispute? Not necessarily. Look up the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s announcement in the Federal Register and you’ll discover that this is a three-year pilot program, a fact not made clear by some press coverage. From the Federal Register (pdf):

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announces its intent to proceed with the initiation of a United States-Mexico cross-border long-haul trucking pilot program to test and demonstrate the ability of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate safely in the United States beyond the municipalities in the United States on the United States-Mexico international border or the commercial zones of such municipalities (border commercial zones)…

In a pilot program, DOT typically collects specific data for evaluating alternatives to the regulations or innovative approaches to safety while ensuring that the goals of the regulations are satisfied. A pilot program may not last more than 3 years, and the number of participants in a pilot program must be large enough to ensure statistically valid findings.

Will the pilot program have large effects on international trade? Both sides claim big numbers:

Todd Spencer, the executive vice president of the Independent Drivers Association, which represents small independent trucking businesses, said 100,000 trucking jobs will be lost. Proponents say it will spur economic growth as companies save millions by sending the goods door-to-door.

But I doubt we’ll see any such impacts soon. Tire Business reports:

So far two small Mexico-based motor carriers have been certified for the program. They are Transportes Olympic of Monterrey, with two vehicles, and Grupo Behr de Baja California S.A. de C.V. of Tijuana, with five vehicles.

However, the FMCSA is withholding Grupo Behr’s permit while reviewing objections raised by the Teamsters and others regarding Grupo Behr’s safety record. The Teamsters also question Transportes Olympic’s record on safety.

You can track the approvals online at the FMCSA’s website. That site says that Transportes Olympic has registered one vehicle and two drivers. It looks like the dispute will continue in some form, for the time being.

Creative protectionism: Argentina requires firm-level balanced trade

14 October 2011

The Economist describes some very unusual trade policies implemented by Argentina:

Argentine manufacturers have been booming ever since the 2001 crash. Over most of that period, a cheap peso has ensured their competitiveness. But since 2005 inflation has been in double digits. As the trade surplus has dwindled, Cristina Fernández, the president, has beefed up her industrial policy. According to Global Trade Alert, a database of restrictions on international commerce, Argentina now imposes more trade limitations deemed “harmful” than any country save Russia…

On the import side, Argentina cannot raise tariffs on its own because it belongs to the Mercosur customs union. So it is resorting to informal tools. Its main method is “non-automatic licensing”, a tactic recognised by the World Trade Organisation that lets countries delay imports for 60 days.

Argentina has made no pretence of honouring that time period. In January it expanded the list of products requiring licences from 400 to 600. It was a limit on phone imports that led Research in Motion to hire Brightstar to make BlackBerrys in Argentina (tax incentives then led the firm to Tierra del Fuego). Other affected goods include toys, pharmaceutical ingredients, tyres, fabrics, leather and farm machinery. On September 15th Argentina blocked imports of books, and over 1m piled up at the borders. Imports of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are frozen until 2012.

For firms that refuse to (or cannot) move production to Argentina, the government offers another option: deals to export goods worth at least as much as a company’s imports. In January customs officials stopped letting Nordenwagen import Porsches. Its cars languished in port for three months before the firm succumbed to a deal. Since its owners also possess Pulenta Estate, a vineyard, they agreed to launch a new line of mass-market wines for export, erasing the family’s trade deficit. They are also considering canning fruits. “It’s not the same margins as fine wines, but it takes time and investment. We’re trying to make it profitable,” says Eduardo Pulenta, the company’s export manager. “We’ll keep working to import cars. That’s what we know how to do.”

Wow.

The policy was adopted in March. Here’s the Global Trade Alert entry from July, which relies on Spanish-language news stories. Here’s an English-language story from April. Thanks to Bernardo Astarloa, who passed along this Spanish-language story in Argentina’s La Nación. It details the products being exported by various car manufacturers in exchange for importing autos into Argentina:

  • Porsche: wine and olive oil
  • Hyundai: peanuts and soy biofuels
  • BMW: rice and leather upholstery
  • Alfa Romero: biofuel
  • Kia: auto parts, plastics, refrigerators
  • Mitsubishi: mineral water, pet food, peanuts
  • Nissan: biofuels and soy

An Argentinian commenter at the Economist post argues that these policies don’t add up to much, but their novelty is certainly notable!

How PTAs may segment regulatory systems

24 July 2011

Back in April, I wrote:

One such danger is that FTAs might be a means for the US or EU to try to lock in first-mover advantages in shaping regulatory standards (such as technical barriers to trade). While preferential tariffs can be undone relatively easy by further tariff cuts, plurilateral agreements that promulgate the adoption of a larger economy’s preferred technical standard might serve to determine which standard is later adopted multilaterally. A first mover might gain at the expense of others if its preferred standard is worse for world welfare.

A new WTO report tackles this very issue:

Director-General Pascal Lamy, in launching the World Trade Report 2011 on 20 July 2011, warned that preferential trade agreements (PTAs) “may lock in their members to a particular regulatory regime reducing the potential for trade to prosper with countries outside the arrangement”. “The new challenge posed by deep PTAs to the multilateral trading system is one of market segmentation because regulatory systems, which can become divergent, have now more importance on trade flows than tariffs,” he added…

In fact PTAs of today are less about tariff preferences and more about regulatory measures that were once considered the domain of national rather than international economic policy.  This change is occurring partly because of changes in the way production is being organized internationally with the rise of global production networks.  To prosper, these production networks require an enabling regulatory environment that provides stronger investor protection, better infrastructural services, freedom of movement of corporate personnel, protection to intellectual property rights, and facilitation of trade.   The demand for governance in these policy areas is being met by the supply of deep PTAs…

Another idea would be that we should not ignore the potential difficulties that deep PTAs can give rise to on the regulatory side.  One can observe in the sprawl of agreements what can only be called “families” of PTAs, with each family adopting a particular approach to important policy areas such as technical barriers to trade or competition policy.  The peril here is that PTAs may lock-in their members to a particular regulatory regime reducing the potential for trade to prosper with countries outside the arrangement.

In a nutshell, the new challenge posed by deep PTAs to the multilateral trading system is one of market segmentation because regulatory systems, which can become divergent, have now more importance on trade flows than tariffs. This is not a statement about the legitimacy of these regulatory systems. It is a factual assessment of their impact on economies of scale, which is what the WTO should care about.

The report, titled “The WTO and preferential trade agreements: From co-existence to coherence”, is available online.

Revenue-neutral tariff cuts are tricky business

29 June 2011

Sallie James:

[B]ecause implementing the FTAs (which will lower tariff revenue) and paying for the billion-dollar-plus TAA extension “requires” offsets, the draft language specifies in Sec. 601 that revenue should be raised by increasing customs user fees.

Scott Lincicome:

But “customs fees” are simply hidden taxes on import consumers.  A quick review of the US Customs website on “customs users fees” makes this clear.  They’re paid (mainly) by commercial transporters bringing goods (imports) into the United States, thus raising the costs of importation…

[A]ssuming that the agreement would raise US customs users fees (or implement new ones) in order to generate revenue for the federal government, it would probably violate GATT Article VIII, which governs WTO Members’ imposition of “Fees and Formalities connected with Importation and Exportation” (in other words, customs fees).  The key provision of Article VIII reads:

1.(a) All fees and charges of whatever character (other than import and export duties and other than taxes within the purview of Article III) imposed by contracting parties on or in connection with importation or exportation shall be limited in amount to the approximate cost of services rendered and shall not represent an indirect protection to domestic products or a taxation of imports or exports for fiscal purposes.

US cotton subsidies causing turmoil

22 June 2011

The US House has passed legislation that threatens its WTO-approved agreement with Brazil on cotton subsidies:

Questions are being raised about the future of the hard-won US-Brazil cotton agreement, thanks to last week’s vote in the US House of Representatives to end payments to the Brazil Cotton Institute. In a 223-197 vote, members passed an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 that, if enacted into law, would violate the terms of the 2010 WTO US-Upland Cotton agreement between the two countries (see Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2011).

The US$147.3 million annual payments were part of an agreement between the two countries that meant to hold Brazil back from imposing US$830 million in WTO-authorised countermeasures. The agreement came after a protracted WTO dispute that deemed various aspects of the US cotton subsidy regime as illegal.

The bill’s sponsor would like to see cuts to US agricultural subsidies, but those aren’t in the legislation:

“I’m pleased that a bipartisan group of Members agreed with me that supporting Brazil’s cotton industry with taxpayer dollars is wasteful and unnecessary. But the bill as a whole still irresponsibly overlooks other commonsense cuts such as the billions of dollars in outdated farm subsidies going to very few large agribusinesses. We cannot afford to continue spending carelessly and cutting recklessly, especially in this tough economy.”

In ongoing discussions about a mini-package for the WTO’s December ministerial meeting, the US ambassador to the WTO is pointing fingers at China for its cotton subsidies.

PTAs as first-mover advantages

23 April 2011

Brookings’ Joshua Meltzer takes an extended look at the future of the global trading system (html / pdf / event). The introduction is a good overview of the status quo’s challenges, though knowledgeable observers will find plenty of room for disagreement in assessing the shape and magnitude of various obstacles (e.g. the bicycle theory of trade negotiations, PTAs’ diversion of attention from multilateral talks).

The discussion of WTO legitimacy at the end of the piece is very interesting, though I won’t focus on it in this post. (More on that subject can be found in this Oxford book on trade ethics.)

In the middle of the article, Meltzer hints at an argument that has perhaps not received sufficient attention:

For the United States, the European Union, China, and Japan, bilateral and even regional FTAs maximize their ability to get their own way. Were these outcomes to become templates for future multilateral trade rounds, then a two-level game that leverages FTA outcomes into the WTO might undermine the WTO’s legitimacy.

One such danger is that FTAs might be a means for the US or EU to try to lock in first-mover advantages in shaping regulatory standards (such as technical barriers to trade). While preferential tariffs can be undone relatively easy by further tariff cuts, plurilateral agreements that promulgate the adoption of a larger economy’s preferred technical standard might serve to determine which standard is later adopted multilaterally. A first mover might gain at the expense of others if its preferred standard is worse for world welfare. (This scenario would be most damaging if technical standards are to be harmonized, but it also highlights the difficulties of harmonization. If mutual recognition is the future of reconciling technical barriers to trade, then the scope for first-mover advantages may be reduced.)

Mishra & Mishra: “Border Bias”

21 October 2010

This paper is psychology, not economics per se, but it’s about the border bias nonetheless:

In this research, we documented a bias in which people underestimate the potential risk of a disaster to a target location when the disaster spreads from a different state, but not when it spreads from an equally distant location within the same state. We term this the border bias. Following research on categorization, we propose that people consider locations within a state to be part of the same superordinate category, but consider locations in two different states to be parts of different superordinate categories. The border bias occurs because people apply state-based categorization to events that are not governed by human-made boundaries. Such categorization results in state borders being considered physical barriers that can keep disasters at bay. We demonstrated the border bias for different types of disasters (earthquake, environmental risk) and tested the underlying process in three studies.

[HT: MR]


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