Category Archives: Donald Trump

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.

 

 

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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.

 

Trump Trade Policy ‘Achievements’: The First Month

Alicia Nicholls

February 20th marked United States (US) President Donald Trump’s first full month in the Oval Office. And what a month it has been! We have seen a lot of focus by his administration on immigration. But what about trade? Trade occupied a major part of the platform of then US presidential candidate Trump. In his Contract with the American Voter , he had enumerated several trade-related pledges as part of his 100-day action plan to “Make America Great Again”. His first one hundred days are not yet up, but it is worth looking at what have been the achievements towards his “America first” trade policy during his first month in office.

President Trump’s Trade Promises

As a reminder, these were the major trade-related promises gleaned from his Contract with the American Voter. He pledged to:

  • Announce his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205;
  • Announce the US’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership;
  • Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator;
  • Direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately;
  • Work with Congress to introduce the “End Offshoring Act” to establish tariffs to discourage US companies from laying off their workers in order to relocate in other countries and ship their products back to the U.S. tax-free.

Three main reasons possibly explain Mr. Trump’s slow progress on his trade agenda thus far. Firstly, two key members of his trade team  who are needed to help effect his policies are still awaiting Senate confirmation, namely his United States Trade Representative (USTR) pick, noted trade lawyer and former deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, Robert Lighthizer, and his commerce secretary nominee, Wilbur Ross, an investor and former banker.

Secondly and related to the first point,Mr. Trump’s policy inexperience means he will likely be more reliant on the guidance and advice of his yet-to-be confirmed trade team than would other presidents. Thirdly, it is possible that Mr. Trump is realising that there is a wide chasm between presidential campaign rhetoric and how Washington and the role of president actually work, particularly when contrasted with being a CEO of one’s own company.

What has he achieved so far and what hasn’t he?

With that in mind, it is not surprising that of his stated promises, his only substantive trade policy achievement thus far has been directing the USTR via a presidential memorandum to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Withdrawal from the TPP was a low-hanging fruit. The US had signed but not yet ratified the Agreement and there was almost bi-partisan criticism of the deal. The acting USTR has since followed up on this memorandum, submitting a withdrawal letter to the TPP depository and TPP partners, and indicating their interest in bilateral trade deals with former TPP partners with which the US does not currently have a trade agreement.

Further to the latter point, President Trump and his soon-to-be confirmed trade team have been consistent so far on their preference for bilateralism over multilateralism. Trade was one of the hot button topics at his initial meetings with United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Theresa May,   Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

In keeping with his campaign promise that post-Brexit UK would not be at the back of queue for a trade deal, Mr. Trump received Prime Minister May as his first foreign head of government. The two have reportedly agreed to establish working groups in regards to a possible post-Brexit US-UK trade deal. Indeed, the UK House of Common’s International Trade Committee has already launched an inquiry on this.  However, formal negotiations on any such deal can only legally begin once the UK concludes its withdrawal agreement with the European Union (EU) pursuant to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

More immediately possible, however, may be trade talks between Japan and the US. Despite Mr. Trump’s earlier criticism of former TPP partner Japan’s “unfair trade practices”, the meeting with Mr. Abe went cordially, with agreement in principle for beginning US-Japan trade and investment talks. It should be noted that Japan has a large trade surplus with the US, boosted particularly by automobile exports, which might be a bone of contention in any trade talks between the two countries.

Outside of withdrawing from the TPP and these preliminary aspirational trade talks, there has been limited progress so far on his specific campaign promise in comparison to the ambitious agenda he proposed. So far he has not labelled China a “currency manipulator”. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had indicated that China’s currency was no longer below value. Nonetheless, Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, hesitated in a recent CNBC interview to “pass judgment” on China’s currency practices, stating his preference to go through the US Treasury’s established process on judging whether China (and other countries) was manipulating its currency to boost exports.

Additionally, President has not yet triggered the 90-day notice period by informing Congress of his intention to renegotiate NAFTA, which he had promised to do “immediately”. While Mr. Trump has criticised the shift of US jobs to Mexico and the US’ large merchandise trade with that NAFTA partner, it is also not clear on what particular provisions of the agreement he wishes to “tweak”.

What is clear is that Mr. Trump’s main grievance with NAFTA appears to be with Mexico more so than with Canada. Indeed, Mr. Trump took a less protectionist stance towards Canada during his meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, speaking collectively of keeping jobs and wealth within North America (US and Canada) and not just the US. While reporting on his meeting with Canada’s Prime Trudeau indicates that he would be looking for greater access by American firms to Canadian procurement markets, it is unclear when the NAFTA renegotiation talks will begin.

With respect to the promise to direct the USTR to identify countries engaging in “unfair trade practices”, his USTR nominee is still awaiting confirming. However, it has been longstanding US policy to challenge nations whose actions are against US economic and trading interests, as evidenced by the large number of disputes brought by the US before the WTO’s dispute settlement body.  Therefore, President Trump will not be doing anything more than what previous US administrations have done in this regard, although we will likely see an even more aggressive stance towards China’s trade practices.

Mr. Trump has spoken frequently against US companies which offshore production processes (and therefore jobs), as evidenced by his deal with air conditioner maker Carrier. He has promised to, but has not yet proposed, legislation to impose a punitive tax on US companies seeking to offshore may receive stiff opposition from the business community and from Congress.

He has, however, vacillated in his views on the controversial Border  Adjustment  Tax (BAT) proposal being pushed by Congressional Republicans as part of their tax reform plan. Different from Trump’s border tariff proposal, the GOP BAT Proposal seeks to convert the US corporate income tax from an origin-based to a destination-based tax. It would prevent companies from deducting the costs of their imported goods as an expense, while giving a tax break to companies which export. However, while some business leaders have praised the idea, some economists have argued that it will not boost US exports.

What next?

Besides the questions surrounding the renegotiation of NAFTA and which other nations the Administration will earmark for future bilateral deals, it is unclear what will be the Trump administration’s stance on other existing trade agreements, and on the on-going negotiations, including the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU and on the plurilateral negotiations such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). There is also need for clarity on the Administration’s position on key multilateral trade issues, bearing in mind the WTO’s upcoming 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires at the end of this year.  Nonetheless, it is early days yet and it is hoped there will be greater policy clarity before the one hundred days have elapsed.

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.

TPP: Acting USTR Submits Withdrawal Letter

Alicia Nicholls

On January 30, 2017, upon the instructions given by President Donald Trump in his January 23rd executive order, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) submitted a letter to the 11 other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signatories officially withdrawing the US from the Agreement. This is according to a press release on the USTR’s website.

The letter was also submitted to the TPP Depositary and signed by Acting USTR, Maria Pagan. In addition to indicating the US’ withdrawal, the letter further stated, that “the United States remains committed to taking measures designed to promote more efficient markets and higher levels of economic growth, both in our country and around the world.We look forward to further discussions as to how to achieve these goals.”

Withdrawal from the TPP, which he had denounced as detrimental to American jobs, had been one of President Trump’s least controversial campaign promises during the election campaign. The US had signed the agreement via executive action on February 4, 2016 by then President Barack Obama but the Agreement had never been ratified.

The Agreement’s 11 remaining signatories are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile.

The future of the Agreement sans the US remains uncertain. In the wake of the US’ withdrawal, Malaysia has signaled that it will refocus on trade with fellow ASEAN and Asian countries. According to Reuters’ reporting, Chile has indicated its interest in pursuing an FTA with China which is not a TPP party, and has reportedly invited remaining TPP members, China and South Korea to a summit in March on how to proceed. Australia’s Prime Malcolm Turnbull had initially indicated his interest in salvaging the agreement.

There has also been some speculation that China, which potentially stands to benefit geopolitically from the collapse of the TPP, may accede to the Agreement but Beijing has not confirmed whether it will pursue this option. Alternatively, there are some who argue that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which involves China provides a realistic alternative to the TPP.

Further information is available on the USTR’s website 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.

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