Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trump's Trade Deals

We have seen a glimpse. Trump, the business man benefiting from Trump the politician. He relished in the thought of more vacationers in Turnberry, Scotland staying in the magnificent lighthouse suites of his Golf Resort, taking advantage of a devalued British Pound. But, if you look closely, other political issues that he so heartily embraces are very good for his pocket. His relentless attack on the Trans Pacific Partnership is not only a populist stance, it is good for the business of his branded products. 

China is the big loser if TPP goes through, as the rest of Asia would be aligned with the US in a commercial alliance, and Trump has repeatedly said in the past that he has made great deals and lots of money with China. Perhaps that is why polls in China are more favorable for Trump that in any other country. But even if he moves from China to licensing his brand to manufacturers in other countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Chile or Peru, his vested business interest is for the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement to unravel. A frequent point Trump does not make or conveniently does not mention is that there is no special trade deal with China to “rip up” unless the US withdraws from GATT altogether.
If any portion of Trump’s income comes from Trump branded products he would be affected adversely when TPP countries manufacturing such products are forced to ensure and enforce the following (as Thomas Friedman has pointed out):

  • Freedom for workers to form independent trade unions, elect their own labor leaders, collectively bargain and eliminate all child and forced labor practices.
  • Adopt laws on minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health.
  • Halt human trafficking from countries such as Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh and require each signatory to improve access for human rights groups to assist victims of trafficking.
Those are real provisions included in the TPP that would impact Trump branded products by raising their manufacturing cost. Provisions with teeth, because if signatories fail to meet them, they would be slapped with tariffs.

Other TPP provisions include, lowering or eliminating 18,000 tariffs and restrictions placed on products manufactured in the US, such as cars, machinery and digital products, to improve US’ access to a billion person market; establish criminal penalties for stealing industrial secrets; recognizing and balancing unfair competition from state-owned and subsidized enterprises; and combat endangered animal part trafficking and penalize overfishing.

There are, however, provisions anathema to some legitimate critics. Pharmaceutical patent protections have been denounced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, as too generous. These provisions restrict the production of unlicensed generics, potentially raising the cost of medicines to the region’s poor. But time limits originally sought by Big Pharma were substantially reduced and quality control increased by discouraging unlicensed and knock-off products.

Opponents also argue that multinational companies can sue governments in venues of their choosing to maximize legal advantages, and cite for example the case of Philip Morris vs Australia using ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) provisions. Philip Morris incorporated operations in Hong Kong to use tribunal arbiters from that country (China) and sue Australia for damaging the brand when it passed a law forcing plain warning packaging for cigarettes; the suit was eventually tossed out. TransCanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL pipeline, has threatened to sue the US government, using ISDS provisions in NAFTA, for blocking its project on account of environmental concerns.

Clarification of ISDS rules is important but is not a deal breaker for TPP. Licensing, patents and intellectual property issues have been addressed and Big Pharma did not get all it wanted, just as generic manufacturers did not either. These are true concerns that a global economy needs to deal with. Ignoring the reality of global commerce is not going to diminish its transformational impact on labor markets all around the world. This reality is ignored by any country at its own peril. It is in establishing common rules and practices that global commerce can benefit a maximum of countries while regulating the negative externalities created by transactions carried out under different conditions and resources for each country involved. I addressed this issue before in my book Campaign Journal 2008. The term “Free Trade Deals” in itself is somewhat misleading, as these treaties in fact regulate the unfettered commerce practices creating those negative externalities as opposed to making such commerce more “Free.”

Steel Mfg. Processes as a Percentage of Total Produced
The economics of global trade are relentless, disruptive and heartless. But not more so than those of technological innovation. Old technology jobs give way to new ones and blame can be easily transferred by populists onto other factors, such as “free trade.” At least trade can be regulated, markets opened and facilitated. Technology not so much: as much or more steel is being produced and exported in the US now as ten years ago, but with technologies that need much less labor. More energy needs are being met by cleaner fuels and methods, not by coal. Food is being produced at astronomical rates with many less farmers. These are not jobs that are coming back from China, Mexico or any other place. Secretary Clinton, in an often misquoted statement, addressed the need to recognize this impact of technological disruption on the labor force in a Town Hall in West Virginia: 
“I'm the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.”

It is emblematic of populist cluelessness (or cynicism) that Donald Trump gave his anti-trade tirade in a scrap aluminum plant—a recycling plant. Recycling metal was one of the original disruptors, diminishing the need for mining and processing raw ore. It “killed” jobs, and as those workers that took over the jobs of other workers from a technological past cheered Trump on, you can be sure they have enjoyed the estimated thousands of dollars a year saved by each US consumer as a benefit of lowered trade barriers. The US International Trade Commission 2016 report on the Economic Impact of Trade estimates that U.S. consumers have saved as much as $13.4 billion in 2014 from tariff reductions associated with trade agreements. Furthermore it states that U.S. consumers who are either middle income (income between $40,000 and $69,000) or lower income (income less than $40,000) benefit disproportionately from the savings associated with the tariff reductions. Yes, they get cheaper TVs and toasters.
The benefits of trade are diluted and invisible, while job losses created by globalization and technological disruption are as visible as a shuttered factory down the street. Early in the Obama administration a lesson was learned. The president in 2009, and at the urging of workers’ unions imposed a tariff beginning at 35% and expiring after three years on tires from China. In his State of the Union Address of 2012 he said “over one thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge of Chinese tires.” However Americans, according to analysts from the Peterson Institute of Economics, paid $1.1 Billion more in tires over that period than otherwise would have been the case (about $800,000 per job “saved”), moneys that could have been used in other sectors of the economy producing jobs. China in turn, slapped retaliatory tariffs on US chicken parts, which cost American poultry exporters an estimated $1B in lost sales. Overall that line in the State of the Union address cost the US economy more than $2B. But a closed tire factory is visible and its unemployed workers are real. And they are voters. And they have unions. 
Global commerce will force changes and all stakeholders and grievances need to be recognized and addressed. Ignoring the problem and putting up a tariff wall will not solve the problem nor rescue lost labor. The best way to manage these relentless forces of change is by recognizing them and planning for them, just like you do for hurricanes. Social nets need to be secured, transitional paths designed and equal opportunity ensured to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the new business environment. As Neil Irwin in the NYT pointed out recently, in Pittsburgh (home to the Pittsburgh Steelers) 5,100 steel mill jobs have been lost since 1990 but 66,000 new jobs in health care have come to the area. Yet, Irwin does not say... those iron workers, were they left twisting in the wind? Many if not most of them are unlikely to have transitioned to the health care sector. Until a satisfactory answer is given to those displaced workers, populist speech such as that of Trump will be music to their ears. To Trump’s own personal economic advantage.

Perhaps David Brooks is right when he says that the political issues of the day can be pictured as having shifted from arguments about size of government to arguments about size of walls. Walls for commerce and walls for immigration. The economic and identity anxieties of a globalized economy are being tapped into both by sincere and by cynical populist politicians appealing to the gut and the heart rather than the mind. Appeals that may be so misleading as to make a small but sufficient percentage of ill-informed voters vote for the word “Leave” in the belief that it means foreigners and other undesirables will be forced to leave and go back to where they came from, not that “Leave” will structurally change their own nation’s geopolitical standing. The term "swing voter" has decidedly now been irrevocably stained. As a wise man once said, you only have to fool some of the people all of the time in order to maintain political life and viability.

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