Category Archives: Donald Trump

Trade Takeaways from Trump’s Second State of the Union Address

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

Last night (February 5, 2019), United States (US) President, Donald J. Trump, delivered his second State of the Union (SOTU) address before a joint session of the US Congress. The President highlighted his administration’s progress on his campaign promises, including on immigration, trade, tax policy, infrastructure and national security. This article takes a brief look at the trade takeaways from the SOTU.

The Context

President Trump came to office with the promise, inter alia, of effecting a seismic shift in US trade policy. America, Trump argued, was being taken advantage of by other countries, while “unfair” trade deals were leading to the outsourcing of American jobs to the detriment of American workers and the American economy.

An underlying theme of President Trump’s SOTU address last night was that of “promises made, promises kept”. The President reminded viewers of his campaign promise “to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers”, while highlighting the achievements made thus far.

Much of President Trump’s trade policy actions have been done through executive actions utilising legislation like the Trade Act which empower the President to take certain trade-related action, such as raising tariffs. Indeed, in just two years, the Trump presidency has heralded a decidedly mercantilist turn in US trade policy, marked by increased unilateral action (even against traditional US allies, such as Canada and the EU), the US’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the renegotiation of the tripartite North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more aggressive action against China, coupled with threats of withdrawal from the WTO and blockage of appointments/re-appointments of WTO Appellate Body members.

Main Trade Takeaways from SOTU

However, in his address, President Trump focused exclusively on trade policy achievements regarding increased enforcement of US trade laws and the renegotiation of NAFTA. Below are the takeaways:

US-China Trading Relations

China has been the principal target of President Trump’s trade policy actions, leading to an escalation in trade tensions between Washington and Beijing which, according to the major multilateral institutions, are already negatively impacting global trade flows and dampening the outlook for the global economy.

In 2018, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, to which Beijing retaliated with tariffs on $110 billion worth of US goods. Although those parties threatened to impose further tariffs, they made a truce on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in December 2018 not to impose any further tariffs for a 90-day period while trade talks resumed between them. Since the start of the truce, two sets of face-to-face trade talks have been held between the two economic behemoths.

While President Trump proudly boasted that America is “now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end”, he further noted that he and Chinese President Xi were working on a new trade deal. The President, however, reiterated that any US-China trade deal “must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs”.

From NAFTA to USMCA

In his SOTU address, President Trump noted that “to build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount – reversing decades of calamitous trade policies”. To this effect, one of the President’s major trade policy campaign promises was the renegotiation of NAFTA, an agreement which he derided as a “historic blunder” in his SOTU address.

This renegotiation was accomplished last year with the signing of a replacement agreement called the US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement. Some of the major changes include the requirement that 75 percent (up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA) of an automobile’s contents needs to be made in North America for it to qualify for duty-free treatment, greater access to the Canadian dairy market for US farmers, an extension of the terms of copyright protection, stronger labour provisions, a sunset clause and provision for review of the Agreement every six years.

The USMCA was signed in November 2018, but is awaiting ratification by the three parties. However, some Democrats have raised issues with the Agreement. President Trump encouraged Congress to ratify the USMCA, in order to “bring back our manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with our four beautiful words: “Made in the USA.”

United States Reciprocal Trade Bill

President Trump also made a strong appeal to Congress to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Bill (HR 764), “so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us”.

The US Reciprocal Trade Bill, was introduced in the House on January 24, 2019, by Republican representative from Wisconsin’s 7th District, Sean Duffy (R-WI), who is currently the ranking Member of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing & Insurance.

Inter alia, the Bill provides that if the President determines that the rate of duty or non-tariff barriers imposed by a foreign country on a particular US good is “significantly higher ” than the rate of duty or non-tariff barriers imposed by the US on that same good imported from that country, the President is empowered to take several actions, including imposing a rate of duty on imports of that good that is equal to that imposed by that country.

The Bill currently has 19 co-sponsors. According to Representative Duffy’s press release, the proposed legislation would give the President “more flexibility in responding to foreign tariffs on U.S. products” and “the tools necessary to pressure other nations to lower their tariffs and stop taking advantage of America”.

If passed, the Bill will, however, likely be challenged by affected countries through the WTO’s dispute settlement system. However, it should be noted that its successful passage by Congress is not guaranteed. Firstly, the Democrats are the majority in the House of Representatives since January 2019, some of whom have openly criticised Trump’s protectionist trade policies. Secondly, and more importantly, some members of Congress, including some Republicans, are already proposing bi-partisan legislation to limit the President’s authority to unilaterally impose trade restrictions for national security purposes.

In the House, for example, Representative Mike Gallagher (R-Wi-8) introduced H.R.940 to amend the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose limitations on the authority of the President to adjust imports that are determined to threaten to impair national security, and for other purposes. Meanwhile, in the Senate, for example, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)  introduced the Global Trade Accountability Act (S 177), which would amend the Trade Act of 1974 to require congressional approval of unilateral trade action. The House version (HR 723) was introduced by Representative Warren Davidson (R-OH-8).

However, the passage of any of these proposed bills limiting the President’s trade policy powers are not a sure bet either. Even if passed by both Congressional chambers, the bill would almost certainly be vetoed by the President, and would require a two-thirds majority in each house to override a presidential veto, which is not an easy feat.

The big takeaway

The big takeaway is that President Trump is convinced that his mercantilist trade policy is delivering for the American people, a fact he evidences by the increase in jobs and economic growth. Indeed, a fact sheet  was released by the White House on the same day highlighting the President’s trade policy achievements.

However, his trade policies have come at the cost of increased trade tensions, alienating traditional US allies and creating an impending crisis in the WTO’s Appellate Body whose membership is now down to three – the minimum number of members required to hear an appeal.

Several WTO members have already initiated complaints against certain of President Trump’s trade measures, and/or have raised issues during the US’ most recent Trade Policy Review (TPR).

However, barring some Congressional limit on Presidential trade policy powers, the current trade policy approach is likely to continue for the remainder of the Trump Presidency.

The full transcript of the President’s SOTU Address may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Advertisements

Global Trade Policy in 2019: What to Watch?

This article has been updated.

Alicia Nicholls

Happy New Year to all! 2018 was without doubt a nail-biting year for global trade policy developments. In our first blog for the year, we take a look back at some of the key trade policy developments in 2018 and five developments to watch for 2019!

  1. US-China Trade Tensions and Truce?

Starting with the scary; 2018 saw an escalation in global trade tensions among major trading powers. Without doubt, the election of President Donald Trump in the US in 2016 has led to a more nationalistic, protectionist and unilateral turn in US trade and foreign policy. Under his ‘America First’ ideology, President Trump issued proclamations hiking tariffs on imported steel and aluminum under the guise of national security, with only a small handful of countries being spared.

Tensions between the US and its other key trading partners, such as Canada and the EU, were inflamed, but China was the main target of US trade action. According to the BBC, the US has imposed tariffs on over $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods and had threatened an additional $260 billion, while China has imposed tariffs on $50 billion dollars of US goods and threatened tariffs on an additional $60 billion. Both countries agreed to a truce in December to suspend any further tariff impositions for a 90-day period while talks resume.

Trade talks held between the US and China this week have been hailed as positive by both sides, but the two economic behemoths are still a long way from resolving long-simmering tensions. US President Donald Trump appears confident that China will acquiesce to the US’ demands given the current slowdown in the Chinese economy. However, the US has not escaped the trade tensions unharmed as, for example,  soybean farmers have been affected by the reduced Chinese demand for their produce.

The WTO has warned that the uncertainty around the escalating trade tensions was beginning to adversely impact business and investment confidence, with potential implications for continued global trade growth. Moreover, in its Global Economic Prospects – January 2019 report, ominously titled ‘Darkening Skies’, the World Bank has warned of darkening clouds over the global economy and softening global trade and investment flows.

2. WTO Reform

On the multilateral scene, the crisis in the WTO’s Appellate Body due to the US’ blockage of appointments appears to have given new political will and urgency to the need to reform the WTO, which is facing its greatest existential crisis since its founding in 1995.

The US’ continued blockage of appointments/re-appointments to the organisation’s seven-member Appellate Body has now resulted in only three sitting Appellate Body members – the minimum for the Body to function.

Several WTO members have tabled proposals for reforms on discrete issues, such as transparency/notification, while the European Union (EU) and Canada have both placed more comprehensive reform proposals on the table, including reform of the dispute settlement system.

However, WTO members are still a long way from deciding on how deep and wide-ranging the reform agenda should be. The US, which has for a long time expressed grave reservations about the Appellate Body, has so far not been convinced by any of the proposals tabled.

This year will be critical for deciding on the way forward for WTO reform, especially since the loss of yet another Appellate Body member will result in the Appellate Body being unable to operate, with grave implications for the prompt settlement of disputes and the rules-based multilateral trading system, on a whole.

3. Regional Trade Agreements – AfCTA, USMCA, CPTPP, EU-Japan 

On the regional trade agreement scene, there were several positive and major developments in 2018. One of the most exciting was in March, 2018 when forty-four African states signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) in Kigali, Rwanda. Since then, five other States have signed the agreement. Thirteen African States have ratified the agreement thus far and further ratifications will be needed before it comes into effect.

President Donald Trump made good on one of his major trade policy promises – the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico to make it ‘fit for purpose’ for the 21st century. In November 2018, the three countries announced they had agreed an agreement under a new name – the United States, Mexico and Canada (USMCA) Agreement. Some of the major changes include more stringent rules of origin (RoO), extension of terms of copyright protection, a sunset clause and provision for a 6-year review.  The Agreement is awaiting ratification in the three countries.

After the US’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) under President Trump, the remaining eleven TPP parties signed a successor agreement termed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in March 2018. The Agreement came into effect on December 30, 2018, and its parties account for an estimated 14% of global GDP.

Five years after negotiations began in 2013, the EU and Japan signed the Economic Partnership Agreement and the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement. The Agreement, which is on track to come in effect in February 2019, is the first free trade agreement to make explicit reference to the Paris Climate Change Agreement which was signed in 2015.

4. Bolsonaro’s Brazil

South America’s largest country, Brazil, elected Jair Bolsonaro who took office as president at the beginning of 2019. Riding the wave of right-wing populism, Mr. Bolsonaro has expressed support for the unilateral foreign policy espoused by his US counterpart and has expressed apathy about Mercosur. Brazil is one of the most influential emerging economies, both hemispherically and internationally. The implications of the South American nation’s shifting foreign and trade policy will, therefore, be key to watch.

5. Brexit Uncertainty

Of course, one of the biggest trade policy developments to watch in 2019 will be the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU – Brexit – which, as it stands, is to take place on March 29, 2019.

After nearly two years of intense negotiations, the EU-27 and the UK finally arrived at a Draft Agreement on the UK’s Withdrawal from the EU and a Political Declaration Setting out the Framework for the Future Relationship between the EU and the UK in November 2018. The EU-27 leaders endorsed the two texts at a special emergency meeting of the European Council.

However, in the face of strong opposition to the deal, particularly the ‘backstop’ provisions regarding the Northern Ireland/Ireland Border, UK Prime Minister Theresa May cancelled a crucial House of Commons vote on the deal which she likely would have lost. Mrs. May has sought to obtain further binding concessions from the EU, but without success thus far.

This week, the British House of Commons MPs voted in favour of an amendment requiring the Prime Minister to present to Parliament a Brexit Plan B within three days, in the event that MPs reject the current Draft Withdrawal Agreement in their vote rescheduled for next week Tuesday. Meanwhile, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling for a general election to break the Brexit deadlock.

The Brexit deadline looms, but the May Government has ruled out requesting an extension under Article 50. With the timeline for the UK’s withdrawal ticking and the real threat of a potentially economically disastrous ‘no-deal’ exit, this will be one of the major trade policy issues to watch in 2019.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

The Trump Presidency – Implications and Opportunities for Caribbean IFCs

Alicia Nicholls

On March 31, 2017 I was a panellist representing FRANHENDY ATTORNEYS at the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) Barbados International Business Forum 2017 entitled “Is the Barbados International Business Sector Under Attack?” held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in Barbados.

I was on the second panel which discussed the topic “The Trump Presidency – Implications and Opportunities for IFCs“. My esteemed fellow panellists were Jeremy Stephen, Economist and UWI Lecturer, Lisa Cummins, Executive Director of UWIConsulting and Cadian Dummond, Attorney at Law. The discussion was expertly moderated by Melanie Jones, Partner at Lex Caribbean Attorneys-At-Law.

I spoke to the possible implications of the Trump Presidency in regards to de-risking, FATCA and visa restrictions.

For those who missed the panel discussion and have expressed interest in my remarks, please find a copy of same in powerpoint form here. Enjoy!

For more on past presentations I have done, please see news and announcements.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

 

Will US Financial Deregulation help mitigate the de-risking phenomenon?

Alicia Nicholls

The exigencies of complying with a complex and often confusing maze of overlapping regulations, coupled with steep fines for compliance breaches, have been identified as principle drivers for United States-based global banks’ restriction and termination of correspondent banking relationships with respondent banks in other jurisdictions. As part of his promise to “Make America Great Again”, US President Donald Trump has pledged to cut the regulatory noose argued to be strangling US enterprise and growth. Will this deregulatory push have the unintended spin-off of mitigating the de-risking phenomenon facing several countries around the world, including Caribbean States?

President Trump has been adamant that ‘burdensome’ regulations passed during the Obama administration to avert a repeat of the Global Economic and Financial Crisis of 2008, have been fetters on US business activity and prosperity. While most available data point to the contrary, the Trump Administration and Corporate America posit that Obama-era regulations like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) have reduced bank profitability and risk appetite, culminating in dampened bank lending to consumers and businesses.

President Trump has so far signed two executive actions on financial deregulation. The latter, an executive order dated February 3, 2017, sets out seven core principles for regulating the US Financial System. It mandates Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, to consult with the heads of the member agencies of the Financial Stability Oversight Committee (FSOC) and to submit to the President within 120 days a review of “laws, treaties, regulations, guidance” inter alia, which among other things inhibit regulation in sync with the Core Principles. There has been reportedly a shift towards more ‘pro-business’ regulators. Perhaps most telling, in contrast to his anti-Wall Street rhetoric during the campaign, President Trump has picked several former bankers (notably Goldman Sachs) for key cabinet and administration positions, including for Treasury Secretary.

Stringent compliance burdens and costs, as well as uncertainty about the interpretation of the regulations, are major drivers for banks’ avoiding, rather than managing risks. Will an unintended consequence of financial deregulation in the US be a mitigation of the de-risking phenomenon? While at first blush this conclusion may appear tempting, I respectfully submit that this may be an overly optimistic view, at least at this early stage, for the reasons which I outline below.

Firstly, the Trump Administration has set its cross-hairs firmly on the Dodd Frank Act which President Trump termed a “disaster”. This Act, which is hundreds of pages long, was passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It includes, for instance, rules against predatory lending, sets measures to deal with banks which become “too big to fail”, prohibits proprietary trading by banks for their own profit (Volcker Rule), inter alia. While Dodd Frank is not perfect and has been blamed for contributing to de-risking, repealing it would not only create an environment for a resumption of the pre-crisis risky behaviours by banks and other financial institutions. It would set the stage for a repeat of 2008, in much the same way that deregulation during the 1990s to early 2000s, including changes to the (now repealed) Glass-Steagall Act, laid the groundwork for the Great Recession, almost a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Secondly, Dodd-Frank is just one aspect of the de-risking problem. There appears to be no indication that the Trump Administration intends to tackle the constellation of other regulations, including international anti-money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), tax and banking regulations (Basel III), with which banks, including in the US, must comply.

In the World Bank’s seminal 2015 global survey on the Withdrawal from Correspondent Banking, some 95% of large banks had cited “concerns about money-laundering/terrorism financing risks” as a driver for withdrawing from correspondent banking relationships. However, it is unlikely that the Trump Administration will try to rollback AML/CFT rules. President Trump’s ‘America First’ ethos has a strong national security undertone. Weakening the US’ AML/CFT rules would likely make him appear ‘soft’ on money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism. International pressure is also a factor as the US’ last Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Mutual Evaluation Report (2016) highlighted some AML/CFT weaknesses, including gaps in timely access to beneficial ownership information.

Thirdly, replacing existing regulators with so-called pro-business regulators does not necessarily mean that there will be a more lenient approach to fines imposed on banks for compliance breaches. Unlike popular belief, most of the large banks which have been made to pay record fines had indeed knowingly committed serious AML/CFT breaches.

Fourthly, even if financial deregulation in the US eases the regulatory pressure on US global banks, it does not affect two core problems which appear to be driving the de-risking of regional banks, namely the perceived unprofitability of providing correspondent banking services to indigenous Caribbean banks, and the Caribbean region’s unjustified characterisation as a ‘high risk’ region for conducting financial services. In the previously mentioned World Bank 2015 Survey, some 80% of large banks cited “lack of profitability of certain foreign CBR services/products” as a driver of exiting correspondent banking relationships.

Further to the latter point, Caribbean countries, particularly international financial centres (IFCs) are consistently and unjustifiably placed on US government lists deeming them as money laundering threats, despite the fact that no Caribbean IFC is currently on any CFATF list of ‘high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions’. The most notorious example of this unfair practice is the US’ annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the latest edition of which listed 21 Caribbean jurisdictions without providing (as usual) any evidence to support the conclusions drawn.

Caribbean countries are consistently branded as tax havens in spite of the fact that all Caribbean countries have signed intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with the US Government pursuant to the extra-territorially applied US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) passed in 2010. Most Caribbean governments have already passed implementing legislation to bring their IGAs into force. In addition, while the US has opted not to be a part of the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard, several Caribbean countries have elected to be early adopters!

Added to this is that compliance officers in overseas banks usually view the Caribbean as a “collective” and not as individual countries; any perceived risks in one country are transposed to the Region as a whole.

Granted, it is still early days of the Trump Administration and the findings of the Treasury Secretary’s report on which regulations may possibly be earmarked for axing would not be known for some time. What does help, however, is where there is clarification of the rules through clearer guidance. For instance, for a long time it was unclear how far banks’ due diligence requirements were to go. In addition to knowing their customer (KYC), there appeared to be a growing consensus that banks were also supposed to know their customer’s customers (KYCC).  Definitive guidance through the FATF Guidance in October 2016 showed that KYCC was not required. Turning to the US, that same month the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released guidance to assist banks in the periodic risk reevaluation of foreign correspondent banking relationships.

However, the Region would be well-advised not to expect any serious mitigation of the de-risking phenomenon stemming from US financial deregulation. Despite being a ‘pro-business’ administration, it should be remembered that the overriding goal of the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollback is to “Make America Great Again”, point blank. Any spill-over positive benefits to the Caribbean from Trumpian financial deregulation would be welcomed but unintended, and it is more likely that the regulatory rollback may perhaps be more harmful than helpful to the region.

There is no panacea for the de-risking phenomenon as it is caused by a multiplicity of factors. Regional governments and private sector stakeholders should continue their lobbying and advocacy efforts, including engagement with key US administration officials, regulators and the banking sector. Given the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ disposition, lobbying efforts which emphasises the implications that possible derisking-related economic and social destabilisation in the Caribbean may have on the US’ homeland security would be more impactful than pure moral suasion.

These advocacy efforts should also highlight to US officials and to US correspondent banks Caribbean countries’ own efforts at continuously improving their AML/CFT frameworks and the compliance efforts of Caribbean banks. Regional banking stakeholders should also continue to explore the possibility of investing in technologies such as Know Your Customer (KYC) utilities and legal entity identifiers (LEIs) to assist in customer due diligence (CDD) information sharing between themselves and their US correspondents.

These were part of the remarks I gave as a panellist at the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) International Business Forum 2017

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Trump’s Trade Executive Orders target deficit and uncollected AD/CV Duties

Alicia Nicholls

United States (US) President Donald Trump has sent a warning signal to those countries which he accuses of engaging in ‘unfair trading practices’ argued to be costing American manufacturing jobs. Proclaiming that the “theft of American prosperity will end,” the President concluded the work week by signing two trade-focussed executive orders aimed respectively at identifying the causes of the US’ reported $500 billion dollar total trade deficit and the $2.3 billion dollars (as at May 2015) in uncollected anti-dumping and countervailing duties owed to the US government. Ultimately, the twinned measures are to “set the stage for the revival of US manufacturing” as noted in the President’s remarks at the signing ceremony.

Presidential Executive Order Regarding the Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits

Taking aim at the US’ trade deficit  blamed for a decline in American prosperity and jobs, President’s Trump executive order mandates the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, and the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Robert Lighthizer (yet to be confirmed) to prepare and submit to him an Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits. This is to be done in consultation with relevant departments and agencies. The Secretary of Commerce and the USTR may hold public meetings and receive comments from relevant government and non-governmental stakeholders.

Primarily, this report is to examine the US’ trading relationships country by country. It will identify those foreign trading partners with which the US had a significant trade deficit in goods in 2016, and seek to ascertain the reasons for the deficits, including whether it is because of trade abuses (or what President Trump has termed “cheating”) by these countries, assess the effects of the trade relationship on US employment and wage growth and identify imports and trade practices that may be impairing US national security.

Most Caribbean countries can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief as the US has a trade surplus with the Region, as at the last report on the operation of the CBERA. The exception is the oil-rich Trinidad & Tobago which enjoys a merchandise trade surplus with the United States. According to US Census Bureau data, in 2016, the US imported $2,961 million in goods from the twin-island republic and exported $2,334 million, resulting in a deficit of $617 million. Natural gas, crude oil and petrochemicals comprise the majority of US imports from Trinidad & Tobago as this table shows.

While it may appear that Trinidad & Tobago might potentially be in the Administration’s cross-hairs as it has a trade surplus with the US, it should be noted that (a) the US’ deficit with Trinidad & Tobago in 2016 was not ‘significant’ and has been declining since 2011 (b) the Report is supposed to consider other factors as well, including whether the country engages in ‘unfair trading practices’ which Trinidad & Tobago does not. (c) As the Trump Administration will seek to increase US onshore petroleum production, its imports from Trinidad & Tobago (and its deficit with that country) will continue to decrease.

Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Enhanced Collection and Enforcement of Anti-dumping and Countervailing Duties and Violations of Trade and Customs Laws

In a warning salvo to China, President Trump’s second executive order targets US importers which evade anti-dumping/countervailing duties by improving collection of these duties at the border. Dumping in the trade context refers to where an exporter sells a product in an export market at a price lower than in the home market. Under the WTO’s Anti-dumping Agreement, a country may, after investigation, impose extra duties (anti-dumping duties) on a “dumped” product from another country to ensure the price is close to the “normal value” or to offset injury to its domestic industry.

Specifically, the executive order mandates the Secretary of Homeland Security, through the Commissioner of Customs & Border Patrol (CBP), to “develop and implement a strategy and plan for combating violations of US trade and customs laws for goods and for enabling interdiction and disposal”.

The order also seeks to ensure the timely and efficient enforcement of laws protecting intellectual property rights holders from the importation of counterfeit goods. It therefore requires the Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of Homeland Secretary to take all appropriate steps to ensure that the CBP can share any information with rights holders which is necessary to determine whether there has been an IPR infringement or violation, and regarding merchandise voluntarily abandoned, once such information is shared consistent with the law.

Memo on NAFTA

In other news, last week a leaked draft memo to Congress signed by the Acting USTR revealed what appeared to be the Administration’s orientation towards the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement which Trump had called the “worst trade deal ever signed by the US”. However, during a daily press briefing the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, has said the memo is “not a statement of administration policy”.

Trade had been a major plank of President Trump’s platform, which aimed to stop ‘bad trade deals’ and eradicate the US’ trade deficit. One of his earliest executive orders was mandating the Acting USTR to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

New Trump Executive Order Reverses Obama-Era Climate Change Policies

Alicia Nicholls

Less than one hundred days into his presidency, President Donald Trump has started a major rollback of Obama-era climate policies. Surrounded by an ensemble of coal miners, the US President today signed his Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.  Touted as necessary to liberalise energy production, promote economic growth and job creation, the Trump Executive Order takes aim at several executive actions implemented by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, as part of the US’ then response to the global climate change challenge.

For fellow pro-environmentalists today’s executive order is a blow to the global climate change fight and a sad confirmation of the policy change which Trump had promised. Why? Firstly, the US is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (16% according to 2015 figures), which means US action or inaction on climate change has a non-negligible impact on global efforts to reverse course before it is too late. Secondly, environmental regulatory rollback by the US could provoke a domino effect on other large emitters who may decide to rollback their own so-called ‘job killing’ environmental regulations in order to be competitive. Thirdly, US climate change inaction is not just a blow for small island developing States which are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, but it further endangers those parts of the US which are feeling the ravages of climate change, such as sea level rise and more powerful storms.

The name  of the executive order is a misnomer as it does nothing to promote energy independence. Instead, it mandates, inter alia, departments and agencies to immediately review, suspend, revise or rescind existing regulations that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources”. It rescinds Certain Energy and Climate-Related Presidential and Regulatory Actions, including a 2013 executive order urging the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change and a 2013 presidential memorandum on Carbon Sector Carbon Pollution Standards. It also lifts moratoria on Federal land coal leasing activities. His Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, a known climate sceptic, reportedly hailed the regulatory rollback as “pro-jobs and pro-environment”.

This 360 degree reversal of US Climate Change policy comes days after President Trump’s proposed Budget which slashed budgetary funding for the EPA by 31%, but saw an increase in military spending.

Though denounced by environmentalists, the executive order has been praised by the US Coal Industry. Mr. Trump constantly blamed President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal mining jobs. However, though it is true that coal mining jobs have been on the decline in the US, most have been lost to automation as well as the shift to cleaner energy sources as opposed to clean energy regulations. Therefore, even some coal industry leaders, who have denounced climate action, have noted that coal jobs may not be coming back, regulatory rollback or not.

Moreover, the equation of climate change regulation with job losses is a false comparison as it ignores the growth not just in renewable energy industries and the green economy, but also specifically of green jobs and green goods and services.

President Trump is currently the only major world leader to deny the anthropogenic origin of climate change, and while he has often vacillated in his views on other subjects, on climate change he has been a consistent denier. Almost as a warning salvo that it would not be business as usual,  the Whitehouse.gov site had been scrubbed of any information relating to climate change immediately after President Trump’s inauguration.

Mr. Trump was also a fierce critic of the Paris Climate Agreement which had been concluded and signed by over 190 countries at the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21). Parties to the Agreement, which the US had ratified under President Obama via executive action, pledged, inter alia, to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

In the absence of being able to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (which the US cannot do until 4 years after ratifying), President Trump has, as expected, chosen to ignore and reverse emission reduction commitments made by his predecessor. It is also expected that under President Trump the US will renege on the pledge made by developed countries to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020 to assist developing countries with their climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

President Trump’s Trade Policy Agenda for 2017 Released

Alicia Nicholls

The Office of the United States’ Trade Representative (USTR) today released a preliminary report outlining President Trump’s Trade Policy Agenda for 2017.  It should be noted that this is a preliminary report prepared in order to comply with the statutory deadline for the report’s annual release March 1, but bearing in mind that President Trump’s nominee for USTR, experienced trade lawyer and former deputy USTR under former President Ronald Reagan, Robert Lighthizer, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. As such, it has been noted in the report that  a more detailed version will be published once the USTR has been confirmed and has had the opportunity to provide input in that report’s development.

As stated in the report, President Trump sees bipartisan support by the American people for a complete overhaul of US trade policy. In order to effect this, the report states that the overarching purpose of the Trumpian trade policy “will be to expand trade in a way that is freer and fairer for all Americans”.

To this effect, the report outlines four priorities identified by the Administration:

(1) defend U.S. national sovereignty over trade policy;

(2) strictly enforce U.S. trade laws;

(3) use all possible sources of leverage to encourage other countries to open their markets to U.S. exports of goods and services, and provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of U.S. intellectual property rights; and

(4) negotiate new and better trade deals with countries in key markets around the world.”

Several preliminary things stand out from the report:

(1) The report highlighted that the US is not bound by WTO decisions and evinces a policy stance going forward not to accept any adverse rulings from the WTO. The paragraph below taken directly from the report is instructive:

“And, when the WTO adopts interpretations of WTO agreements that undermine the ability of the United States and other WTO Members to respond effectively to these real world unfair trade practices with remedies expressly allowed under WTO rules, those interpretations undermine confidence in the trading system. None of these outcomes is in the interest of the United States or a healthy global economy.”

This is coupled with what appears to be the Trump administration’s plans to make greater use of unilateral remedies.

US disregard for adverse WTO rulings is a troubling prospect for many reasons, but particularly for small island states’ enforcement of their trade interests. It should be noted that the Caribbean island state of Antigua & Barbuda is still awaiting compensation from the US, after many years, since winning the US-Gambling dispute. It remains to be seen whether this will ever be resolved.

(2) Based on the arguments made in this report, I think it likely that Trump’s team will advocate for changes to be made to the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism for their own interest.

(3) The Administration has stated its intention to not only more aggressively go after countries the US deems to be “engaging in unfair trade practices”, but will also with equal zeal go after countries which do not sufficiently open their markets to US exports. As mentioned previously, the pursuit of countries’ trading practices which are perceived to be inimical to US interests is not new and has been US policy for years. The singling out of China in this regard came as no surprise.

(4) The Trump administration’s criterion for whether a trade agreement is bad or good appears to be based solely on whether the US has a trade (merchandise) deficit with the country in question. This is not just a facile way of assessing the merits of a trade agreement, but also ignores services trade and investment which in many cases the US has a surplus with its trading partners.

(5) While there are references to “free and fairer trade” throughout the report, I believe the term “zero sum” trade may be the more appropriate term to describe these proposals.

The full report may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

« Older Entries