Category Archives: Trade Policy

Caribbean Trade & Development Digest – February 3-9, 2019

Welcome to the Caribbean Trade & Development Digest for the week of February 3-9, 2019! We are happy to bring you the major trade and development headlines and analysis from across the Caribbean Region and the world from the past week. We apologise for the delay in the publication of this edition.

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS

A bi-partisan bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives to reauthorize the US Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) until 2030.

Trade was one of themes touched on by US President Donald J. Trump in his State of the Union Address. See write up here.

UNCTAD identified the winners and losers from the US-China trade tensions in a recently released report entitled The Trade Wars: The Pain and the Gain which may be viewed here.

REGIONAL

Bipartisan Caribbean Trade Bill introduced in US congress

CaribbeanNewsNow: US Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) have introduced legislation to reauthorize the US Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) until 2030. Since 2000, CBTPA has allowed for the duty- and quota-free import of goods made with US yarns, fabrics and threads from Caribbean countries. Read more 

Efforts take shape to reduce OECS food import bill

St. Lucia News Online: Spurring domestic agricultural production to meet local and international demand while reducing the region’s food import bill is the focus of a powerful new data tool recently presented to agricultural decision-makers at the OECS Commission. Read more 

Commercial Court ‘could boost’ Barbados economy

Barbados Today: The minister responsible for business is counting on the planned commercial law court to transform the way business is done and boost the flagging economy. Read more 

Trinidad: PM wants technology to play greater role in energy sector; offers help to Caribbean countries

St Lucia News Online: The Trinidad and Tobago government Monday said it is prepared to assist its fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries develop their hydrocarbon sector as it placed much emphasis on the importance of technology in developing its own industry. Read more 

Marshall and Brown launches Jamaican gourmet line in UK

Jamaica Observer: A new premium Jamaican product line, Marshall & Brown, has been launched in the United Kingdom (UK) to fill a gap in the market for authentic Jamaican food and cooking ingredients.  Read more 

High demand for Jamaican black castor oil in United States

Jamaica Observer: A new study on the local castor oil industry is showing significant potential for Jamaican black castor oil in the United States. The Complete Caribbean study indicates that the US market for the product stands at about US$28 million. Read more 

CDB President calls for resilience, transformation to drive Regional economic growth

CARICOM Today: Although grappling with challenges related to climate change; wide fiscal deficits and high public debt; as well as high unemployment, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) today projected that the Region’s economy is expected to grow by 2% in 2019. Read more 

Trinidadians seeking business opportunities in Jamaica

CARICOM Today:A business delegation from Trinidad and Tobago is in the island for a four-day trade mission from February 5 to 8. The team, being hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, represents 10 companies involved in various sectors. These are construction, architectural services, food and beverage, agro-chemical, consumer and household products, software development, marketing and advertising. Read more 

Consultations on CARICOM Gender Policy

CARICOM Today: The first of 15 national consultations on a draft Regional Gender Equality Strategy for CARICOM opened on Thursday, in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. Read more 

INTERNATIONAL

Japan seeking big concessions from Britain in trade talks

The Guardian: Japan is seeking tougher concessions from Britain in trade talks than it secured from the EU, while negotiations between London and Tokyo are also being slowed by the looming risk of no-deal. Read more 

US-China trade war could slash almost 1 million jobs from the US economy, new study says

South China Morning Post: Research from the Washington-based consultancy Trade Partnership Worldwide, paid for by the pro-free trade lobbying group Tariffs Hurt the Heartlands, ominously predicts that more than 2 million American jobs could be on the line should US President Donald Trump push ahead with his threat of a 25 per cent tariff on all Chinese exports. Read more

WTO awards South Korea $85 million against U.S. over washing machine tariffs

Reuters: South Korea can impose annual trade sanctions of $84.81 million on the United States after challenging U.S. anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on washing machines, a World Trade Organization arbitration panel ruled on Friday. Read more

India, Peru to hold next round of free-trade agreement talks in March in Lima

ET Now: India and Peru will hold the next round of negotiations for a proposed free-trade agreement (FTA) in the South American nation next month, a move aimed at boosting two-way commerce between the countries, an official said.  Read more 

Uruguay Betting On Exports Of Medical Marijuana

Jamaica Gleaner: The country got a head start on competitors in December 2013 when it became the first in the world to regulate the cannabis market from growing to purchase, a move that has brought a wave of investment. Read more 

No-deal Brexit: What does the WTO rules option actually mean and how would it work?

iNews: If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, which is still the default option if one cannot be agreed, it would automatically fall back to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. But what would this actually mean? Read more

Brexit: May says she can get deal through with binding changes

BBC: Theresa May has told EU leaders she can get the Brexit deal through Parliament if they give her legally-binding changes to it. Read more 

African Free Trade Zone deal may come into force in 2 months: Egypt’s FM

Egypt Today: The agreement of the African Continental Free trade Area (AfCFTA) for 55 member states of the African Union may come into force within six months, said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on the sidelines of the 32nd session of the African Union that will kick off on Sunday in Addis Ababa. Read more

Turkey, US ‘will reach $75 bln trade target with free trade agreement’

Hurriyet: Trade volume between Turkey and the United States may reach $75 billion through a free trade agreement and the removal of regulations and tariffs, the chairman of the American-Turkish Council has said, stressing that the bilateral potential has never been realized. Read more

A modernized WTO is far better than no WTO at all

The Hill: Last month, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, leading members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) met to discuss how to improve the organization. At the same time, more than 70 governments agreed to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce. Read more

China says US report on its WTO compliance lacks factual basis

CNBC: China opposes a report by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on its World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance, the commerce ministry said, saying it is inconsistent with the facts. Read more

WTO NEWS

Arbitrator issues decision in dispute between Korea and US on large residential washers

WTO: On 8 February 2019, a WTO arbitrator issued a decision on the level of trade suspension Korea may request in its dispute with the United States regarding US anti-dumping and countervailing duty measures on large residential washers from Korea (DS464). Read more 

The Caribbean Trade & Development Digest is a weekly trade news digest published by the Caribbean Trade Law & Development Blog. Liked this issue? To read past issues, please visit here. To receive these mailings directly to your inbox, please follow our blog.

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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.

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.

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: Trump to Withdraw US from Agreement on day one

Alicia Nicholls

United States (US) President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his intention to honour one of his more popular campaign pledges; withdrawing his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. He reiterated this promise in an online video aimed at updating the American people on the progress of his transition and policy plans for the first one hundred days of his presidency which will officially begin on January 20, 2017.

In a video which was silent on his more controversial plans like building a wall Mexico would supposedly pay for or pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Mr. Trump stated that on the first day of taking office he would “issue a notification of intent to withdraw” from the 12-member mega-regional trade agreement whose members account for forty (40) percent of global GDP.

Referring to the TPP as “a potential disaster for our country”, the President-elect stated that he would instead “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back to American shores”, one of the main cornerstones of his Trade Policy. The US has signed the TPP but has not yet ratified it.

The TPP has faced tremendous opposition. Among other things, TPP critics have denounced the negotiations’ secrecy and lack of transparency, the potential impact on access to medicines by the stronger intellectual property rights provisions, and the investor-state dispute settlement provisions which allow investors to sue . However, Mr. Trump’s criticisms of the Agreement have been largely vague centering around the need to bring back American jobs and take back control of the American economy. On the campaign trail Mr. Trump famously called the TPP “a rape of our country“.

While Mr. Trump’s former opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had revoked her support of TPP during her democratic primary fight against Senator Bernie Sanders, current US President Barack Obama has been a staunch supporter of the TPP. The outgoing President recently defended the Agreement at last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima, Peru.

Mr. Trump’s promise to withdraw from the TPP may be music to the ears of TPP critics and workers in US ‘rustbelt’ states but fellow TPP member states are not optimistic. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the TPP would be “meaningless” without the US. Reuters reports that Peru has proposed talks to save the TPP. It should be noted that none of the countries have ratified the Agreement as yet. With the TPP practically “dead on arrival”, Asian states appear to be already pivoting towards the China-pushed rival deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership  (RCEP), and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

In the short video, President-elect Trump also reiterated his promise to cut regulations and increase the production of fossil fuels and pledged to “direct the Department of Labour to investigate all abuses of visa programmes that undercut the American worker”. Mr. Trump has promised in the video to share more updates in upcoming days.

The President-elect’s full video may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls 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 Presidency: What priorities for US-Caribbean Economic Engagement?

Alicia Nicholls

The United States’ position as most Caribbean countries’ largest economic partner and an important foreign policy ally means that constructive engagement with the incoming Trump administration is not just a choice but an imperative. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and individual Caribbean governments have all expressed congratulatory messages, emphasizing their willingness to work with Mr. Trump and continuing the harmonious US-Caribbean relationship.

But in contrast to the idealism attending then Senator Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” message eight years ago, a spectre of profound uncertainty shrouds the President-elect not just because of his extreme rhetoric on trade and foreign policy, undergirded by his “Make America Great Again” and “America First” refrains, but also the lack of policy specificity.

In this article, I will outline what I believe are five key priorities which will likely frame US-Caribbean economic and foreign policy engagement for the foreseeable future:

  1. Correspondent Banking/De-Risking

A first order of business will be continuing the conversation that CARICOM governments and stakeholders have started with US officials and regulators on the de-risking activities of US-based international banks, including the withdrawal and restriction of correspondent banking relationships. These relationships are Caribbean’ lifeline to the global financial and trading system, critical for the trade, investment and remittance flows which buoy our small open economies and sustain households.

US foreign policy orientation towards the Caribbean has constantly recognized that an economically secure “third border” complements US’ strategic security interests. Any threat therefore to the region’s economic and financial inclusion is something which should be of mutual concern. Unfortunately, there appears to be limited progress on the correspondent banking issue.

While de-risking is a cost-benefit decision for banks, it is also partly fuelled no doubt by ambiguous regulations and the Caribbean’s undeserved reputation in some quarters as a high risk place for doing business. To their credit, the US Treasury and Federal Banking Agencies released a Joint Factsheet on Foreign Correspondent Banking. Additionally, the US Treasury has reiterated that the de-risking issue is a “key priority”.

However, actions by US authorities which unfairly label Caribbean countries as “tax havens” contribute to the perception that Caribbean jurisdictions and banks are higher risk. In 2015 the state legislature of Montana, and the District of Columbia, had included several Caribbean countries among their proposed lists of tax havens. This is despite Caribbean countries’ having taken steps to ensure their compliance with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and our clean bill of health by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).Continued engagement with US states and federal authorities on this issue is a must.

  1. International Financial Services & FATCA

Although President-elect Trump has promised to lower the US federal corporation tax rate from 35% to 15% and  provide a deemed repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a one-time tax rate of 10%, his orientation towards international financial centres (IFCs) in general is not well-known.

The Obama administration has not been friendly to Caribbean IFCs, and that is putting it mildly. On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s background as a businessman may make him more appreciative of the role IFCs play in making US businesses more efficient and profitable, which in turn facilitates their contribution to US economic and job growth. Moreover, conventional wisdom holds that Republican governments are usually friendlier to the Caribbean than are Democratic governments, and there is good anecdotal evidence to support this.

Additionally, continued engagement with US authorities will be necessary to iron out any implementation and reporting issues under FATCA.

  1. Caribbean Basin Initiative & Other Market Access Issues 

Manufacturers in most Caribbean countries enjoy non-reciprocal duty-free access to the US market for most goods under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), an initiative of the Reagan administration in the 1980s which had both economic, ideological and geopolitical imperatives. The CBI is unilateral which means that the benefits can be unilaterally revoked and the criteria for eligibility changed at any time. However, CBI is generally believed to be beneficial to US manufacturing and jobs and Caribbean has a large trade deficit with the US, which should keep CBI off the President-elect’s immediate radar.

One sticking point in US-Caribbean trade relations is the cover over subsidies which the US Federal government pays to the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands out of excise taxes it collects from imported rums, which has made Caribbean rums less competitive in the US market. Turning to merchandise trade in general, non-tariff barriers such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary and labelling requirements have also been a constraint on market access.

Caribbean workers benefit from temporary employment under the US Farm Workers and Hospitality Workers programmes. However, outside of this, Caribbean service providers have no preferential access to the US market. The CBI does not cover services trade. Caribbean business persons seeking to supply a service in the US instead rely on non-immigrant visas. Mr. Trump has promised to tighten the US’ border and control policy. It is not certain whether this will be extended to non-immigrant visas as well.

  1. Immigration & Workers’ Programmes

Mr. Trump made tightening immigration one of the cornerstones of his campaign platform. While his ire was directed towards Mexican and Muslim immigrants, Caribbean immigrants will be collateral damage. For instance, undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children and had identified themselves in good faith when applying for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme might have unwittingly made themselves prime targets for deportation if Mr. Trump goes through with his plans.

Most Caribbean immigrants are law-abiding citizens who are making sterling contributions to the American society. However, another pertinent concern is Mr. Trump’s vow to accelerate the deportation of those immigrants convicted of crimes to their country of birth, which has been a sticking point in US-Caribbean relations for some time. Caribbean governments have criticised the deportation of persons who were born in the Caribbean but socialised in the US with only superficial Caribbean roots. They have also linked these deportations to increased violent crime in the Region.

Mr. Trump has also spoken earlier about reforming legal immigration. This will make it difficult for Caribbean persons to emigrate legally to the US. This also has implications for remittances, a lifeline for many poorer Caribbean households.

5. Mobilising Climate Finance

Climate finance is needed to assist countries, particularly poorer and most vulnerable countries, in their climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. It is something which the Small Island Developing States in particular were adamant upon during the negotiations leading up to the eventual signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Developed countries committed themselves to mobilising 100 billion USD in climate finance from a variety of sources each year by 2020, a pledge which dates back to Copenhagen in 2009 and one which President Obama has supported. Caribbean countries have also received climate change aid under USAID programmes.

Mr. Trump, however,  is not a believer in anthropogenic (man-made) climate change, and has vowed to “cancel the Paris Agreement”, to ramp up fossil fuel production and to defund the clean energy initiatives. Further US contribution to the Green Climate Fund, which was established to assist developing countries like those in the Caribbean, is now in question.

Conclusion

Mr. Trump’s election has evoked an aura of uncertainty over what will be the future paradigm of US-Caribbean relations. Although the Caribbean had not featured in the policy discussions during the campaign, Mr. Trump’s populist rhetoric illustrated a marked departure from the tenets of current US economic and foreign policy. He has, however, been light on specifics. If implemented, his proposals will be a strong departure from current US policy, particularly in the area of climate change which I addressed in a previous post.

Nonetheless there are two sparks of hope. Firstly, President-elect Trump is a businessman at heart and should be more attuned to a ‘dollars and cents’ argument. Secondly, Mr. Trump’s malleability in regards to his positions evinces some pragmatism on his part. It is worth remembering that for much of his public life, Mr. Trump has espoused liberal views until becoming an independent and then a Republican in later years. He has also softened some of his most ardent positions during the campaign and since winning the election, and has also been rumored to be considering some of his former Republican opponents for Cabinet positions.

These two factors suggest that there may be more scope for discussion with a Trump administration than may initially be perceived. What will the emerging Trump Doctrine mean for the Caribbean? And whether we will see a “hard” or “soft” Trump, to borrow the clever nomenclature employed by former WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, no one knows. A clearer sense of Mr. Trump’s true policy orientation will be more discernible when more of his Cabinet picks are revealed and his proposals are elaborated upon.

While these issues I have highlighted will not be policy priorities for the Trump Administration, they are issues of importance to Caribbean countries. As such, Caribbean governments and other stakeholders must be pro-active in their engagement with the Trump administration from day-one when he assumes office in January 2017.

Alicia Nicholls 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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