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Is It Just a Phase? Redesigning Trade Deals in the Age of Trump.

trade deals

Is It Just a Phase? Redesigning Trade Deals in the Age of Trump.

Comprehensive is Out, “Phased” is In

Within the first few months of the Trump Administration in 2017, the U.S. Trade Representative issued a report identifying intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer as crucial sources of China’s growing technological advantage at the expense of U.S. innovation. Tariffs would be applied until a trade deal to address these practices could be reached.

But expectations had to be reset early in the negotiations – China’s offenses cannot be pinpointed to one set of laws, regulations or practices, and so the complex wiring of China’s national approach cannot be untangled or rewired in one pass, in one agreement, even if China shared that goal. An agreement this ambitious would have to be built in phases.

In presenting the “Phase One” agreement signed between the United States and China on January 15, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the deal represents “a big step forward in writing the rules we need” to address the anti-competitive aspects of China’s state-run economy. And it is a serious document.

Beyond its detailed provisions, the strategic and commercial impact of the deal will take more time to evaluate. What is clear in the meanwhile, is that this administration has departed from the standard free trade agreement template.

Comprehensive agreements are out. Partial or phased agreements are in.

Something Agreed

It’s common in trade negotiations to whittle down differences, leaving the hardest issues to the end. Early wins keep parties at the table, building a set of outcomes in which the parties become invested and more willing to forge compromises around the remaining difficult issues. One way to avoid settling for deals that leave aside the most meaningful – and often hardest – concessions is to stipulate that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

For this administration, however, the art of the deal is – quite simply – closing the elements of the deal available. With China, that may be the best and only way for the United States to achieve a deal. And it may very well represent significant progress. At turns, a larger deal looked as if it would collapse under its own political weight in China. Some things agreed is probably a better outcome than nothing agreed.

A Way Out or a Way Forward?

The deal lays down tracks for more detailed intellectual property rights and newer prohibitions on forced technology transfer. Among other commitments, the deal also breaks ground on previously intractable regulatory barriers to selling more U.S. agricultural and food products in China including dairy, poultry, meat, fish, and grains. But it does not address subsidies provided to China’s state-owned enterprises, a complaint shared by all of China’s major trading partners, Having dodged the issue for now, China may have created an advantage by stringing out its commitments over phases.

The Trump administration brought China to the table with billions in tariffs on imported goods. While compelling, it is not a durable approach. The U.S. macroeconomy is withstanding the self-inflicted pain, but tariffs have real and negative effects on U.S. farmers and business owners who will vote in November. Even a temporary tariff détente is a welcome respite, but uncertainty remains. And while we wait to see if the provisions on intellectual property and technology transfer prove fruitful, what of the lost agricultural sales for U.S. farmers and sunk costs for U.S. businesses?

As part of the deal (a part that gets phased out), China committed to shop for $200 billion in American goods and services over the next two years, including more than $77 billion in manufactured goods, $52 billion in energy products, $32 billion in agricultural goods and $40 billion in services. If fulfilled, the purchases in Phase One would appear to solve the problem of waning U.S. exports to China, but that was a problem of our own making so the administration might only merit partial credit for this part of the deal.

Journey of a Thousand Miles

Of course, the Trump administration’s phased and partial approach to reaching trade deals may simply stem from impatience or a focus on the transactional – comprehensive deals take too long to complete. But the approach may also make sense if these deals are stepping-stones in a bigger, longer game.

In a June 2018 report, the White House offered a taxonomy of 30 different ways the Chinese government acquires American technologies and intellectual property, including through U.S. exports of dual-use technologies, Chinese investments in the United States, and the extraction of competitive information through research arms of universities and companies in the United States.

Ambitious as it is, the administration is not limiting itself to the new Economic and Trade Agreement to solve all the problems it identified. The Department of Justice has initiated intellectual property theft cases, the Department of Commerce is expanding controls over the export of dual-use technologies, and the Treasury Department oversees a process to tighten reviews of proposed inward investments.

A Chinese proverb says that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Concerns the administration will not limit or end its quest with Phase One were evident in the letter from President Xi read aloud at the signing which urged continued engagement to avoid further “discriminatory restrictions” on China’s economic activity in the United States.

Just a Phase?

Beyond engagement with China, the administration has nearly consistently favored partial deals, with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA) the exception. NAFTA needed to be modernized. Our economies have changed too much for the deal to keep pace without some upgrades. Could the modifications have been achieved without replacing the deal? Probably, but perhaps not politically, or it might have been done years sooner. NAFTA’s facelift as USMCA offered a chance for the administration to fashion provisions it intends for broader application, such as those on currency and state-owned enterprises. Though it replaced NAFTA, USMCA changes constitute a partial re-negotiation.

With Japan, the administration set much narrower parameters, hiving off-market access and digital trade as an initial set of deliverables. Last September, President Trump finalized a partial trade deal with Prime Minister Abe that went into effect on January 1. Limited in scope, it encompasses two separate agreements that only cover market access for certain agriculture and industrial goods and digital trade.

The White House characterized the partial deal as a set of “early achievements,” with follow-on negotiations on trade in services, investment and other issues to commerce around April this year. But crucially, the partial deal enabled the United States to avoid addressing its own tariffs on autos and auto parts, which comprise nearly 40 percent of Japan’s merchandise exports to the United States, while securing access to Japan’s market for U.S. agricultural exports.

The United States also restarted talks in 2018 on a partial trade agreement with the European Union that is stalemated over whether to include agriculture.

Walking Alone?

Preferential market access deals are an exception to WTO commitments. WTO members have agreed that free trade agreements outside the WTO should cover “substantially all trade” among the parties and that staging of tariff reductions are part of interim arrangements, not an end state. But with comprehensive negotiations stalled in the WTO itself, members are trying new negotiating approaches such as focusing on single sectors, like information technologies.

Although there was little mention of state-owned enterprises and subsidies in the U.S.-China Phase One deal, something important happened on the margins of that ceremony that received little attention: The trade ministers of Japan, the United States and European Union released a joint statement proposing ways to strengthen the WTO’s provisions on industrial subsides, which they called “insufficient to tackle market and trade distorting subsidization existing in certain jurisdictions,” a reference to China. The statement proposed elements of new core disciplines – a first phase if you will in launching more formal negotiations among WTO members.

The deal signed with China this week envisions reforms to China’s laws, regulations and policies as they apply to any foreign company operating in China, not just the American ones. Perhaps our trading partners see it (only partially) as a go-it-alone strategy and partially as a way to create a corps of provisions that can be migrated to the WTO.

Phase One trade deal - foundation for future US-China trade relations?

Construction Phases: Trump’s Real Estate Mindset

How is the real estate business like trade policy? It isn’t, except in the mind of Donald Trump. Buildings can be demolished or imploded in seconds. A giant hole is dug before its replacement is built. The builder then pours the concrete foundation constructs the frame long before wiring the interior and installing the finishes.

Maybe a phased trade deal represents the opportunity to reset the footing and frame out a solid structure for the future of US-China trade relations – and the finishing touches will come later.

Access the full agreement.

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.
iranian

US Imposes Additional Sanctions on Key Sectors of Iranian Economy

On Friday, January 10, 2020, President Trump issued a new Executive Order, “Imposing Sanctions With Respect to Additional Sectors of Iran” (“E.O.”), which authorizes the imposition of sanctions against persons operating in or transacting with Iran’s construction, mining, manufacturing or textile sectors. The E.O. also imposes secondary sanctions against foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) that engage in “significant financial transactions” within these sectors. Concurrently, the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), designated several Iranian and third-country metal producers and mining companies, a number of senior Iranian officials, and third-country entities that have transacted in the Iranian metal and mining sectors. This Legal Update provides a brief summary of these new sanctions and designations and discusses their impact on US and non-US businesses and financial institutions.

Designations. Concurrently with the E.O., OFAC designated several Iranian and third-country entities, including 17 Iranian metal producers and mining companies (described as the largest metals manufacturers in Iran); an Oman-based steel supplier; a network of three China- and Seychelles-based entities; and a vessel involved in the purchase, sale and transfer of Iranian metals products, as well as in the provision of critical metals production components to Iranian metal producers. OFAC also designated, pursuant to pre-existing authorities, several senior Iranian officials who have “advanced the regime’s destabilizing objectives.”[i]

New Targeted Sanctions. The E.O. imposes sanctions on the construction, mining, manufacturing and textile sectors of the Iranian economy, expanding on those already imposed on the country’s energy, shipping and financial sectors under Executive Order 13846 (“E.O. 13846”) and the iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors under Executive Order 13871 (“E.O. 13871”). The aim of the new E.O. is to “deny the Iranian government revenues, including revenues derived from the export of products from key sectors of Iran’s economy, that may be used to fund and support its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism and terrorist proxy networks, and malign regional influence.” The new sanctions come amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran and only days after targeted, tit-for-tat military actions by both countries.

The E.O. authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to block all property and interests in property that are in the United States, or within the possession or control of any US person, belonging to any person (meaning an individual or an entity) determined to:

1. be operating in the construction, mining, manufacturing, or textile sectors of the Iranian economy;

2. have knowingly engaged, on or after January 10, 2020, in a significant transaction for the sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with one of the aforementioned sectors of the Iranian economy;

3. have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the E.O.; or

4. be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the E.O.[i]

Importantly, the E.O. authorizes the Treasury Department to designate as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”), any “person,” including non-Iranian and non-US persons, who operates in or knowingly engages in a significant transaction in these sectors of the Iranian economy. The E.O. also permits the Treasury Secretary to designate other sectors of the Iranian economy to be subject to sanctions in the future.

Secondary Sanctions on Foreign Financial Institutions. In addition to the targeted sanctions discussed above, the E.O. permits the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to impose correspondent account and payable-through-account (“CAPTA”) secondary sanctions on any FFI that, on or after January 10, 2020, knowingly conducts or facilitates any “significant financial transaction”:

i. for the sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with one of the aforementioned sectors of the Iranian economy; or

ii. for or on behalf of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.

CAPTA sanctions “may prohibit the opening, and prohibit or impose strict restrictions on the maintaining” of such accounts in the US by FFIs determined to have engaged in the conduct described in the E.O.

Impact of the New Iranian Sanctions and Related Designations

The E.O. expands on the sanctions already put into place against Iran following the reimposition of secondary sanctions against the country announced in May 2018 and as expanded under E.O. 13846 (sanctions against Iranian energy, shipping and financial sectors) and E.O. 13871 (sanctions against Iranian iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors).

Under the current sanctions regime, it remains prohibited for US persons—including US-owned or -controlled entities—to engage in virtually any transaction, directly or indirectly, with Iran without OFAC authorization. US persons are further prohibited from transacting without authorization with those persons and entities designated by OFAC and added to the SDN List, including via this recent round of designations.

The new sanctions introduced by the E.O. increase OFAC’s ability to sanction non-US persons, as the E.O. enables the United States to designate and block the property and interests in property of those non-US persons operating in or engaging in significant transactions with the construction, mining, manufacturing or textile sectors of Iran.[i] This has the effect of cutting off such non-US persons from the US financial system (and the US market more generally). Businesses with a presence in the European Union may continue to face challenges as they take into account this enhanced sanctions authority in light of the EU blocking statute, which prohibits EU companies from direct or indirect compliance with certain US sanctions laws, including Iranian sanctions.

It remains a secondary sanctions risk for FFIs (and non-US businesses) to knowingly engage in significant transactions involving certain Iranian persons on the SDN List.[i] Additionally, as discussed above, CAPTA sanctions may be imposed against FFIs who conduct or facilitate any “significant financial transaction” in one of the sectors of the Iranian economy specified in the E.O., regardless of whether such transactions have a US nexus. FFIs and non-US businesses may now include an evaluation of significant transactions in the Iranian construction, mining, manufacturing or textile sectors as part of their Iran sanctions risk assessments.

While the E.O. does not define either the term “significant transaction” or “significant financial transaction,” we suspect that the Treasury Department will apply a standard similar to previously issued guidance published in relation to E.O. 13871. Accordingly, such a determination will likely be based on a multifactor, totality-of-the-circumstances assessment of a broad range of factors, including the size, number and frequency of the transactions or services; their type, complexity and commercial purpose; and the level of awareness of the institution’s management.[i]

Since reinstating secondary sanctions in 2018, the United States has only designated non-US entities under secondary sanctions in a few limited circumstances.[i] However, this E.O. joins a series of preexisting Iran-related secondary sanctions authorities[ii] and further extends the extraterritorial reach of the Iran sanctions program to advance US policy objectives.

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Endnotes

[1] See Press Release, Treasury Targets Iran’s Billion Dollar Metals Industry and Senior Regime Officials (January 10, 2020), available at https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm870

[1] The E.O., by its terms, does not apply with respect to any person for conducting or facilitating a transaction for the provision (including any sale) of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices to Iran.

[1] The blocking provision of the E.O. requires that the property or interests in property comes within the United States or within the possession or control of a US person (e.g., through use of the US financial system in such transactions).

[1] See OFAC FAQ 636, available at https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/sanctions/pages/faq_iran.aspx

[1] See OFAC FAQ 671, available at https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/sanctions/pages/faq_iran.aspx

[1] See, e.g., OFAC, “Iran-related Designations; Issuance of Iran-related Frequently Asked Question,” (Sept. 25, 2019), available at https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20190925.aspx (adding Chinese tanker companies to the SDN list due to their alleged role in transporting Iranian oil).

[1] See, e.g., Mayer Brown Legal Update, “US to Reimpose Secondary Sanctions Against Iran Amid EU Opposition” (May 9, 2018), available at https://www.mayerbrown.com/en/perspectives-events/publications/2018/05/us-to-reimpose-secondary-sanctions-against-iran-am Executive Order 13846, “Reimposing Certain Sanctions With Respect to Iran,” (Aug. 6, 2018).

About the authors:

Tamer Soliman is a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC and Dubai offices, global head of the firm’s Export Control & Sanctions practice and a member of the International Trade practice.

Ori Lev is a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office and a member of the Financial Services Regulatory & Enforcement practice and the Consumer Financial Services group.

Yoshi Ito is a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office and a member of the International Trade and Public Policy, Regulatory & Political Law practices.

Brad Resnikoff is a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office and a member of the Financial Services Regulatory & Enforcement practice.

Liz Owerbach is an associate in Mayer Brown’s Washington DC office and a member of the firm’s Export Control & Sanctions and International Trade practices.

Brad Cohen is an associate in Mayer Brown’s New York office and a member of the Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice.

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor Deepening Project: Federal Funding Confirmed

Following President Donald Trump’s signing of the FY2020 Energy and Water Appropriations bill on December 20th, South Carolina Ports Authority is pleased to announce the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is officially confirmed for complete funding. Details on the announcement noted Trump’s inclusion of the $138 million project previously, creating opportunities for direct appropriations from Congress.

“This huge infusion of federal funding reflects the importance of ensuring South Carolina has a deep harbor capable of handling mega container ships,” S.C. Ports Authority Board Chairman Bill Stern said. “We are grateful to the Trump Administration for recognizing the value a 52-foot depth in Charleston Harbor brings to the Southeast. Thank you to our Congressional delegation, Governor McMaster, and the state and local leaders who have supported this critical project and worked tirelessly to complete it.”
The project is currently being projected for completion in 2021 at a 52-foot depth to withstand 19,000 twenty-foot TEU vessels without concern for tidal or navigation restrictions.
“The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in S.C. history,” Newsome said. “A 52-foot deep harbor will ensure we remain competitive for decades to come as bigger ships bring more cargo to S.C. Ports. A thriving port drives economic development and attracts business to the state, which ultimately creates high-paying jobs for South Carolinians. Port operations generate a $63.4 billion economic impact on the state each year and create 1 in 10 S.C. jobs.
This amount is in addition to the $108 million from the Army Corps of Engineers’ work plans, a $50 million state loan, and the $300 million (estimated state share) set aside by S.C. General Assembly in 2012.
“We have been working diligently on this project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 10 years and it is great to see construction progressing. This impressive progress would not be possible without the unwavering support from the S.C. Legislature, who set aside funding years ago,” S.C. Ports COO Barbara Melvin said. “Today, we are incredibly grateful to our Congressional delegation and the Trump Administration for funding this vital project to completion.”
China

Amid US-China Trade Battle, Here is how America can Remain the World’s Strongest Economy

The Communist Party of China has laid plans for a century of unlimited Chinese power and, with it, the end of the American era. However, we still can — and must — bet big on the future of American economic power. The best antidote to China’s ambitions is to ensure America’s continued economic and technological preeminence.

Far too many strategists, investors, and policymakers accept China’s economic preeminence as an inevitable outcome, given the country’s enormous population and potential for growth.

As the business community looks toward a “partial trade deal” to unwind tariffs and reduce trade hostility between the world’s two largest economies, we must understand that non-negotiable problems in U.S.-China relations will accelerate if China closes the gap with the United States in terms of economic and technological power. With the right strategic mindset and a focus on domestic productivity, America can not only win the economic and technological contest but also turn the tide in the U.S.-China competition for global power.

China’s bid for global power is built on its economic ascendency, which is based on engagement with the United States and our allies. Chinese companies are capturing global markets and climbing the ranks of the Fortune Global 500 by taking advantage of stolen or coerced foreign intellectual property and state-orchestrated market distortions. The Communist Party is converting China’s technological power into a dystopian surveillance state and a military that is focusing its capabilities on the United States and our partners.

Chairman Xi Jinping calls regularly for Chinese forces to “prepare to fight and win wars,” while converting civilian industrial technology into military power through “civil-military fusion.” Meanwhile, China’s current account surplus is employed for global influence, buying “strategic partners” with intercontinental projects like the “Belt and Road Initiative” and state-backed acquisitions of foreign firms.

U.S.-China competition is likely to be the hardest geopolitical contest in generations — but it is a contest that the United States can win if we focus on the right objectives.

The People’s Republic of China is a challenge to America’s values and concept of world order. U.S.-China competition is likely to be the hardest geopolitical contest in generations — but it is a contest that the United States can win if we focus on the right objectives. So, where do we go from here?

Focus on GDP

The first step must be a focus on accelerating U.S. productivity growth. U.S. productivity growth need only increase from 1.3 percent a year to 2.5 percent for U.S. GDP to remain ahead of China’s for the entirety of the 2020s, the decade in which many expect China’s economy to surpass America’s.

By 2030, economic leadership will be easier to maintain as China’s demographic problems set in. Such a productivity increase is realistic, given that productivity growth from 1995 to 2008 was higher than 2.5 percent.

Protect America’s edge

The second step is to preserve our edge in advanced and emerging technologies. America must remain ahead of Communist China, not only in hard sciences, but also in the actual production of advanced goods and services.

If America competes against China only through soybean and oil production, we will fail to counter China in advanced industries such as robotics, semiconductors, aerospace and biopharmaceuticals. China is gaining in these and other technologies and industries and could eventually have a decisive advantage over the United States.

As Alexander Hamilton warned 200 years ago, America can’t be great if it is a “hewer of wood and drawer of water.” We must out-invent and outproduce China in advanced technology and industrial goods.

Maintaining U.S. advantage will require collaboration between government and corporations towards national goals in science, engineering and industry. This approach has long served our nation in times of international struggle and led to lasting commercial and national security breakthroughs.

New and Big

In order to attain these goals, Washington must think new and big. New in the sense of a bipartisan consensus that productivity growth and technological competitiveness must be national priorities.

Big in the sense of big and bold proposals. Here are three: First, implement a robust research, development and investment tax credit that will stimulate innovation and investment on American soil. Second, establish a series of well-funded “moonshot” goals to ensure American leadership in emerging industries such as advanced robotics and quantum computing. Third, develop a national productivity strategy that will take the best ideas of government and industry and focus on building the next $10 trillion in annual U.S. GDP by 2030.

Half a century ago, under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy, America faced a Communist superpower that believed that it would “bury” the United States, much as Chinese Communist leaders today believe that the 21st century belongs to China. Kennedy reminded us then that America would “bear any burden” and “meet any hardship” to prevail in that consequential time.

In the end, it was the power of the American economy, the power of American technology, and the power of American industry that brought victory over our ambitious foe. We must unleash these forces once again, wrestle them into national service, and build on toward the greater good — an American era that can and must prevail.

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Dr. Jonathan D.T. Ward is the author of “China’s Vision of Victory” and founder of Atlas Organization, a strategy consultancy on US-China global competition. Follow him on Twitter @jonathandtward

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson is the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and the author of “Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Mythology of Small Business.” Follow him on Twitter @robatkinsonITIF..

This article originally appeared on FoxBusiness.com. Republished with permission. 

phase one

The Phase One Deal: How We Got Here And What Is Next

President Trump announced that the United States and China had reached a partial “Phase One” trade deal in mid-October, signaling a pause in the trade tensions that have steadily grown over the past two and half years.  While the precise goals of the President’s trade action against China have always been vague, there was an unquestionable desire to change certain structural issues of the Chinese economy, particularly with the country’s intellectual property and forced technology practices.  

To put the proposed Phase One deal in its proper context, this article breaks down (1) the various stages of escalation since President Trump took office, (2) what’s known about the contents of agreement, and (3) the potential risks that could derail the deal from being signed.  

The Escalation of the Trade War

The President’s most high-profile actions against China have been his use of long-thought-defunct trade authority, Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 (“Section 301”).  Section 301 grants the President the authority to impose tariffs on countries if it determines that the acts, policies, or practices of a country are unjustifiable and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.  

Following a lengthy investigation, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) officially determined in March 2018 that China’s policies result in harm to the U.S. economy.  Simultaneously, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum outlining a series of remedies that his Administration would take in response to these findings, most notably the imposition of tariffs.  

President Trump’s Section 301 tariffs currently cover most products imported from China, after having been rolled out in four different lists:  

-List 1 of the Section 301 tariffs went into effect July 2018 and imposes a 25 percent tariff on $34 billion worth of goods from China.  

-List 2 went into effect August 2018 and imposes a 25 percent tariff on $16 billion worth of goods.  

-Following China’s retaliatory tariffs on Lists 1 and 2, the United States announced List 3, which began imposing a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese products in September 2018.  The List 3 tariffs were increased to 25 percent after negotiations between the two countries fell apart.

-List 4 could hit almost $300 billion more of Chinese products.  Part of the list (“List 4a”) went into effect on September 1 and imposes 15 percent tariffs on $112 billion of Chinese products.  The U.S. is scheduled to impose 15 percent tariffs on the remaining $160 billion of the list (“List 4b”) starting December 15.  

The Trump Administration has taken aggressive action to increase pressure on China that goes well beyond the Section 301 tariffs.  Since President Trump took office, he has targeted China’s steel and aluminum industries through global tariffs on these products. He has (at least temporarily) sanctioned major Chinese tech firms or restricted their ability to do business with the United States.  He has sanctioned Chinese individuals and entities connected to North Korea and others related to the treatment of the Uighurs in western China. He signed into law a major expansion of authority for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”), which has immediate and future implications for Chinese investment in the United States. 

Additionally, the Administration has moved closer to Taiwan. President Trump has authorized significant military sales to Taiwan, and as President-elect, he took a call from Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen, the first such call by a U.S. President or President-elect since the 1970s. The Administration has either directly or indirectly made clear that these restrictions, sanctions, and geopolitical relationships can be used as points of leverage in the trade negotiations.  

The Phase One Deal

Many details about what is included in the Phase One deal remain unknown.  In announcing the deal, President Trump said “We have a great deal. We’re papering it now.  Over the next three or four or five weeks, hopefully, it’ll get finished. A tremendous benefit to our farmers, technology, and many other things — the banking industry, financial services.”  As the two sides “paper” the agreement into finalized text, what is known about the deal has come largely from statements made by both sides. We know that as part of the deal, the United States will not pursue plans to increase the List 1-3 tariffs from 25 percent to 30 percent. We also know China plans to make large purchases of U.S. agricultural products.  

There are reports the Phase One deal could also delay or cancel the planned List 4b tariffs. Other reports suggest that China is seeking additional eliminations or reductions of the Section 301 tariffs.  

As for the structural changes to the Chinese economy sought by the Trump Administration, it seems as though they could be mentioned in the Phase One deal, but the real work will be addressed in subsequent phases.  

What Comes Next

The stars were aligning for President Trump and President Xi to sign the Phase One deal at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (“APEC”) meetings in Santiago, Chile this week.  Unfortunately, the APEC meetings were unexpectedly cancelled due to protests in the country, highlighting that a few weeks can feel like an eternity for sensitive trade talks.  

Assuming the U.S. and China can find another location, there are still risks out there that could prevent the deal’s signing.  

One big risk to the deal is the events unfolding in Hong Kong. The Trump Administration has been notably quiet on the protests, outside of President Trump expressing his faith in President Xi to satisfactorily resolve the situation.  The strongest statement from the Administration came from Vice President Pence, who recently said, “[T]he United States will continue to urge China to show restraint, to honor its commitments, and respect the people of Hong Kong.  And to the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you.”

According to multiple reports, President Trump pledged to Chinese President Xi Jinping that his Administration would remain quiet on the Hong Kong protests throughout the trade talks.  However, the Administration’s hand could be forced if the protests escalate into more sustained violence or if, as is expected, Congress passes legislation in support of Hong Kong with veto-proof majorities.  

Another risk is more vocal opposition from so-called “China hawks” that are dissatisfied that Phase One doesn’t get to the heart of the problems they have with China’s economic practices.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cautioned the President that he “shouldn’t be giving in to China unless we get something big in return.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) doubted China’s commitment to the deal long-term, saying, “I do believe that [China] will agree to things they don’t intend to comply with.” There are reports that China hawks within the White House are also pushing the President to reject the deal, notably Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro.  

A deal to end or pause the trade tensions between the United States and China would provide the private sector with more certainty as they make decisions about 2020 and beyond.  The Phase One deal looks to provide at least a pause, but geopolitical actions or domestic opposition could still derail the agreement before it is signed.   

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Rory Murphy is an Associate at Squire Patton Boggs, where his practice focuses on providing US public policy guidance, global cultural and business diplomacy advice that helps US and foreign governments and entities with doing business around the globe.

quotas

Are Quotas Worse Than Tariffs?

Quotas Return

With all the focus on tariffs these days, it is easy to overlook the return of another tool used to limit imports: quotas.

Over a year ago, the Trump Administration used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose 25 percent tariffs on specified steel imports and 10 percent tariffs on specified aluminum imports. Three countries – South Korea, Brazil and Argentina – made agreements with the United States to apply quotas to their steel exports in lieu of the Section 232 tariffs. Argentina also agreed to quotas on its aluminum exports.

According to numerous reports, U.S. negotiators were seeking similar agreements with Canada, Mexico, Japan and the European Union (EU). In May 2019, however, the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico announced that they had reached a deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs without imposing quotas, choosing instead to adopt a monitoring system with the right to re-impose tariffs on these products if surges are detected in the future. This deal could be a template for agreements with Japan and the EU to address their steel and aluminum tariffs.

In ongoing Section 232 investigations, the administration is keeping quotas on the table in other sectors including autos and auto parts, uranium ore and titanium sponges.

The Difference between Quotas and Tariffs

Quotas and tariffs are both used to protect domestic industries by artificially raising prices in the domestic market. Their administration and effects, however, differ in specific ways. Quotas restrict the quantity of a good imported from another country. Tariffs are a charge levied on the value of goods imported from another country.

While tariffs generate revenue that is paid to the importing country’s treasury, the value of a quota, also called “quota rents,” generally goes to the foreign exporters who are able to sell goods subject to the quota at higher prices and collect higher per unit revenue. In both cases, domestic consumers in the importing country pay the costs of tariffs and quota rents. But with quotas, the government of the importing country receives no revenue.

Quotas can be much more complicated to administer than tariffs. Tariffs are collected by a customs authority as goods enter a country. With quotas, customs authorities must either monitor imports directly to ensure that no goods above the quota amount are imported, or can award licenses to specific companies, giving them the right to import the amount allowed under the quota. Quotas can also take the form of a voluntary export restraint (VER), where the exporting country administers the quota.

The Cost of Quotas

Costs and pricing under a tariff regime are more transparent and predictable compared to quotas. For example, if a good is subject to a 10 percent tariff, then the good should cost about 10 percent more than it did before the tariff was imposed. With a quota, the price of that same good can increase as long as demand for the good continues and the supply remains constrained. This can mean that quota rents are ultimately more costly to domestic consumers than a tariff. In this way, quota regimes may incentivize foreign producers to upgrade the quality of their exports, leading to more direct competition with domestic producers and a higher-price product mix for consumers.

On the other hand, if foreign producers export low-quality goods under a quota regime, prices and profits for both foreign and domestic producers of low-quality goods will rise because of quotas, while domestic consumers were forced to pay more for lower quality goods.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) prohibits quotas and other quantitative restrictions under Article XI (with specific exceptions including for “security reasons”) as the GATT parties agreed that quantitative restrictions were overly restrictive and distortive compared to duties or taxes, where are permitted.

Tricky to Administer

In the case of South Korea, Brazil, and Argentina and Section 232 quotas, each country agreed to product-specific absolute quotas on 54 separate steel articles based on each country’s average annual import volumes of steel from 2015 through 2017. Argentina also accepted product specific absolute quotas on two aluminum product categories.

Steel quotas under Section 232- South Korea, Brazil and Argentina

These quotas are administered by the United States to give exporters the least possible flexibility and demonstrate how complicated quota regimes can be. Some of the quotas are absolute – once the quota is reached, no additional amount can enter the United States for any price, unless an exclusion is granted. Some quotas apply to the full calendar year (but in practice may fill the minute the quota takes effect), and others are subject to quarterly limitations. Once a quota is filled in a given quarter, importers must wait until the next quarter until they can bring the product into the United States.

The True Cost in Practice

For South Korea, Brazil, and Argentina, quotas have reduced export volumes and revenue. According to U.S. Department of Commerce data, the overall quantity of steel South Korea, Brazil, and Argentina exported to the United States in 2018 dropped significantly compared to 2017, by 26.2 percent, 14.6 percent, and 20.1 percent, respectively.

In terms of value, South Korea and Argentina’s steel exports subject to quotas dropped by $430 million and $1 million, respectively, from 2017 to 2018, while the value of Brazil’s steel exports under the quota increased by nearly $145 million in 2018. Argentina’s aluminum exports subject to the quota dropped by approximately 86.8 million kilograms from 2017 to 2018, by 32.8 percent, with a decrease in value of approximately $101 million, according to data from the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Although South Korea, Brazil, and Argentina have benefitted from generally higher prices in the United States for steel and aluminum, so far, the quotas are effectively reducing U.S. imports from these countries.

US imports of steel mill products- South Korea, Brazil and Argentina

Upsides for U.S. Steel Producers

For U.S. steel and primary aluminum producers, Section 232 tariffs, and to a limited extent, quotas, are accomplishing their goal of bolstering U.S. manufacturing capacity and allowing their firms to become profitable again — at least in the short run.

Though some proponents of the Section 232 protections do not advocate for quotas specifically, and recognize their downsides, others argue that quotas are a necessary component of the Section 232 program. Here’s why.

First, for industries seeking protection, quotas arguably provide greater certainty than tariffs that imports will be limited. Under tariffs, if importers can bear the costs, or exporters can reduce their prices, imports will continue to flow in and competition will remain high. For example, Vietnam’s 2018 exports of flat steel products, which are covered by Section 232 tariffs, increased by 79 percent compared to 2017. If strict quotas were applied instead of tariffs, Vietnam’s 2018 exports likely would have decreased.

Second, steel and aluminum manufacturers argue that without quotas, “countries that have exemptions [to the Section 232 tariffs] would likely redirect their metals exports to the United States to take advantage of higher prices there, undermining the purpose of the tariffs.”

Finally, the Trump Administration perceives that Section 232 quota agreements with U.S. trading partners and security allies, in combination with tariffs, are helping to pressure and incentivize allies to take seriously the problem of global excess capacity. U.S. unilateral tariffs may also have the opposite effect, though, – making allies less willing to work cooperatively with the United States to address fundamental global problems.

Downsides for Downstream Industries

It’s a different story for U.S. downstream manufacturers, who say quotas have entailed “severe supply constraints” and “created even more business uncertainty than tariffs”.

Importers may no longer be able to guarantee that their goods can enter under the quota, or at all. They may encounter unanticipated costs in the form of storage charges and shipping fees if the quota is filled while goods are in transit. They may face unpredictably higher prices for goods subject to a quota. They may have to find new suppliers and bear all the costs of negotiating new contracts, building new relationships, and shipping from a new location. The exclusion process implemented in August 2018 may provide some relief for importers under supply pressure, though its application may also introduce more uncertainty.

More generally, downstream manufacturers argue that Section 232 quotas and tariffs raise prices inhibiting their competitiveness, and have a chilling effect on growth, employment and investment. Although many businesses have been buoyed by the strong U.S. economy, they say that employment and sales in their industries would have increased even more were it not for tariffs and quotas raising prices. Moreover, downstream industries using steel and aluminum products employ more Americans than steel and primary aluminum manufacturers, so many jobs are vulnerable if supply contracts too much.

North America Alternative to Metal Quotas

In order to move forward with passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the United States, Canada and Mexico first had to address the steel, aluminum and retaliatory tariffs in place since 2018. Although all parties considered quotas as a possible way forward, in the end, they agreed to lift all steel, aluminum, and related retaliatory tariffs, as well as withdraw pending WTO litigation, without imposing quotas.

The three countries agreed to prevent the importation of aluminum and steel that is unfairly subsidized and/or sold at dumped prices; prevent the transshipment of aluminum and steel made outside of Canada, Mexico, or the United States to the other country; and establish a monitoring process to detect surges of aluminum and steel imports among them.

This agreement is a positive development for two key reasons: the parties removed tariffs while avoiding quotas, and agreed to address the underlying cause of U.S. industry distress – global excess capacity.

Addressing Global Excess Capacity is Key

Though tariffs and quotas may provide short-term relief, solving underlying global excess capacity problems is critical to addressing U.S. industries’ long-term challenges, and any long-term solution will require more than the mere application of protectionist measures. The United States will have to work closely and creatively with its trading partners to address this challenge directly and to persuade the world’s largest producers — including China — to reduce global excess capacity.

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This article is a shortened version of an original report published by the Hinrich Foundation.

Feature Image Credit: Jason Welker, from “Protectionist Quotas” video on Youtube.

Holly Smith

Holly Smith is a lawyer and consultant based in Hong Kong. From 2009 to 2015, she served in the Office of the United States Trade Representative as a Director for Intellectual Property and Innovation, a Director for China Affairs, and a senior policy advisor to the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

USMCA

Has Move to Impeach President Trump Pushed Aside the USMCA?

The momentum to impeach in Washington, D.C., is not only hurtling Congress and President Donald Trump toward a potential constitutional crisis, but the prospect of reaching a solution to the ongoing trade standoffs has dimmed considerably.

That’s the opinion of leading international trade lawyer Clifford Sosnow, who notes the time frame for passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)—and thereby revamping the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—is growing shorter by the day, denting plans for global companies that rely heavily on exports.

“With impeachment officially on the table and the hyper-partisan climate in the lead-up to next year’s elections, there is serious concern whether the USMCA is dead in the water,” says Sosnow, an Ottawa-based partner with Canadian law firm Fasken.

“It’s unclear how much of a window is even left for approval of the USMCA. There are also high odds of failure post-election, especially if the Democrats win. The party has not shown any enthusiasm for the USMCA in its current form.”

Sosnow is not shooting from the hip in an easy chair. He has appeared before NAFTA and WTO panels and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, and he has numerous clients affected by tariffs as well as any decisions on NAFTA, including automobile manufacturers, banks, service companies, IT companies, large retailers, manufacturers, agriculture business, aerospace firms, and transportation companies.

Russia

U.S. HITS RUSSIA & VENEZUELA WITH TOUGHER SANCTIONS

The Trump Administration on Aug. 2 imposed a second round of sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s 2018 use of chemical weapons in the United Kingdom to poison a former Russian spy. Three days later, the White House intensified pressure on the administration of Nicolás Maduro by imposing broad economic sanctions against the Government of Venezuela, a move that could escalate existing tensions with China and … wait for it … Russia!

So much for collusion.

For the seed that planted the intensified economic pressure on the Kremlin, you have to go back to March 2018, when former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal (a British national) and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, at their home in Salisbury, England. 

The UK determined that the Russian government was responsible for the attacks and, in response, the U.S. expelled Russian officials, closed the Russian consulate in Seattle and, in August 2018, announced sanctions that impacted arms sales and foreign assistance to Russia. The second round of sanctions concern restricted export licensing and loans and other financial assistance from U.S. banks and international financial institutions to Russia. 

As was the case with Russia, the Venezuela sanctions came as a result of a late-night Executive Order by President Donald Trump, who blocked all property, and interests in property, of the South American country’s government that are within the jurisdiction of the U.S. The Secretary of the Treasury is also authorized to impose secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons who materially support or provide goods or services to the Venezuelan government. 

Trump’s order accuses the Maduro regime of “human rights abuses,” “interference with freedom of expression” and “ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan National Assembly’s exercise of legitimate authority in Venezuela.”

U.S. Strengthens Sanctions Targeting the Government of Venezuela

On August 5, 2019, the Trump Administration intensified pressure on the administration of Nicolás Maduro by imposing broad economic sanctions against the Government of Venezuela, a move that could escalate existing tensions with Venezuela’s supporters, Russia and China.  In a late-night Executive Order, President Trump announced that all property, and interests in property, of the Government of Venezuela, including its agencies, instrumentalities, and any entity owned or controlled by the foregoing, that are within the jurisdiction of the United States would be blocked.

The Order further suspended entry into the United States of sanctioned persons absent a determination from the Secretary of State. The Order also authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to impose additional secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons who materially support or provide goods or services to the Government of Venezuela.

Background

In January 2019, after months of economic turmoil and political unrest under Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the United States formally recognized Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate head of state.  More than fifty nations followed suit, asserting that President Maduro’s 2017 reelection was illegitimate and that Guaidó was the rightful interim president under the Venezuelan constitution.

The Trump Administration followed its recognition of Mr. Guaidó as interim president with sweeping sanctions on the Venezuelan government. The measures included designating Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PdVSA”), as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”), thereby prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with PdVSA, as well as transactions by non-U.S. persons conducted in U.S. dollars, unless otherwise authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”).  (We previously summarized the PdVSA SDN designation here.)

Despite the increasing U.S. pressure, President Maduro has refused to cede power.  He retains the support of the Venezuelan military, and Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, and Turkey have continued their economic and diplomatic relationships with the regime.

Sanctions Overview

Through this new Executive Order, the Trump Administration has ratcheted up its efforts against the Maduro regime, asserting that further measures are necessary to combat “human rights abuses,” “interference with freedom of expression,” and “ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan National Assembly’s exercise of legitimate authority in Venezuela.”

However, contrary to initial press reports, the action does not create a comprehensive embargo against Venezuela (on the model of the U.S. sanctions against Iran) that would prevent U.S. persons from engaging in almost all transactions. Instead, the new measures focus on the Venezuelan government by blocking all property and interests in property of the government that are currently in the United States, will be brought into the United States, or come into the possession or control of a U.S. person. There is, however, an exception for humanitarian goods, such as food, clothing, and medicine.  The Order applies regardless of contracts entered into, or licenses or permits granted, prior to the Order.

Further, the Order could have a broad impact outside of the United States by authorizing secondary sanctions against any party determined by OFAC to “have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” the Government of Venezuela.  U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton warned the day after the Order, “We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution.  There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.”

In conjunction with the Order, OFAC also revised twelve existing general licenses (“GLs”) and issued thirteen new GLs.  Notably, GL 28 authorizes through 12:01 a.m. on September 4, 2019, transactions necessary to wind-down contracts with the Government of Venezuela.  GL 31 also authorizes transactions with the Venezuelan National Assembly and the shadow government of Interim President Juan Guaidó, underscoring that the target of the action is the administration of Nicolás Maduro.

The GLs and related guidance make clear that the people of Venezuela are not the target of the sanctions.  Specifically, OFAC released a document entitled “Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Support to the Venezuelan People,” which emphasized that “humanitarian assistance and activities to promote democracy are not the target of U.S. sanctions and are generally excepted from sanctions . . . ”  OFAC simultaneously issued four new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  FAQ 680 stresses that “U.S. persons are not prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the country or people of Venezuela, provided blocked persons or any conduct prohibited by any other Executive order imposing sanctions measures related to the situation in Venezuela, are not involved.”

OFAC also issued a number of GLs to authorize humanitarian transactions and transactions necessary for communications involving Venezuela, including new GLs 24 (telecommunications and common carriers), 25 (Internet communications), 26(medical services), and 29 (broadly authorizing certain non-governmental organizations).

Further, U.S. persons in Venezuela are not targeted by the sanctions.  Section 6(d) of the Order exempts from the definition of Government of Venezuela “any United States citizen, any permanent resident alien of the United States, any alien lawfully admitted to the United States, or any alien holding a valid United States visa.”  Further, GL 32authorizes U.S. persons resident in Venezuela to engage in ordinary and necessary personal “maintenance” transactions, including “payment of housing expenses, acquisition of goods or services for personal use, payment of taxes or fees, and purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services.”

Such measures targeting an entire government have rarely been used by the United States, and there are many questions about how the restrictions and related authorizations will be interpreted and applied.  As Bolton observed, “This is the first time in 30 years that [the U.S. is] imposing an asset freeze against a government in this hemisphere.”

Effect of the Sanctions

There has been some confusion in the media over the breadth of the measures.  Some reports have mischaracterized the Order as a “total embargo;” however, the scope of the Order is limited to property, and interests in property, of the Venezuelan government, its agencies, instrumentalities, and entities owned or controlled by these.  Because many major Venezuelan government entities have already been designated as SDNs in earlier actions, including PdVSA and the Central Bank of Venezuela, the measures appear to be only an incremental expansion of the existing sanctions program.

More significantly, the Order creates a secondary sanctions regime for OFAC to designate non-U.S. parties who continue to do business with the Maduro government.  While these secondary sanctions are most likely to target Cuban, Russian, and Chinese entities that continue to provide aid to the ailing regime, all non-U.S. persons engaging in transactions in the country should carefully assess whether those transactions could benefit the government.  In particular, companies trading with Venezuela should conduct due diligence sufficient to ensure that their counterparties are not owned fifty percent or more by the Government of Venezuela, or are not otherwise controlled by the government.

In addition, from a practical standpoint, although the sanctions only apply to Government of Venezuelan and related entities, the measures may cause financial institutions, insurers, freight forwarders and other companies – who often apply a heighted level of compliance going beyond the minimum required by OFAC – to avoid dealing with Venezuelan entities altogether.

The measures against Venezuela could also escalate existing tensions with Russia and China if the sanctions further restrict the countries’ access to Venezuelan oil.  Russia and China, which have continued to back the Maduro regime, currently import Venezuelan oil as part of a debt relief program.  China is slated to continue receiving oil from Venezuela until 2021, so it stands to suffer substantial losses if it is unable to continue the shipments.  This uncertainty comes in the midst of deteriorating relations between the United States and China due to the ongoing trade war, relations which suffered another blow this week when the Trump Administration labeled China a “currency manipulator.”

U.S. DOLLAR PROVIDES THE MUSCLE FOR ECONOMIC SANCTIONS

Money Talks

From drug kingpins to terrorists and from human traffickers to money launderers, the United States has nearly 8,000 economic sanctions in place, and the list is growing. Particularly in the post-9/11 era, the U.S. government has leveraged the global preeminence of the U.S. dollar to turn off spigots of funding for sinister activities and unwanted behaviors by state actors.

Among additional sanctions against Iran, Russia and Venezuela, The Trump administration earlier this month tightened travel restrictions to Cuba stating, “Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere…these actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

The muscle behind an array of U.S. financial sanctions derives from the reach and power of the U.S. dollar as the “lead currency” in the global economy. This status makes it possible to not only prevent U.S. individuals and companies from doing business directly with a sanctioned entity, it makes it risky to do business with third-country companies that do business with sanctioned entities. Acutely aware of their vulnerability, non-U.S. companies also frequently take steps to minimize their exposure to possible violations of U.S. sanctions lest they jeopardize their access to the U.S. financial system.

The U.S. Dollar Reigns

How strong is the dollar’s foothold in the global economy? The U.S. dollar was used in 88 percent of global foreign exchange transactions in 2016. For comparison, the euro was the medium of exchange in 31 percent of transactions in 2016, the Japanese yen in 22 percent, the British pound in 13 percent, and China’s renminbi in four percent (as two currencies may be involved in exchange, these numbers will add up to more than 100 percent).

Companies selling their goods and services outside the United States often accept dollars as payment because they can easily turn around and use dollars to pay for imported products and inputs. Or, they can hold onto their dollar revenues with confidence they are storing value.

Why is the Dollar Preferred?

The dollar is the world’s lead currency because it meets three key conditions.

First, the dollar is fully tradable and exchanged at relatively low costs. The U.S. government does not restrict the purchase or sale of the dollar.

Second, the dollar holds its value against other currencies. The United States is still considered a stable and open market economy, current tariff vagaries notwithstanding. At the end of last year, just under 62 percent of all central bank reserves were held in U.S. dollars.

Third, the United States is still the largest economy in the world, equivalent to 24 percent of global GDP. Below is a snapshot from the International Monetary Fund comparing the world’s largest economies. We have a large money supply, providing liquidity for the global economy.

Into the Arms of Another

Some have argued bad actors like North Korea will find always find ways to evade U.S. sanctions. Buyers of Iranian oil will seek alternative currencies for their transactions, both diluting the effect of sanctions and hastening reduced dependence on the dollar.

Several European countries developed a clearinghouse to enable companies to avoid the U.S. financial system in transactions involving Iran as part of their effort to salvage the nuclear pact the Trump administration pulled out of last year before restoring a slew of sanctions against Iran.

Despite initial discussions about a wider scope, Europe’s Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) will, at least for now, only facilitate trade in humanitarian goods such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and agri-food products, all of which are already permissible under U.S. sanctions. Despite European government grumbling about being beholden to the U.S. dollar, there appeared to be little appetite on the part of European companies and commercial banks to risk U.S. penalties by using such a clearinghouse for other types of transactions.

Will the Euro or Renminbi Overtake the Dollar?

Not anytime soon.

The euro covers a large economic zone featuring sophisticated financial market institutions, but the politics surrounding continued support by members of the euro zone and unresolved debt discussions with southern states (we were talking about Grexit long before Brexit) are holding the euro back in overtaking the U.S. dollar.

Although the renminbi’s share in global transactions is still low, it should be noted that usage and overseas holdings of China’s currency by individuals, businesses and central banks has expanded in the last decade, enabling China to break through in 2016 to join the top five most-used currencies. The Chinese government is making a big push to internationalize its currency through global infrastructure investment funds associated with its Belt and Road initiative and through renminbi-denominated commodities futures contracts, among other initiatives.

China’s currency, however, is not freely convertible, its performance has been volatile, and the degree of state and private debt in China’s financial system remains murky.

The Dollar’s Achilles Heel

For the time being, most experts believe there’s no real threat to the U.S. dollar’s dominance. Europe would need to address skepticism regarding the monetary union’s future, China would need to implement significant reforms to its financial sector, and much-hyped cryptocurrencies still have long way to go to challenge the conventional system of global payments.

These are all big “ifs”. Instead, the dollar’s Achilles’ heel is of our own making. One of the biggest risks to the dollar’s long-term value is continued fiscal imbalances in the United States and the sustainability of our debt burden.

Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. She is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an adjunct fellow with CSIS. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught International Trade for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.