Tag Archives: trade

IMF: Trade tensions could derail global growth prematurely

Alicia Nicholls

Currently strong global growth could be derailed by escalating trade tensions and retaliation. That is the word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest World Economic Outlook (April 2018) entitled “Cyclical Upswing, Structural Change”. The lending agency has forecast global growth of 3.9% both for this year and the next, up from 3.8% in 2017, which was the most robust since 2011. Increased trade and investment has been a major propeller of this growth, according to IMF economists, which makes the current trade tensions between the United States and China a cause for concern.

GDP growth for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is projected to be 2.0% in 2018 and 2.8% in 2019, up from 1.3% in 2017, but still below the projected global average. The IMF projects positive growth for all LAC countries (to varying degrees), with the exceptions of Dominica (-16.3%) which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last year and Venezuela (-15%), which is currently in the throes of a deep economic crisis.

Longer-term prospects not as bright

However, it was not all positive news. While near-term global growth prospects remain positive, the IMF projects a slowing of growth in the medium-term. It was noted that ageing populations, lower rates of labor force participation and low productivity growth all made it unlikely that advanced economies would return to their pre-crisis per capita growth rates any time soon.

According to the IMF, some emerging and developing economies are likely to achieve longer-term growth rates comparable to their pre-crisis rates, but the outlook for commodities exporters was not as positive even though the outlook for commodities prices had improved somewhat. The IMF emphasised that economic resilience of these economies would be contingent on their diversification.

The IMF has also again sounded alarm about the rise in global private and public debt levels and the prospect of repayment difficulties due to monetary policy normalisation. This is an issue which is of particular relevance to the region, as some Caribbean countries are among the most indebted in the world.

Trade tensions could undermine current growth trajectory

During the press conference launching the report, IMF Economic Counsellor and Director of the Research Department, Mr. Maurice Obstfeld cautioned that while a slowing of growth is predicted in the longer term, “the prospect of trade restrictions and counter-restrictions threatened to undermine confidence and derail growth prematurely”.

Acknowledging the political imperatives driving the protectionist turn taken by some countries, namely public skepticism about the benefits of free trade and economic integration, Mr. Obstfeld noted that technology as opposed to trade was to blame. He further warned that fights over trade distracted from, rather than advanced the agenda of promoting growth whose benefits were more broad-based.

Multilateral system  in danger of being torn apart

In the report, the IMF warned that the multilateral system was in danger of being torn apart. Making the case against unilateral action, the IMF Economic Counsellor argued that inequitable trade practices were best coped with through “dependable and fair dispute resolution within a strong rules-based multilateral framework”.

He acknowledged that there was room to strengthen the current trading system and that plurilaleral agreements could be used as a “springboard” to more open trade. He also noted that multilateral cooperation was essential “to address a range of challenges in addition to the governance of world trade.”

The full press conference may be viewed here and the report may be downloaded 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.

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US House of Representatives passes GSP Renewal Bill; on to Senate

Alicia Nicholls

The first hurdle in the renewal of the United States’ Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) was overcome last week Tuesday when the US House of Representatives passed  H.R.4979 – To extend the Generalized System of Preferences and to make technical changes to the competitive need limitations provision of the program. This is welcomed news for the 120 countries and territories which benefit under the GSP, but just the first step towards the programme’s renewal.

The US GSP lapsed on December 31, 2017. This Bill provides a three year extension through to December 31, 2020. H.R. 4979 requires there be an annual report on the enforcement of eligibility criteria to ensure that countries designated as beneficiary developing countries are meeting the eligibility criteria.

Exporters would also be refunded for the duties collected during the lapse period. This is not the first time the GSP has expired, a fact which has created some uncertainty for exporters from GSP beneficiary countries seeking to make use of the programme. Other sources of uncertainty are that the President may graduate any country, remove products from GSP eligibility and remove products for an individual country which has exceeded competitive need limitations (CNLs). There are also a number of criteria for GSP eligibility which reflect the geopolitical  and other objectives underpinning the programme, for example, the ineligibility of communist countries.

The US GSP was instituted by the Trade Act of 1974 and it is one of several US government trade preference programmes which allow designated goods from certain disadvantaged countries to enter the US market at preferential rates of duty. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) fact sheet on the GSP, some 5,057 8‐digit U.S. tariff lines are eligible for duty‐free entry under the GSP, of which 1,519 are eligible for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) only.

The fact sheet further notes that in 2016, total US imports under the GSP was $18.7 billion, with the top five GSP beneficiary countries being 1. India ($4.7 billion), 2. Thailand ($3.9 billion), 3. Brazil ($2.2 billion), 4. Indonesia ($1.8 billion) and 5. Philippines ($1.5 billion).

As of March 2017, the GSP-eligible countries in the Caribbean include: Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, while the following non-independent Caribbean territories are eligible: Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Montserrat.

Caribbean countries do not feature among top US GSP countries and there is a good reason for this. Most Caribbean countries are beneficiaries of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), while Haiti is a beneficiary of the HOPE Acts. As such, according to the 2015 Report on the Operation of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), in 2014, US imports under the GSP from CBI beneficiaries were just 0.02% of the total imports from those countries. As such, CBI countries’ exports under the GSP are quite small, though some countries like Belize, Jamaica and Dominica make more use of the GSP than others.

The GSP renewal Bill received bipartisan support in the House and is now before the Senate. For HR 4979 to become law, the identical bill would have to be passed in the US Senate. Failing this, there must be reconciliation of the bills passed in both houses before being signed into law by President Trump.

The text of the House Bill 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.

 

 

Golding Report on CARICOM-Jamaica Relations Tabled in Jamaican Parliament

Alicia Nicholls

The long-awaited report of the CARICOM Review Commission chaired by former Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has been tabled in the Jamaica Parliament by Prime Minister, the Most Excellent Andrew Holness, O.N. The CARICOM Review Commission, which was commissioned by Mr. Holness in July 2016 to review Jamaica’s relations within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) frameworks,  submitted its report in April 2017.

For those who may have feared that the Review was intended to pave the way towards a Jamxit (Jamaica exit from CARICOM), these have been allayed to some extent. In giving its support for regional integration, the Golding Commission noted that “the value of regional integration…is as relevant and useful and perhaps, even more urgent today than it was at [CARICOM’s] inception”. However, it lamented the limited progress on many of the commitments signed on to by CARICOM Member States.

In this vein, the Commission made thirty-three timely, pertinent and wide-ranging proposals aimed at addressing the structural and organisational deficiencies in CARICOM. Many of the Commission’s recommendations include things which most CARICOM Member States have already committed to under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy but have yet to be fully realised, while others are reminiscent of those made by the Ramphal Commission in its A Time For Action Report in 1992.  Other recommendations were more novel and include instituting sanctions for wilful non-compliance with commitments made, as well as the establishment of a Central Dispute Settlement Body similar to that of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which would offer non-judicial options for settlement of disputes.

The Commission also recommended that Jamaica establish closer ties with Northern Caribbean countries, namely the Dominican Republic and Cuba, including in the negotiation of trade agreements with third States.

To address CARICOM’s implementation deficit, the Golding Commission has called for time-bound commitments and public progress reports on  Member States’ advancement towards meeting the various commitments. It also called for greater engagement of the private sector and the people of CARICOM.

Failing commitment by Member States to make the commitments outlined in the report, the Commission recommended that Jamaica should withdraw from the CSME, but remain a member of CARICOM.

The full report 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.

 

 

ACP Trade Ministers demand ‘concrete outcomes’ at upcoming WTO MC11

Alicia Nicholls

Trade ministers and other representatives from the 79-member Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries added their voices to demands for ‘concrete outcomes’ at the upcoming World Trade Organisation’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (WTO MC11). Preparations for the upcoming WTO MC11 was one of several topics discussed by ACP trade representatives at their 20th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee meeting held in Brussels on 18-19 October last week.

According to the press release from the meeting, the ACP representatives  reiterated the need for a development-friendly and robust MC11 work programme which recognized differences between developed, developing and least developed countries and whose outcomes were aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Reaffirming their commitment to the multilateral trading system, they also called for “inclusiveness, consensus and transparency in all WTO decision-making processes, as well as careful framing of any reform evaluation of the WTO to ensure that the interests of all countries are protected”. Guyana was chosen to be the spokesperson for the ACP Group at the Ministerial which will take place in Buenos Aires December 10-13, 2017.

In a speech delivered at the ACP meeting, the WTO’s Director General, Roberto Azevedo, acknowledged the important role ACP countries have played in shaping the WTO’s work.

Mr. Azevedo gave a brief status report on the WTO’s preparatory work for the upcoming Ministerial Conference, lauding the ACP countries for being at the “forefront” of these discussions. He noted that although there were some positive signs, the many gaps to bridge meant that there was still much work ahead with respect to the negotiations.  He further reiterated that in order to achieve concrete results in Buenos Aires, “more focused engagement and negotiation will be required to quickly identify areas of convergence”.

In the meeting which was chaired by the Hon. Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, ACP trade representatives also focused on several  other topics of importance to ACP countries’ trade, including enhancing trade among ACP countries and trade issues with the European Union (EU).

The ACP press release also notes that ACP representatives have committed to “increased integration, unity and solidarity” among ACP countries, including taking more “joint ACP approaches to trade and development”.

The press release from the ACP can be read here.

The WTO Director-General’s full speech can be read 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.

IMF raises global GDP growth forecast but protectionist policies a threat

Alicia Nicholls

The sharp downtown in global trade in recent years is both a symptom of and a contributor to low growth“. – Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All (IMF, WTO, World Bank Report of April 2017)

Protectionism leading to trade warfare is a ‘salient threat’ to global economic growth, warned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists, not for the first time, in their recently released World Economic Outlook for April 2017.

The good news is that the Fund’s April outlook was much more upbeat than its January 2017 outlook. According to the Fund, the global economy is projected to expand by 3.5 percent in 2017, a modest increase from its 3.4 percent projection in its January 2017 outlook but greater than the 3.1 percent growth in 2016. The Fund has maintained its outlook for 2018 at 3.6 percent.

The not so good news, as already noted, is that the tenuous economic recovery remains vulnerable to several downside risks, including protectionism. Bear in mind as well that the global economy expanded on average 4.2 percent between 1999-2008, so the projected rate of growth is still below the pre-crisis rates of growth.

The Fund’s most recent WEO report comes on the heels of the release by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of its trade growth forecast which projected some recovery in global trade growth to 2.4 percent in 2017. Most readers would remember that 2016 saw the slowest rate of global trade growth since the global economic and financial crisis which coincided with the slowest rate of global economic growth in 2016 since 2009.

As noted by the WTO in its press release, “the volume of world merchandise trade has tended to grow about 1.5 times faster than world output, although in the 1990s it grew more than twice as fast.” However, dampened trade volumes have been linked to a subdued global economy and global trade grew less than global economic growth in 2016. Although, the WTO’s projected rate of growth for 2017 signals a cautious recovery, the rate of merchandise trade growth is still much lower than pre-crisis merchandise trade growth and the forecast risk is higher due to both economic and policy uncertainty.

The IMF’s most recent WEO also follows a joint report released by that institution, the WTO and the World Bank entitled “Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All: The Case for Trade and for Policies to Facilitate Adjustment” in which it was stated, inter alia, that the role of trade in the global economy is ‘at a critical juncture’, and arguing that further trade integration was important for stimulating global growth.

At the same time, the IMF warned that protectionism could lead to trade warfare, citing several factors in mainly advanced economies which have seen greater political support for nationalist and protectionist policies. There is good reason for this concern, stemming from protectionist turns and mercantilist rhetoric emanating from political quarters in advanced economies, namely the US and Europe. Moreover, the communique from the March 2017 G-20 Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Germany  saw, for the first time, the exclusion of the pledge to “resist protectionism”. On the multilateral front, although the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement has come into effect, there has been little progress otherwise on multilateral trade negotiations.

Trade is an important driver of global growth, and helped to propel global growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Trade has also played an important role in boosting competition, productivity and improving living standards and productivity. However, there has been dislocation as a result of free trade. In the case of developing countries, there has been the negative impact of competition from cheaper subsidised (particularly agricultural) imports from advanced countries on domestic industries which have higher production costs due to lack of economies of scale and lower technology use. An Oxfam report noted the  negative impact on Mexico’s corn industry following the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

While the cheaper imports benefit consumers through lower prices, they, however, can negatively impact domestic industries and jobs, and with implications for countries’ balance of trade, and in the case of the agricultural sector, food security. This is an issue which has been noted by developing countries and development economists for years but only seemed to gain mainstream discussion once the effects became more palpable in advanced economies, such as the US and Europe.

However, this is not to suggest that trade is undesirable or that the negatives outweigh the positives. Trade, as the IMF has rightly noted, is an important driver of the global economy. It does, suggest, however, that there needs to be greater consideration of the “social impact” of trade policies and of the need to make trade policies much more inclusive by ensuring that the most vulnerable to the negative fall-outs of trade, such as women and the poor, are protected through supporting policies and mechanisms. As such, domestic policies to assist with, and mitigate, these trade-related adjustments are important, a point made in the joint report by the IMF, WTO and World Bank.

Besides protectionism, the IMF also noted faster than expected interest rate hikes in the US, aggressive financial deregulation, financial tightening in emerging market economies, geopolitical tensions, inter alia, as among the inter-connected downside risks to global growth. Furthermore, the IMF emphasised the importance that countries’ policy choices will have on the global economic outlook and on reducing risks to this outlook.

To read the full IMF WEO April 2017 report, please visit 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’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.

UK-US Trade Inquiry launched by UK Parliament’s International Trade Committee

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The House of Commons’ International Trade Committee is accepting submissions from interested organisations and individuals pursuant to an inquiry it has launched into UK-US trade relations. According to the official press release on the Committee’s website, the inquiry will:

  • examine the potential for a UK-US trade agreement
  • the opportunities and challenges any agreement might present
  • the implications for the production and sale of goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic
  • make recommendations to the Government on how it should approach trade relations with the US.

The Committee is inviting interested organisations or individuals to submit written evidence to the Committee via the inquiry page in accordance with the guidelines provided. The deadline for written submissions is Monday 27 February 2017.

For further information, please see the official page of the Committee.

 

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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