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

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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.
trade

Laboring for Trade

Labor provisions are an increasingly important feature in trade agreements. But do they work?

How countries treat their workers might seem unconnected to the movement of goods and services across national borders. Yet in many trade negotiations, a trading partner’s labor standards are an increasingly important concern.

The fate of the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), for instance, hinged for months on bipartisan support for the pact’s provisions around labor. In fact, the Trump Administration made major efforts to woo organized labor and ultimately secured the support of the AFL-CIO, thereby ensuring the agreement’s passage through the Democratically-controlled House.

But despite the attention paid to labor provisions in trade deals like USMCA, domestic policy, not trade agreements, might be the most direct – and most effective – way to improve workers’ lot, especially in advanced countries like the United States. As important as labor provisions have become to trade agreements, available research points to a mixed record on their impacts.

More and more common in trade agreements

Trade and labor standards have been linked concerns since at least the 19th century, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). As early as the mid-1800s, European social activists were agitating for international labor norms such as an eight-hour workday and the abolition of forced labor. By the end of the century, countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had passed laws banning the import of products made by prisoners.

But it wasn’t until the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 that trade agreements explicitly addressed labor (technically the 1947 Havana Charter contained an article on Fair Labour Standards but did not go into effect). NAFTA included the first side agreement on labor standards, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), which established a system of “cooperative activities” that the United States, Mexico and Canada agreed to undertake together to improve worker treatment.

The floodgates opened after NAFTA. In 1996, the World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted The Singapore Ministerial Declaration, embodying a new global consensus on trade and labor. Among other things, the Declaration included a commitment to international core labor standards while rejecting the use of labor standards for “protectionist purposes.”

Today, labor provisions are increasingly de rigeur in trade deals. By the ILO’s count, 77 trade agreements negotiated globally in 2016 included labor provisions, compared to just three in 1995. Overall, says the ILO, more than a quarter of global trade pacts reached in 2016 – 28.8 percent – addressed labor standards in some way.

 

# ageements with L provisions text

Rationale for labor provisions

Proponents of labor standards in trade agreements cite several justifications for including these provisions. The first is moral: Trade agreements set the rules for international trade, and the inclusion of labor standards reinforces the social and human rights norms valued by the international community. Some argue that rich countries like the United States have a particular duty to use their leverage and buying power to raise standards in developing nations.

Another rationale is economic. As the ILO notes, “[L]abour provisions are tools against unfair competition, the main idea being that violations of labour standards can distort competitiveness (‘social dumping’) and should be addressed in a manner similar to that employed against other unfair trading practices.” In particular, labor standards arguably prevent a “race to the bottom,” where countries compete to produce ever-cheaper goods by shortchanging their workers. Some U.S. advocates further argue that labor standards can level the field between workers in competing countries, potentially stemming the tide of offshoring from wealthier countries to lower-paying ones and protecting domestic jobs. (More on this argument below.)

A third rationale for these provisions is political. Labor provisions, especially in the United States, have become a powerful bargaining chip for competing interests, as the USMCA and other trade agreements have shown. The strength of a trade pact’s labor provisions has also become a proxy for the “fair” trade that the public increasingly wants to see; trade deals might be more likely to win public approval if its advocates can tout “tough” labor provisions that purport to protect U.S. jobs.

ILO chart of provisions in agreements

Carrots, sticks and helping hands

While becoming increasingly complex, labor provisions tend to fall into several basic categories. First, so-called “promotional” provisions aim to encourage countries to raise labor standards by defining a set of commitments and detailing a variety of “cooperative” activities countries might do to discuss, implement and monitor these obligations.

For instance, in the CAFTA-DR agreement involving the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, the United States agreed to finance an array of “capacity building” activities aimed at improving countries’ infrastructure around workers’ rights. These projects, according to the ILO, included “increasing workers’ awareness of their labour rights, increasing the budget and equipment of labour ministries and labour judiciaries, training labour officials, and setting up centres providing legal assistance to workers.”

While these types of provisions could be considered “carrots,” agreements can also include “sticks” in the form of “conditional” provisions requiring a trading partner to meet certain obligations before a deal is ratified. The United States’ trade agreement with Morocco, for instance, required Morocco to raise its minimum working age from 12 to 15 and to lower the maximum number of hours in its workweek from 48 to 44 as a precondition to ratification.

Text graphic weak enforcement criticism of NAFTA

Other “sticks” include provisions calling for sanctions if a country’s commitments aren’t met and specifying the mechanisms for policing and enforcement. Among the processes detailed would be who is entitled to file a complaint and how disputes will be settled (e.g, through arbitration). Among the chief complaints of NAFTA’s critics was weak enforcement, which is one reason why this issue became a major sticking point in negotiations over NAFTA’s successor, the USMCA. For instance, while more than 40 labor complaints were filed under NAFTA, none have so far led to sanctions, a result that many labor advocates wanted to see remedied.

Impacts on workers’ conditions and on trade flows

Research on the impacts of labor provisions in trade agreements is relatively scant. For one thing, measuring the direct impacts of these provisions on workers’ circumstances is hard to do. What research there is, however, shows that labor provisions can benefit workers in developing countries, especially if they have the support of wealthier trading partners in building capacity for creating and implementing reforms.

In a 2017 survey of existing research, the ILO found that labor provisions in trade agreements can provide a modest boost to workforce participation in some countries, particularly among women, and even help ease the gender gap in wages. According to the ILO, the average workforce participation rates in countries subject to labor provisions is about 1.6 percentage points higher than in countries without such obligations. “One possible explanation for this effect is that labour provision-related policy dialogue and awareness-raising can influence people’s expectations of better working conditions, which in turn increase their willingness to enter the labour force,” says the ILO.

In certain circumstances, conditional labor provisions can dramatically benefit workers. In Cambodia, for instance, according to the ILO, labor provisions included in the Cambodia–United States Bilateral Textile Agreement helped reduce the gender gap in Cambodia’s textile sector by as much as 80 percent between 1999 and 2004. “These results are partly due to the incentive structure of the agreement, which tied export quotas to compliance with labour standards, but also to a monitoring programme (Better Factories Cambodia) that was implemented with the support of the ILO and backed by the social partners,” the ILO found.

What the evidence does not show is that higher labor standards in developing countries dampens the flow of trade by raising the price of goods produced. In fact, research shows the opposite – countries subject to labor provisions often see a slight increase in their exports. According to a 2017 analysis by the World Trade Organization (WTO), labor provisions can benefit low-income countries by “increas[ing] demand for products by concerned consumers” in richer countries, thereby leading to more trade. (Consider, for instance, the growing consumer demand for “fair trade” coffee.) Similarly, the ILO finds that countries entering trade agreements with labor provisions see a slightly greater increase in the value of trade compared to countries without such provisions.

L provisions no substitute for domestic action

Both the WTO and ILO analyses caution, however, that the countries seeing the biggest impacts on their workers also enjoyed strong domestic support for labor reforms. While entering a trade agreement with labor provisions might have helped catalyze important shifts in domestic policy, the agreements themselves are no substitute for domestic action. In fact, in places where domestic enthusiasm for labor market reforms are weak, the impacts of labor provisions have been minimal.

One case in point is Guatemala, where the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan trade unions filed a complaint in 2008 alleging that Guatemala was failing its obligations under CAFTA-DR. After nine years of procedural and other delays, an arbitration panel convened under the auspices of CAFTA-DR in Guatemala failed to find that Guatemala had breached its obligations under the agreement, despite the lack of progress on systemic reforms and widespread reports of anti-union violence.

No replacement for domestic policy

The inclusion of robust labor provisions in trade agreements reinforces international norms for just worker treatment. It can also promote much-needed reforms in nations with weak standards and help protect workers from exploitation.

Wealthy countries should not, however, count on labor provisions in trade agreements as a principal mechanism for protecting domestic jobs.

For one thing, as we’ve written elsewhere on this site, companies’ decisions about where to put their factories depends on many factors other than the cost of labor, such as proximity to markets, intellectual property protections, tax and regulatory considerations, and the skill of the workforce. Second, labor provisions in trade agreements are, at best, a highly indirect way of leveling the playing field between workers from one country to another. Third and most significantly, the biggest future threat to a worker’s job might not be a lower-paid worker in a maquila but a robot.

While apocalyptic forecasts of automation’s impacts are no doubt overblown, there’s little question that advances in automation will prove immensely disruptive in coming decades. For instance, one 2018 analysis by Price Waterhouse Cooper predicts that nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to automation by 2030.

Ultimately, the best protection for workers are domestic policies that prepare workers for disruption and smooth their transition in the event of displacement. These policies can include better and more robust adjustment assistance for displaced workers; bigger government investments in career and technical education, particularly for incumbent workers; greater coordination among governments, businesses and schools so that workers have the right skills to fill gaps in the workforce; and increased public support for research into innovations that will lead to more jobs.

This is not to say that the energy spent on negotiating labor provisions in trade agreements isn’t time well-spent. What policymakers and the public need to know is what these provisions can — and can’t — do.

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Anne Kim

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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

trade

How U.S. Trade Policies are Speeding the Development of a Multi-Polar Global Economy

Several years in to the multi-front trade conflict led by the current U.S. administration, the world economy teeters on the edge of a possible recession.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that up to $700 billion in global trade could be wiped off the books by the end of next year due to the trade war.  Much of the direct loss, of course, is tied to reduced trade between the U.S. and China, but other trading regions, such as the rest of Asia and Europe, are impacted by this global slowdown.  How is this shaping future trade flows?

Of course, there are some immediate winners in this tussle between the two economic giants.  Countries such as Mexico and Vietnam have seen sharp increase in trade as businesses scramble to find new production sites that would allow them to duck tariffs. Hidden behind these headlines, however, is perhaps a more important story; the rapid development of a multi-polar global economy.

Observers wringing their hands over the U.S.-China trade dispute may have missed what else is going on in the world.  Europe has been negotiating trade agreements at a rapid clip, finalizing deals with Canada, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, several African regions and South America (MERCOSUR) over the last three years.  Africa is launching the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a 54-nation trade block that is hoped will dramatically increase inter-African trade. After a snub from the U.S., the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was retitled the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and is now an active free trade area among 11 partner nations.  Asian countries are considering a 16-nation trade pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).  In brief, world leaders are not sitting on their hands waiting for the U.S.-China dispute to get resolved.  They are seizing opportunities to trade elsewhere.

World demographics make this multi-polar trading system inevitable.  Despite the United States’ tremendous economic power, it represents less than five percent of the world population. Although it is a wealthy sliver of the overall market, that means that 95% of the world’s consumers still reside elsewhere.  Over the next few decades, rapid population growth in Asia and Africa will continue to change these market numbers, with 79% of the world’s consumers residing in Africa or Asia by 2050. The global middle class will continue to grow outside of ‘traditional markets’ and by 2030, over half of the world population will be considered middle class.  Some estimates suggesting that over 90% of future middle class growth will come in Asia and Africa. 

This dramatic surge in wealth and consumer spending power outside of Europe, the U.S. and Japan demands more infrastructure to support logistics.  China’s initiatives to help itself carve out a primary role in developing these new markets through the Belt and Road program are well known, but Europe has also jumped into the seize a piece of the action, especially in Africa, and programs to upgrade infrastructure at the state level are fueling building from South America to the Philippines. 

It’s my expectation global trade will become even more fragmented over the next decades,” notes European logistics expert Louis Coenders, owner of the Dutch advising firm De Transportheker, which has been consulting on transportation, warehousing, and global distribution since 2010 and has stressed to clients the growing importance of diversity in logistics as the world becomes multipolar.  “You cannot rely on one single source. From a risk management perspective, it’s never smart to put all your eggs into one basket. That also applies to international trade.”  Coenders further noted that the growing middle class in places like Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa will encourage infrastructure changes to bring products into these markets as consumer spending rises.  For the moment China has an edge into many of these areas, as illustrated by the first train shipments from Alibaba arriving into Liege, Belgium just last week as twice-a-week rail shipments are now sent directly from China to the EU courtesy of the improved rail system.

When the U.S. resolves its trade disputes with China (and potentially the EU, Turkey, Russia and other targets of the current administration), it will find that the unintended consequence of this long-term conflict is that the world has by necessity sped up economic exchanges, and adjusted trading systems and flows to accommodate this new multi-polar world.  While some of the trade may ‘come back’ to the United States, the changes in world population and fast-paced creation of new free trade blocks outside of North America means that other markets will seize this opportunity to deepen their trade relations and the U.S. will find itself in a more competitive and varied trading environment. This change was inevitable, but the recent trade war has sped up its development.  Agile, strategic companies will react to this market change by diversifying and partnering with colleagues in the growing markets of Africa and Asia. Those that are slow to change will find it hard to remain competitive in this brave new trade world.

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Kirk Samson is the owner of Samson Atlantic LLC, a Chicago-based international business consulting company which offers market research, political risk assessment, and international expansion assistance.  Mr. Samson is a former U.S. diplomat and international law advisor who lived and worked in ten different countries.

world trade

Simon Paris, Chair of the World Trade Board & CEO of Finastra, Provides a Snapshot of this year’s World Trade Symposium

Protecting world trade from the current vicious cycle of trade tensions makes it imperative that those in a position to effect change – public and private sectors – work together; quickly and cohesively. Chairman of the World Trade Board and CEO of Finastra, Simon Paris, discusses three ways in which committed organizations can bring about a new pro-trade paradigm, even against the backdrop of today’s protectionist narrative, to lift people out of poverty globally and enable long-term growth and prosperity for all.

Across the globe, protectionist rhetoric and policy initiatives have become increasingly normalized. Tensions and tariffs continue to escalate with the World Trade Organization estimating that $339.5bn1 in trade is now at risk from import restrictions – the second highest level ever recorded. Amidst this trend, we as business leaders, policy makers, and engaged thinkers must deepen our commitment to free and open trade benefiting communities and workers.

The path to open trade and ensuing economic growth is under shadow. The global economic uncertainty2 risk index hit an all-time high this year. Ongoing friction between the United States and China has not only caused a tangible 12% drop in US imports from China, but triggered aftershocks across other Asian economies as a result of closely integrated supply chains3. Japan and Korea have made headlines with their own trade war that risks their trade relationship worth about $85 billion a year4 and the future economic relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union amidst Brexit is uncertain.

In response free traders should commit to three acts of solidarity, with the aim of reversing – or as an absolute minimum, reducing – the pervasive change that continues to threaten trade as we know it.

Three commitments that will drive change

Firstly, we must be persistent in our reinforcement of the pro-trade narrative; uniting to protect and promote open trade as the unequivocal foundation for global prosperity and economic inclusion. Secondly, we must continue to investigate ways in which we can reduce the SME funding gap, currently estimated at $1.5 trillion5, which is precluding both innovation and financial independence on a global scale. It is imperative that we seek out new ways to free up finance or neutralize the perceived risk of lending to small firms. At a time where the least developed countries represent less than 1% of world exports6, we must find solutions that unlock the latent value within SMEs to stimulate competition, innovation and economic growth, and reduce the disparity of wealth in a sustainable way.

Finally, we must examine how open technology can act as the enabler for inclusive, sustainable trade. As global supply chains become increasingly complex, our goal should not be measured on a binary figure of turnover or profit, but on the ethical and sustainable impact of our technological innovation; our technological social responsibility (TSR). How can we use technology, collectively, to ascertain the provenance of materials, improve the health and wellbeing of workers in remote locations, reduce the cause and effects on environment pollution of long-distance transportation or minimize the impact of waste and disposal? How can we use open finance technologies – and by this, I include open systems, open software, open APIs, open standards and open partner networks – to transform supply chains and encourage the formulation of more relevant and inclusive trade models, in support of ethical trade?

Protecting against threats, known and unknown

A global marketplace helps ensure a sustainable model of financial inclusion that protects future generations against wealth disparity and isolation. I believe that it is only through a powerful combination of forward-thinking policies, collaborative mindsets and funding, underpinned by open finance technology, that we can deliver the change so desperately required, that promotes equality and opportunity, and reverses the trend of poverty and protectionism. It is time to find solutions to today’s threats to open trade and together protect against further polarization and the unseen threats of tomorrow.

Simon Paris will be opening the third World Trade Symposium, held in the Grand Hyatt, New York on 6-7 November. The event brings together policy-makers, trade finance luminaries and thought leaders to openly collaborate and effect change. Register Today!


1. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/trdev_22jul19_e.htm

2. http://policyuncertainty.com/

3. https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/international-trade-statistics-trends-in-first-quarter-2019.htm

4. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/business/japan-south-korea-trade.html

5. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spra_e/spra241_e.htm

6. https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/wts2019_e/wts2019_e.pdf

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Simon takes responsibility for Finastra’s strategic direction and growth. His leadership steers the company as it realizes its open platform vision, encouraging industry-wide collaboration to spark innovation and transform the next generation of financial services.

A firm believer in the principles of doing well by doing good, Simon chairs the World Trade Board and is passionate about how technology and open trade can drive financial inclusion and improve people’s lives.

An inspiring and trusted Fintech thought leader, Simon speaks regularly at large-scale events including the annual World Trade Symposium, Paris FinTech Forum and The Milken Asia Summit. He is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion, with refreshing and candid views on equality in the workplace. He was also named in Bank Innovation’s ‘Innovators to Watch’ list for 2018.

Simon joined Finastra (formerly Misys) as President in 2015, was appointed Deputy Chief Executive Officer in 2017 and became Chief Executive Officer in June 2018. He brings more than 20 years of sales, management and global leadership expertise to the company, having previously held the role of President, Industry Cloud, at SAP. Prior to that he was a senior consultant with McKinsey & Company.

He holds a degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the INSEAD Business School in France and a Bachelor’s degree in Business & European languages from the European Business School.

Vietnam

Why Washington Shouldn’t see Vietnam as the Next China

In a recent Senate Finance Committee report, U.S. Trade Czar Robert Lighthizer opined that Vietnam must take action to curb its growing trade surplus with the U.S., including removing barriers to market access for U.S. companies.

While it is true that Vietnam’s trade surplus has grown significantly in 2019, much of it is the result of the trade war between the U.S. and China that has prompted importers to source from Vietnam as an alternative to China.

Rather than attempt to stunt Vietnam’s trade surplus through tariffs or other trade actions, Washington should be establishing alliances with countries in Southeast Asia as part of its quest to ensure balanced trade and market stability.

Lighthizer’scomments were in response to queries from the Committee and echoed previous statements made by White House administration officials who have identified Vietnam as one of several countries to watch with respect to trade activity. And while there hasn’t been a direct threat of imposing tariffs on Vietnamese imports, the recent implementation of a 400% duty on Vietnamese steel imports and the recent rhetoric in Washington regarding transshipment has many businesses nervous that their new safe haven may be the President’s next target for trade action.

Troublesome to United State Trade Representative (USTR) is that the surplus thus far in 2019 is already more than 30% higher than it was at this time last year, making Vietnam the leading nation in terms of percentage increase of import value in 2019.

Hastening trade imbalance

Washington has been at least somewhat complicit in hastening Vietnam’s growing trade surplus. Since the U.S. began imposing tariffs on China-origin goods, many U.S. companies (and some Chinese companies) have been looking to shift production to neighboring markets in Asia. A recent poll of U.S. companies by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China showed that more than 40% of American companies with production in China were looking to move to a neighboring country if they hadn’t already done so. These include the likes of Dell, HP, Steve Madden, Brooks and others. Even non-U.S. companies, like Japan’s Nintendo and China’s own electronics giant TCL are looking to shift production out of China and into Vietnam.

Vietnam was an obvious choice for many of these manufacturers looking to circumvent Washington’s onerous tariffs. For years, Vietnam has been investing heavily in improving its roadway and port infrastructure, as well as augmenting its pool of high-skilled laborers so that it can attract large hi-tech giants. The advancements were well-timed to coincide with increasing wages and regulatory restrictions in China that were driving up costs and forcing foreign producers to look elsewhere for low-cost manufacturing alternatives. This was taking place well before the current administration in Washington began cracking down on China’s questionable trade practices.

To be fair, Washington does have some cause for complaint. It’s one of Asia’s worst kept secrets that Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand have become convenient transshipment hubs for Chinese companies looking to circumvent quotas and, more recently, tariffs by making minor tweaks in neighboring countries to products almost wholly manufactured in China and sending them along to the U.S. as “Vietnamese” or “Malaysian” exports. In the end, there is little monetary gain for Vietnam and much opportunity for reputational damage. Hanoi’s incentive for playing along is purely political; it wants to placate China, its much larger neighbor and regional hegemon.

Hanoi has already said it will crackdown on Chinese transshipments labeled as being of Vietnamese origin. Nikkei Asian Review is reporting the Vietnamese government is considering new rules that would require 30% of a good’s price to be comprised of Vietnamese manufacturing for it to be considered as being of Vietnamese origin. Whether or not this will pacify the USTR remains to be seen.

Yet while Chinese transshipments may have been a catalyst to Vietnam’s soaring trade surplus, the ongoing U.S-China trade war has unquestionably accelerated the development of a trend that was only in its infancy a few short years ago.

If Washington is looking to penalize Vietnam for a trade surplus born out of Washington’s trade war with Beijing, where will the cycle of tariffs end?

Options for low-cost sourcing plentiful

Let’s assume Washington succeeds in quelling the growth of Vietnam’s trade surplus by imposing tariffs in the same manner it has with China, the EU and other entities. The likely outcome will be that U.S. companies then look to Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh or Cambodia (as many have already) to replace or supplement their production in China.

Let’s assume that Washington then imposes similar tariffs on imports from those countries. The likely outcome will be that U.S. companies then shift their attention to India, Mexico or any other country that offer lower cost labor and limited regulatory burden. And on and on it goes.

Washington wants to see production repatriated back to the United States, but only six percent of American companies moving production out of China are looking at reshoring their manufacturing facilities. One of the key reasons is that the facilities currently in China are intended to support regional exports and reshoring production to the U.S. would result in unnecessary transport costs and time in transit. In other cases, the cost of moving production to the U.S. could be too onerous to allow companies to compete globally.

A battle worth waging – along with friends and allies

This is not to suggest Washington’s war on China’s unsavory trade practices is unjust or futile. On the contrary, China’s history of misappropriating intellectual property through technology transfer, cybersecurity incidents and other trade violations requires America to act. But tariffs only punish American companies that will continue to shift their production as necessary to reduce their landed costs.

Instead of reprimanding and punishing countries like Vietnam with tariffs in response to growing trade surpluses, Washington should be working with them to forge alliances that will ensure China is forced to play by the rules.

If the U.S. truly wants to stave off bad actors such as China from continuing to abuse the global trade’s rule-based system, it will need the support of friends and allies in the eastern and western hemispheres. Acting alone and imposing unilateral restrictions only throws Washington into a battle of wills for which collateral damage is certain, but the outcome remains unknown.

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Cora Di Pietro is vice president of Global Trade Consulting at trade-services firm Livingston International. She is a frequent speaker and lecturer at industry and academic events and is an active member of numerous industry groups and associations. She can be reached at cdipietro@livingstonintl.com.