Category Archives: Protectionism

“Trade Wars and Trade Talks with Data”

Ralph Ossa:

I propose a flexible framework for the quantitative analysis of unilateral and multilateral trade policy. It is based on a multi-country multi-industry general equilibrium model of international trade featuring inter-industry trade as in Ricardo (1817), intra-industry trade as in Krugman (1980), and special interest politics as in Grossman and Helpman (1994). By combining these elements, it takes a unified view of trade policy which nests traditional, new trade, and political economy motives for protection. Specifically, it features import tariffs which serve to manipulate the terms-of-trade, shift profits away from other countries, and channel profits towards politically influential industries…

With regard to multilateral trade policy, I find that the world trade war tariffs vary widely across industries, countries, and trading partners and average 63 percent. This is roughly in line with the noncooperative tariffs observed following the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. They would substantially decrease real income in all countries with the average loss amounting to 4.1 percent. I also find that tariff changes which correspond to the GATT/WTO principle of reciprocity can be characterized by a simple formula which is easy to implement in practice. While this formula identifies a number of industries in which there is still scope for future reciprocal trade negotiations, it also suggests that the overall gains from such negotiations would be quite small…

I believe that this is the first quantitative framework which nests traditional, new trade, and political economy motives for protection. I also believe that this is the first study which provides estimates of optimal and noncooperative tariffs at the industry level for the major players in recent GATT/WTO negotiations…

My application focuses on 7 regions and 26 manufacturing industries in the year 2005. The regions are Brazil, China, the EU, India, Japan, the US, and a residual Rest of the World and are chosen to comprise the main players in recent GATT/WTO negotiations.

US cotton subsidies causing turmoil

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.

Progress in the US-Mexico trucking dispute

WSJ:

President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon reached a deal resolving a longstanding dispute over cross-border trucking that has subjected the U.S. to billions of dollars in punitive tariffs.

The plan, unveiled at a news conference by the two presidents, will allow for half of those tariffs to be lifted immediately. It will establish a reciprocal, phased-in pilot program that allows Mexican trucks to operate inside the U.S. provided they comply with a series of safety and driver-skills and language tests monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Non-discriminatory treatment in domestic commerce

A recent court ruling that led to the repeal of an import prohibition on agricultural products may not be covered at the IELP Blog, because it’s a purely domestic matter:

The city of Lake Elmo [in Minnesota] imposed the protectionist law in 2008, requiring that all agricultural produce sold on Lake Elmo’s farms must actually be grown in Lake Elmo. This would have significantly damaged the Bergmanns, and others like them, who grow produce elsewhere and sell it from their Lake Elmo farm. Judge Noel’s opinion recommended that a preliminary injunction be issued preventing the law from being enforced while the Institute for Justice lawsuit is litigated. The City Council’s change in the law now makes a preliminary injunction unnecessary.

Google wants to influence trade negotiations

USTR Ron Kirk visited Google last week for a round table on “Supporting Silicon Valley in the Global Economy.” One of the big headlines coming out of event is an argument, pushed by Google, that online censorship is a trade barrier.

The analogy/conflation between web openness and trade openness seems increasingly prevalent. The Economist devoted a cover story to the internet’s openness earlier this month and said that “the internet is as much a trade pact as an invention… Just as a free-trade agreement between countries increases the size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so the internet led to greater gains from the exchange of data and allowed innovation to flourish.”

While at some level the analogy is appropriate because there are common lessons, such as the fact that specialization is limited by the size of the market, I doubt that it’s as valuable when discussing the nuts and bolts of such (informational or economic) exchanges or the policies that should be adopted. But Google is pushing it hard:

Chief Legal Officer David Drummond… said Google is seeing an “alarming increase” in governments around the world censoring the Web, and he called on the U.S. government to treat the issue much as it would if a foreign nation was blocking the trade of physical goods.

“If this was happening with physical trade, we’d all be saying this violates trade agreements,” he said…

Drummond said barriers take several forms, such as blocking access to Google’s YouTube video service or by imposing licensing requirements that stipulate the company must install servers within a country in order to create a “local presence”–a definition that subjects content on those servers to local laws.

This argument, as presented by the WSJ, isn’t consistent with WTO law. Trade barriers discriminate between domestically produced goods and imports produced abroad. To quote myself:

Banning the consumption of tradable goods and services isn’t a WTO violation per se; international trade law emphasizes non-discrimination in the treatment of foreign and domestic products. Consider Antigua’s online gambling case against the US at the WTO. The basis for its claims was not that the US was obliged to allow online gambling, but that if it allowed domestic online gambling (such as allowed by the Interstate Horseracing Act), it was obliged by its GATS commitments to also allow online gambling provided by foreign suppliers. Similarly, I suspect that censorship only constitutes a trade barrier if foreign sources of information are censored more heavily than domestic providers, i.e. a difference in national treatment.

In short, “free trade” doesn’t mean “everything goes” and local laws can’t govern consumption. Free trade means non-discrimination with respect to producers’ origins.

The more plausible line of argument is that trade agreements can be used as leverage in negotiating non-trade issues:

“In our view at Google it’s high time for us to start really sinking our teeth into this one,” said Drummond.

“We have great opportunities now with pending trade agreements to start putting some pressure on countries to recognize that Internet freedom not only is a core value — that we should be holding them to account from a human rights standpoint — but also that if you want to be part of the community of free trade, you are going to have to find a way to allow the Internet to be open.”

But making trade negotiations contingent on pledges against government censorship doesn’t mean that Chinese-style internet censorship constitutes a trade barrier in the traditional WTO sense.

PTAs and the incidence of antidumping actions

Preferential trade agreements spur discriminatory anti-dumping practices:

“In this paper we empirically explore the possibility of additional discrimination via PTAs by focusing on the extent to which PTAs alter the pattern of antidumping (AD) activity… AD provisions in PTAs have decreased the number of intra-PTA AD cases by 33-55% and increased the number of AD actions against non-PTA members by 10-30%… PTAs without AD language do not experience any change in AD activity whereas PTAs with AD rules are characterized by protection reduction and protection diversion.”

Just as it’s difficult to assess the net benefits of trade creation minus trade diversion, it’s likely tough to discern the net benefit of PTAs’ AD clauses in terms of protection reduction minus protection diversion.

What's the growth cost of developed countries' tariffs?

Oddly, I didn’t come across this paper until just now:

John Romalis, “Market Access, Openness, and Growth”, NBER Working Paper 13048, 2007 (ungated version):

This paper identifies a causal effect of openness to international trade on growth. It does so by using tariff barriers of the United States as instruments for the openness of developing countries. Trade liberalization by a large trading partner causes an expansion in the trade of other countries. Trade expansion induced by greater market access appears to cause a quantitatively large acceleration in the growth rates of developing countries. Eliminating existing developed world tariffs would increase developing country trade to GDP ratios by one third and growth rates by 0.6 to 1.6 percent per annum.

What’s the growth cost of developed countries’ tariffs?

Oddly, I didn’t come across this paper until just now:

John Romalis, “Market Access, Openness, and Growth”, NBER Working Paper 13048, 2007 (ungated version):

This paper identifies a causal effect of openness to international trade on growth. It does so by using tariff barriers of the United States as instruments for the openness of developing countries. Trade liberalization by a large trading partner causes an expansion in the trade of other countries. Trade expansion induced by greater market access appears to cause a quantitatively large acceleration in the growth rates of developing countries. Eliminating existing developed world tariffs would increase developing country trade to GDP ratios by one third and growth rates by 0.6 to 1.6 percent per annum.