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Comparative Advantage Revealed: What the U.S. Could Gain from an FTA with Brazil

brazil

Comparative Advantage Revealed: What the U.S. Could Gain from an FTA with Brazil

Olá Brasil!

President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced their desire to “build a new partnership” after meeting in August, potentially through a bilateral free trade agreement. For the time being, the United States and Brazil are starting with some pragmatic approaches, for example by streamlining customs procedures, agreeing on safety standards for Brazil to import U.S. pork and beef, increased imports of U.S. ethanol, and possible ways to expand energy trade.

But Brazil would be a good target for a full U.S. free trade agreement. It is by far the largest South American economy. With total two-way trade reaching $103.9 billion in 2018, Brazil is our ninth-largest export market. Beyond any political merits or challenges, the potential commercial benefits can be shown through textbook economics.

Two-way trade between the US and brazil totaled 103.9 billion in 2018

“Revealed” Comparative Advantage

In a 1965 paper entitled Trade Liberalisation and “Revealed” Comparative Advantage, economist Bela Balassa developed an index for identifying where the comparative advantage of industrial countries lay in regard to their trade with one another.

Comparative advantage basically means one country can produce a particular good at a lower opportunity cost than another, which doesn’t necessarily mean at a lower absolute cost. The revealed comparative advantage (RCA) index is a useful tool that cuts out the laborious work of trying to assess all the factors that might determine comparative advantage but still captures relative costs and differences in non-price factors. Here’s how it works.

The Power of One

A country’s RCA in a certain class of goods is calculated by dividing the proportion of the country’s exports in that class by the proportion of world exports in that class. If the resulting RCA is greater than one, then a comparative advantage has been discovered. If it is less than one, the country is said to have a comparative disadvantage in that class of good.

The RCA is therefore useful in identifying areas where large gains from trade are possible but currently untapped. If one country’s RCA in a product is below one and another’s is above one this may be a potentially lucrative pairing.

Furthermore, if the country whose RCA is below one has either tariff or non-tariff barriers on that good and is importing from an inefficient source or producing for its own consumption, there is even greater potential for benefit.

The U.S.-Brazil Trade Relationship Revealed

Applying the RCA method to the U.S.-Brazil trading relationship in 20 sectors, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the United States and Brazil are complementary in 11 of them. There are only three categories in which both countries have RCAs higher than one, in which they would compete head to head.

For Brazil, export gains could be made in minerals, animals, food products, hides and skins, metals and raw materials such as alloys and iron ores, all sectors where Brazil has a high revealed comparative advantage compared to the United States. The United States has a revealed comparative advantage in exporting capital goods, chemicals, miscellaneous goods, plastics, rubber and transportation.

US-Brazil revealed competitive advantage RCA

Classic Trade: More Sales and More Savings

When it comes to importing raw materials from Brazil, the United States already has zero or low tariff rates in most categories, but there are some products where demand is high, but tariffs remain, creating opportunities for savings for U.S. consumers. For example, U.S. tariffs on building materials such as cut stone and shaped wood range from 3.2 to 4.9 percent. The United States does not have a comparative advantage in these materials and currently imports 24 percent of its building stone and 30 percent of its shaped wood needs from Brazil.

Tariff savings may also shift consumer purchases in Brazil’s favour. For example, Brazil enjoys a comparative advantage over the United States in coffee (we don’t produce it except some specialty in Hawaii). At present, 50 percent of U.S. imported coffee comes from countries we have an FTA with including Colombia and Guatemala, so Brazil would be well poised to increase its share of U.S. coffee imports under an FTA.

The products the United States has a revealed comparative advantage in compared to Brazil are more diverse, from capital goods to chemicals. Brazil’s lowest weighted average tariff among the good represented on the chart is 6.24 percent for chemicals; the highest is 21.01 percent in transportation. Reducing tariffs on U.S. industrial and agricultural goods would benefit both Brazilian importers and U.S. exporters.

A U.S.-Brazil FTA Could Be Positive

Overall, these numbers suggest a high complementarity in revealed comparative advantages between the United States and Brazil such that removing barriers to cross border trade in goods and services between the United States and Brazil has the potential yield gains for both sides, with increased trade flows both ways.

If only negotiating a trade agreement were as easy as following the numbers. The United States has a number of pension and tax reforms it would like Brazil to enact before getting serious about an FTA, and Brazil is a member of MERCOSUR, a South American trading bloc that precludes members from negotiating tariffs on an individual country basis. And so, the two countries will continue to nibble at the margins of an agreement, achieving “free-er” trade where possible, but when they are ready, the comparative advantages are now revealed.

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Alice Calder

Alice Calder is a program manager at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Prior to this she worked as a graduate research assistant while pursuing her MA in Applied Economics at GMU. Originally from the UK, where she received her BA in Philosophy and Political Economy from the University of Exeter, living and working internationally sparked her interest in trade issues as well as the intersection of economics and culture.

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

trade

Peeling Away Trade Protections for Bananas

Simple in appearance, pleasantly sweet, nutritious, and nearly universal in appeal, that Cavendish bunch of bananas on your counter comes off as pretty unassuming. In reality, it has been through jungle wars and trade wars and now sits on the precipice of extinction. More than half of the bananas traded globally are the Cavendish variety. But with two diseases threatening the world’s largest Cavendish plantations, growing to love more varieties could help save trade in bananas.

Still an Important Cash Crop

Grown in more than 150 countries, bananas are the eighth most important food crop in the world – fourth most important in developing countries. Bananas are among the most traded fruit in the world, generating revenues of more than $8 billion a year for the top banana exporters including Ecuador, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala. However, most are produced for local or national consumption.

For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 70 and 80 percent of bananas in Africa are produced by smallholder farmers. Around 114 million tons are produced globally beyond what isn’t too small to be counted, yet only 19 million tons were shipped globally. That said, for the top five exporters, bananas are a major contributor to the total value of their agricultural exports. India and China are among the biggest producers but their output mainly serves the large domestic markets.

global bananas trade

Peeling Away Trade Protections

The Banana Wars, centered on the European Union’s (EU) banana trade regime, spanned 20 years as the longest running series of disputes in the multilateral trading system to date (although the Boeing-Airbus dispute may be on track to take that title). As one of the most significant episodes in trade law, the Banana Wars are deserving of more attention, but here are some abridged highlights.

Europe’s banana regime began as an umbrella for complex arrangements at the individual EU Member State level that were designed to offer exclusive or preferential access to former colonies in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), and at the same time shield EU producers from competition.

Under the EU’s original regime, ACP countries received a zero-tariff rate while imports from other countries were taxed at 20 percent. However, each Member State was allowed to “derogate” and maintain special protective provisions for imports from their overseas departments. For example, France set aside two-thirds of its market for Guadeloupe and Martinique and the remaining third for the ACP Franc Zone states of Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. The Spanish market was reserved for shipments from the Canary Islands. Greece banned imports to protect its own production in Crete. Only Germany opened to free trade.

The Single European Act of 1986 mandated an integrated EU market by January 1993, which required that Member States consolidate their programs into a common regime for bananas. As devised, this version still enabled members to discriminate among imports by source, offering better terms to their overseas departments and to imports from ACP countries. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela (supported by the United States) challenged the regime as inconsistent with the EU’s obligations under the GATT.

The EU’s ability to offer tariff preferences was upheld because it had a waiver in the GATT for its general tariff preference program; but the GATT Panel found the EU’s discrimination through tariff quotas to be inconsistent with its obligations. However, prior to the WTO, a GATT member could simply veto the outcome of a panel decision, enabling the EU effectively to ignore the GATT Panel ruling.
EU banana imports

Second Banana

The EU revised its banana regime in 1993 to include new special distribution licenses under a general quota. Licenses were divvied up among primary importers and importers performing secondary activities such as customs clearance, warehousing and storage; licenses were dependent on historical performance, subject to country allocations, market share and other criteria. After yet another challenge by the five Latin American countries, a GATT Panel found in 1994 that the EU’s licensing system was excessively restrictive and not covered by its waiver.

After 1995, with the WTO’s enforceable dispute settlement system in place and additional obligations to avoid discrimination in trade in services, the EU recognized it would face more challenges to its regime. The large multinational producers involved in shipping, warehousing, ripening, marketing and distribution had an even stronger case to make. The EU negotiated with all of the disgruntled Latin American producers but Guatemala to head off the legal challenge. Having offered additional or expanded quotas, they temporarily pleased some countries but further worsened the discriminatory effect for those countries not a part of the negotiation.

A third complaint against the EU’s banana regime was reviewed in the WTO in 1996, this time with the United States as the lead plaintiff in response to complaints from Chiquita and the Hawaiian Banana Association. A WTO decision in 1997 again concluded that, although the EU’s discriminatory tariffs were covered under its historical waiver, its tariff quota allocations and convoluted import licensing administration violated its WTO obligations. The EU’s next version of its banana regime did little to remedy the discriminatory elements, which led to the imposition of tariffs by the United States and Ecuador in response to the EU’s failure to comply with the WTO ruling. By 2001, the EU made another attempt to transition its system, but not until 2006 would the EU decide to phase in a tariff-only system, dispensing with quotas.

Banana Splits

At the end of 2009, after negotiations with non-ACP producers, the EU agreed to reduce the tariff rate it applies to all WTO members. Tariffs would come down from 176 euros per ton to 114 euros per ton by January 2017 (stipulating it could revert to higher rates if exporting countries exceed a “trigger” amount of imports). It wouldn’t be until 2012, that the EU and 10 Latin American countries finalized signed an agreement in the WTO to codify the revised EU banana tariff schedule (“The Geneva Banana Agreement”), officially closing the longstanding legal disputes.

As a prologue, the EU signed trade agreements with Andean and Central American countries in 2013 and Ecuador in 2017. Ecuador has seen a large bump in global export volume as its agreement with the EU is implemented. By next year, the tariff on bananas from Ecuador to the EU will go down to 75 euros per ton with no quota on the amount eligible for this rate. As the EU continues to edge toward “freer” trade in bananas, the ACP producers will face considerable adjustment.

2009 Geneva Banana Agreement

Going Bananas

Having survived the banana trade wars, the popular Cavendish banana faces a new challenge, one that could actually wipe them out.

“Panama disease TR4” has ravaged thousands of acres of Cavendish plantations throughout Southeast Asia and Australia and is spreading to Africa and the Middle East. It can lie dormant in soil for decades and has proven resistant to fungicides and fumigants. It is only a matter of time before TR4 takes hold in Latin America, which supplies nearly the entire U.S. market. Banana plantations in the Caribbean are threatened by another disease called Black Sigatoka, which has been reducing banana yields by 40 percent every year in affected areas.

Before Cavendish was top banana, a banana called the Gros Michel (Big Mike) dominated the banana trade in the early 1900s until the fungus TR1 took it to the brink of extinction in the mid-1950s. At that time, the Cavendish variety from China was discovered to be resistant to TR1 so it replaced Mike. But bananas don’t have seeds. They breed asexually so they cannot recombine their genes to ward off threats. In other words, the Cavendish is ripe for attack because it cannot evolve – every generation is a clone of the previous.

Try Hanging with a New Bunch

If scientists don’t make a breakthrough, TR4 and TR1 could spell the end for the beloved Cavendish. With over 1,000 different varieties of bananas growing around the world, why not get to know some others that might grow more popular through trade – here are a few to get you started.

For your next dessert, try using Niño, Manzano (“apple bananas”) that have a hint of apple and strawberry flavor, or Goldfinger, a newer variety from Honduras. Intriguingly, there’s also Blue Java, named for its blue skin, which has a creamy, ice cream-like texture and purportedly offers a subtle vanilla flavor.

Cooking bananas include the Macho plantain and other fun-sounding varieties like the Burro which has squared sides and a lemon flavor when ripe, and the Rhino Horn from Africa, which can grow up to two feet long. If consumers demand it, perhaps global trade in bananas will finally branch out.

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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.

 

pomegranates

Pomegranates Are Symbolic Even for Trade

613 Seeds

It’s the Jewish New Year, a time for introspection and atonement and of course every Jewish holiday has its food customs. Celebrants dip apples in honey to symbolize hopes for a sweet year ahead. Pomegranates also figure in celebrations at this time of year. Its many seeds are associated with the 613 commandments in the Torah. Before eating the pomegranate seeds, Jews traditionally say, “May we be as full of mitzvot (commandments) as the pomegranate is full of seeds.”

The pomegranate is one of the seven species of Israel listed in the Torah, along with grapes, figs and dates. They’ve been cultivated throughout the Middle East for thousands of years and remain a staple in the cuisine. Outside the United States, consumers can enjoy dozens of varieties, from those with sweeter pink seeds to yellow-green Golden Globes. The only kind I’ve ever seen in my grocery store are the ruby red Wonderful variety, which make up 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. market.

Ancient and Modern Purveyor of Good Fortune

Pomegranates are drought tolerant so they can grow in tropical to warm climates, but they do best in regions with cool winters and hot, dry summers. They thrive throughout Latin America, southern Europe, Asia, Africa and Fresno, California. Due to this heartiness, there’s almost always a season for pomegranates somewhere in the world and – thanks to trade – we can enjoy them nearly all year-round. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved imports of Peruvian-grown pomegranates, which U.S. retailers say won’t compete directly with California production because they’ll be harvested and shipped as California’s season ends.

Known to be a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, pomegranates are more popular than ever, finding their way into juices, fruit strips and other processed foods. Higher demand has been especially great for exporters from developing countries. Pomegranate exports are even playing a role in moving farmers in Afghanistan from opium poppy or coca farms to growing legal as well as profitable crops.

Where efforts to shift into other crops have failed, the pomegranate holds promise. Afghan varietals are prized for being especially delicious, creating demand for Afghan farmers to supply pomegranates to buyers around the world. Last year, Afghan farmers exported nearly 23,000 tons of pomegranates, up 35 percent over the previous year. Non-profit organizations have provided startup seeds and planted hundreds of thousands of pomegranate saplings in Afghan fields. If successful, Afghan producers could also move into finished products like fruit bars. More than a symbol, pomegranates are a tangible vehicle for renewal in Afghanistan.

Global Seed Trade

Sowing Trade Seeds

Although pomegranates no longer seem “exotic” to us, Americans are increasingly open to trying new varieties of fruits and vegetables in pursuit of innovative flavors, in response to health trends, and out of affinity for local growers who often produce heirloom and other varieties we can’t find in the grocery store. To enjoy a variety of foods – and importantly, to sustain basic crop production – growers must have access to a variety of high-quality seeds.

Founded in 1883, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) represents over 700 companies involved in seed production, plant breeding and related industries in North America. According to ASTA, a seed can cross up to six borders between the breeder to the farmer who plants it in the field. The United States exported $1.8 billion in seeds in 2017, $610 million of which went to Canada and Mexico.

The global seed market was an estimated $66.9 billion in 2018 and expected to reach $98.1 billion by 2024. According to the International Seed Federation, the Eastern European countries of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland are the largest exporters of seeds for field crops after France and the United States.
Food supply and seed trade

Good Genes

Despite a robust seed trade, the Food and Agriculture Organization worries about the steady loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture. Through a network of more than 1,750 gene banks, the Global Crop Diversity Trust supports a global seed conversation system to ensure a diversity of genetic resources from the ancient, traditional and heirloom varieties to the raw genetic material needed to breed nutrition-packed, high yield, weather- and pest-resistant modern crops.

Seeds can be made available from the gene banks to help farmers recover from natural disasters. After Hurricane Maria devasted 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crop value, farmers turned to the Tropical Agriculture Research Station run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for seeds and tree grafts to replenish their farms.

One of the largest seed collections resides in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, nestled inside a mountain on an island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It houses over 983,500 seeds with room to conserve 4.5 million varieties.
Svalbard
Seed conservation is about more than saving for a rainy day. Food production around the world depends on the availability and international trade in seeds. According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, many countries strongly depend on crops whose genetic diversity originates from foreign regions, both in their food supply and in their production systems.

So while we should all be thankful that gene banks preserve our food heritage, it’s the free movement of seeds in trade that helps protect today’s food production and supply. Now, if we can only get the stores to carry those Golden Globe pomegranates.

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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.

chip

THIS TINY CHIP IS PLAYING A BIG ROLE IN THE TRADE WAR

Small and mighty

In one of the most successful branding campaigns, “Intel Inside” helped us all become aware that semiconductors are the brains behind modern consumer electronics in our computers, in our mobile phones, in our televisions and in our cars. It’s wondrous such power begins life as grains of sand (and other pure elements). The silicon in sand is purified and melted into solid cylinders that get sliced into one-millimeter thick wafer discs. The discs are polished, printed with circuit designs, and cut into the tiny individual semiconductor chips that get embedded into our devices.

The next generation of smarter and more powerful machines will rely on even more sophisticated semiconductors to achieve new capabilities. The pace of change is dizzying. Pressure is on to “win” in the global chip race, which is why efforts to protect innovations in chipmaking are front and center in the current trade war – for better and for worse.

Strength in numbers

The American semiconductor industry dominates the field with close to half of the global market share. Some industry leaders thrive by maintaining a high degree of vertical integration, but most have achieved a competitive edge by developing reliable value chains that leverage industry clusters located in different regions, while also tapping into the expertise of thousands of small, niche firms inside and outside the United States.

Some firms focus on supplying raw materials or manufacturing equipment, others create “intellectual property cores” or the building blocks for chips, or cultivate skilled engineers who lay out the circuitry of chips. Closer to the end users are companies that have achieved efficiencies in manufacturing, assembling, testing, packaging and distributing semiconductors.

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), Canada, European countries and the United States are leaders in semiconductor design and high-end manufacturing. Japan, the United States and some European countries are main sources for equipment and raw materials. China, Taiwan, Malaysia and others in the Asia-Pacific tend to concentrate in the manufacturing, assembling, testing and packaging segment of the industry. R&D hubs are spread across the world.

One American company might have over 7,000 suppliers across almost every state and also have another 8,500 suppliers outside the United States. In creating strategic value chains, American companies can invest in R&D to advance the science while keeping production costs down.

Top traders in semiconductors

China’s growing chip army

The Trump administration approaches trade with China through the lens of national security as well as economic preeminence. As the Economist rightly points out, in this clash of economic titans, “the chip industry is where America’s industrial leadership and China’s superpower ambitions clash most directly.”

China currently spends as much on imported semiconductors every year as it does imports of crude oil. Importing semiconductors was crucial to China’s ascendance as an assembler of telecommunications equipment, computers, displays, monitors and a variety of electronic components that China exports around the world.

But it’s high-end semiconductor development and manufacturing that China has its eye on now as the foundation for sustained economic growth and military might. Under its “Made in China 2025” strategy, the Chinese government set a goal to supply 40 percent of its own semiconductor needs by 2020, increasing to 70 percent by 2025.

China purchases of semiconductors

Enlisting the big guns

U.S. firms spend twice as much on R&D as their Chinese counterparts – 17.4 percent of sales versus 8.4 percent. How to counter? Pull out some big funding guns. China’s Ministry of Science & Technology orchestrated the $800 million Hou An Innovation Fund to acquire technologies to help its industry semiconductor industry leapfrog. The fund purchased a controlling stake in the world’s leading developer of semiconductor IP blocks. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also built a $31.7 billion war chest, even opening its China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund to foreign investors.

According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, China has gone from 16 integrated circuit design firms in 1990 to 664 in 2014. Chinese wafer production firms tripled over a similar span, and the number of testing and packaging firms has increased by 50 percent. E-commerce giant, Alibaba, acquired in-house capacity to design semiconductors tailored for artificial intelligence in a bid to compete with Microsoft and Google. Baidu, Huawei and other major Chinese firms are also enlisted soldiers in the fight.

Secret Weapons

Powerful chips are critical for any industry that relies on collecting, managing and computing with data – and that includes the defense industry. Our most sophisticated defense weapons depend on them. The U.S. Department of Defense has a strategy for “Microelectronics Innovation for National Security and Economic Competitiveness.” The U.S. government has imposed billions in tariffs on imports from China to generate leverage in negotiating an agreement to crackdown on forced technology transfers and theft of intellectual property. But it is also deploying other tools to control U.S. exports of critical technologies, another avenue for China to access U.S. innovation.

The U.S. government has proposed expanding its list of “emerging and foundational technologies” (microprocessors for example) deemed essential to national security that would be subject to licensing under the Export Administration Regulations before U.S. companies could export them. Also under review is the Commerce Control List (CCL) to assess any changes that should be made to controls on items to embargoed destinations, which may include China.

The Commerce and Justice Departments have visibly stepped up enforcement and applied existing authorities in novel ways against Chinese companies that might steal technology. In November last year, the Department of Justice announced it would proactively investigate and prosecute Chinese companies for alleged trade secret theft and economic espionage. The announcement was swiftly followed by an indictment of Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, Ltd., a state-owned Chinese semiconductor manufacturer, for alleged crimes related to a conspiracy to possess and convey the stolen trade secrets of Micron Technology, Inc., an American semiconductor company. The Commerce Department added Fujian Jinhua to the list of entities to which U.S. companies cannot sell without obtaining a license.

The United States is not alone in applying policies designed to prevent technology transfer to Chinese companies either through export or acquisition. Taiwan and South Korea have done the same. Foreign firms are also wary of violating U.S. laws. According to Reuters, Japan’s Tokyo Electron, the world’s third-largest supplier of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, announced in June it would not supply to Chinese firms on a U.S. list.

Global Semi Market Share

On the front lines

The Administration’s tariff war is leaving almost no industry or product untouched, affecting semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment, raw materials, printed circuit boards, and a variety of other products in the industry’s supply chain. American semiconductors often criss-cross the globe during production, so U.S. firms might end up paying this import tax on its own product — not to mention the higher costs of tariffs on the consumer products that run on semiconductors.

While supportive of the administration’s goals, the U.S. semiconductor industry has urged a balanced approach that will protect its intellectual assets from theft and preserve U.S. national security while not unduly hamstringing innovation and growth that is in part derived from international collaboration.

Current technologies and methods of fabrication proprietary to incumbent firms keep them in the lead, for now. But in the near future, chips will run on light rather than electricity. Artificial intelligence and quantum computing will be applied to gain computing speed. Breakthroughs like these will determine who are the future industry leaders, and China has an opportunity to gain entry on the ground floor of those frontiers.

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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.

U.S.-CHINA FDI GOES COLD WHILE VENTURE CAPITAL HEATS UP

Two-way FDI is plummeting

With trade talks between the United States and China running hot and cold, it’s irresistible to get sucked into daily U.S.-China trade war updates with its unexpected tariff announcements. In the bigger picture, the underlying uncertainty caused by ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China is having a large impact, particularly on two-way foreign direct investment (FDI).

So far this year, combined two-way U.S. and Chinese FDI has totaled just $9.9 billion— its lowest six-month value in five years, according to research firm Rhodium Group. At its peak in 2016, combined FDI totaled over $60 billion a year.

The slow start in 2019 is a continuation of a rough year for FDI in 2018, when flows between the United States and China dropped 60 percent year-over-year. Rhodium Group cites a deteriorating political relationship and regulatory intervention as two big reasons for the sharp decrease in investment.

U.S.-China FDI troubles are part of a bigger trend happening across the world, as global foreign investment flows fell to their lowest levels since the financial crisis in 2018, according to UNCTAD. Global FDI flows totaled $1.2 trillion in 2018 – down 20 percent from 2017.

U.S.-China FDI flows over last 30 years

Invested in each other

With trade tensions rising to a fever pitch, it may be hard to remember that American and Chinese companies have invested a lot in each other’s success over the last 30 years – over $420 billion, to be exact. U.S. FDI in Chinese industries adds up to over $275 billion since 1990. While Chinese investment in the United States is almost half of that at $148 billion, according to Rhodium Group’s U.S.-China investment tracker.

U.S. China FDI totals 420 billion

Beyond the sheer volume of money invested, foreign companies bring much more intangible value to the table. In his book, “Developing China: The Remarkable Impact of Foreign Direct Investment,” Michael Enright used an economic impact analysis to better understand the full impact of FDI in China. Enright estimates that foreign companies have contributed as much as one-third of China’s GDP and 27 percent of China’s employment through the accumulated impact of their investments, operations and supply chains in China. American companies alone contributed 4.2 percent of China’s GDP and nearly three percent of Chinese employment in 2014, according to Enright’s analysis.

Enright also pointed out that foreign companies have helped China develop by creating suppliers and distributors, introducing modern technologies, improving business practices, modernizing management training, improving sustainability performance, and helping to shape China’s legal and regulatory systems.

Chinese companies operating in the United States also bring benefits. As the second-fastest growing source of FDI in the United States in 2016, Chinese-owned firms supported nearly 80,000 U.S. jobs, invested nearly $600 million in innovative R&D, and expanded U.S. exports by $4.7 billion in 2016, according to Select USA.

Growing regulatory hurdles

The ongoing U.S.-China trade war is not entirely to blame for the recent dive in FDI. Both nations have stepped up regulatory oversight of foreign investment in recent years. Following the 2016 peak of global outbound investment by Chinese firms, the Chinese government tightened its grip on outbound capital flows, drastically slowing outbound investment by Chinese firms.

In the United States, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has stepped up investment screening of Chinese FDI, especially in sectors related to national security like infrastructure and information and communications technologies. Rhodium Group estimates $2.5 billion was left on the table in 2018, as Chinese investors abandoned deals in the United States due to unresolved CFIUS concerns.

The U.S. investment landscape may get more complicated for Chinese companies to navigate in the near future, as investors await the implementation of the new Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) and Export Control Reform Act (ECRA), both expected to increase U.S. regulatory oversight of foreign investments.

Foreign direct investment by American companies in China has also decreased, but not as drastically as for its Chinese counterparts. Yet, concerns about technology leakage have led to a cooling in U.S. FDI in China’s technology sectors.

FDI cooling, venture capital heating up

At the same time FDI is slowing, venture capital investment is becoming an increasingly bigger piece of the U.S.-China investment puzzle.

Chinese VC investment in the United States has increased dramatically since 2014, with Chinese-owned VC funds contributing an estimated $3.6 billion to U.S. companies over the course of 270 different funding rounds in 2018. This is just a fraction of what U.S.-owned VC firms have spent in China, but an important trend. U.S. VC firms invested a record $19 billion in Chinese start-up companies last year, according to Rhodium Group.

US venture capital firms invested $19 billion in Chinese startups

Firms on both sides of the world have utilized VC investment to invest in companies in sectors where FDI has faced growing regulatory scrutiny. Chinese VC firms have invested in semiconductors, for example, while U.S. VC Firms have invested in sectors limited to foreign firms in China like digital payments and internet start-ups.

Confidence is key

In order for foreign investments to work, companies are dependent on the success and stability of the nations where they choose to invest. Both American and Chinese companies have invested a lot in each other, through decades of foreign direct investment and now growing venture capital investment.

As the U.S.-China trade war rages without an end in sight, it’s worth remembering that ongoing tensions cost more than just tariffs on the products in your shopping cart. They are also a roadblock to long-term investments that bring additional capital, exports and jobs to each other’s economies.

Lauren Kyger

 

Lauren Kyger is Associate Editor for TradeVistas. Prior to joining TradeVistas, she was a Research Associate at the Hinrich Foundation focused on international trade issues. She is a Hinrich Foundation Global Trade Leader Scholar alumna, earning her Master’s degree in Global Business Journalism from Tsinghua University in Beijing. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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