The Progressive Ensign

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Category: NAFTA

Saving Democracy: The US Needs to Lead in Building Global Bridges Not Walls

(Saving Democracy Series:  this post focuses on how our POTUS has agreement by agreement ripped up the post WWII integrated global world that provided most of the people in the world with peace and prosperity that is unparalleled in history.  He has replaced peace with random acts of impulsiveness, doubt, uncertainty and threats which have caused major economic, cultural and societal damage to both emerging and developing countries.  A more dangerous world of nationalism along the lines of the 1930s is now emerging with all its possible horrible results.  First economic loss, then war. It is time to establish a new global order fair to labor and capital in a world order of respect, freedom of thought and speech with economic opportunities for all to establish global stability and peace.)

On July 2nd, the US Trade Representative announced possible $4b in new tariffs on the EU for subsidizing of Airbus, responding to Boeing concerns. Another episode of impulsive threats happened last May when POTUS threatened Mexico with a 10 % tariff on all imported goods if the flow of immigrants across the border did not stop by June 10th.  The action against Mexico threatened support for the just recently announced new trade treaty with Mexico – why sign a treaty when the US is just going to do whatever it wants. He backed down on the threat after the Mexican government made a commitment to redouble efforts at stopping the wave of immigrants from Central America. We can add these trade attacks to a long list of treaties, agreements or international organizations that our POTUS has taken the US out of (or renegotiated):

  1. Nuclear Arms Treaty – Russia
  2. Iran Nuclear Treaty – EU joint signators  
  3. Trans Pacific Partnership – TPP – with 10 emerging countries, Mexico, Canada and Japan
  4. NAFTA – replaced by two bilateral agreements under consideration by Congress
  5. UNESCO – UN cultural program
  6. UNHRC – UN Human Rights Council
  7. UNRWA – UN Refugee and Works Agency – supports 5M Palestinian refugees, when the US pulled out riots broke out for a week
  8. Paris Climate Treaty
  9. Global Arms Treaty
  10. G7 – developed countries council – POTUS wants Russia added back in, they were barred after annexing the Crimea
  11. Brexit – US has been cheering the UK leaving the EU, offering a ‘big agreement’ if the UK leaves the EU

POTUS has continued to bash NATO, a long standing military organization uniting Europe and the US against an aggressor. The constant undermining of the group opens a divide that adversaries may see as a crack to drive division and move ahead with probes or territorial gains.

The president has also focused on economic agreements – taking a unilateral approach around the provisions of the World Trade Organization and standing economic agreements on tariffs. He calls himself the ‘Tariff Man’ and has implemented with the acquiesce of Congress tariffs on allies like Canada & Mexico (new separate agreements under Congressional review), competitors like China, and cancelled a favorable import agreement for India.  Businesses are worried:

Source: Moody Analytics, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/28/2019

Consumers have been hurt already in nine different product classes with increases in prices of over 10 %, as consumers or the importer pay the increase tariff on an imported goods including appliances (washer and dryer tariffs 12 months ago), furniture, bedding, floor coverings, auto parts, motorcycles, sport vehicles, housekeeping supplies and sewing equipment:

Sources: Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/13/19

The United States and China have been sparing since July 2018 in an escalating trade war, which seemed to be coming to a conclusion as recently as last April.  Then, the President announced in a tweet that China a reneged on commitments it had made and was ending negotiations.  The Chinese sent a delegation to try and restart negotiations but it was fruitless. For two months tensions escalated until a truce with a restart in negotiations was called as a result of a summit between President Trump and Chairman Xi at Osaka on June 29th.  The US relented on planned additional tariffs on all China imports up to $325b, and eased restrictions on Huawei sales by American companies in return for a vague promise by the Chinese to purchase more farm goods and to negotiate.

Sources: The Peterson Institute, for International Economics, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/15/19

The Chinese have dug in for a long haul, threatening to cut rare earth shipments to the US and curtail further purchase of US Treasury bonds, with additional $60 B in tariffs at 25 %. We must remember the Chinese form of capitalism is really not ‘state based capitalism’ as the financial media likes to label in a benign way. The China economy is really ‘authoritarianism cloaked in capitalism’.  This is a mixed economy of state based industries subsidized with some free capital sectors kept in place by central planning. A key aspect of the this cloaking activity is the lack of transparency about who actually owns a Chinese company. In addition, the China Central Bank (PBOC) and sovereign wealth fund own about $200 B in US stocks providing insights and investment control. The Chinese government has deployed Orwellian digital surveillance to keep the people loyal to the state and not thinking or speaking freely. Internet news and social media sties are heavily censored by the state. That’s not democratic based capitalism. Another twist in the relationship with China, is Wall Street leaders have been instrumental in assisting the Chinese government in gaining approval to join the WTO years ago, and still make billions of dollars from fees and investments. The recent Chinese overture to open financial markets maybe a way for the Chinese to win over Wall Street and blunt the trade war of the GOP administration. The Trump Trade war with China is a failure, because it misses the true character of authoritarian government and economics how it uses the economy and capitalism to placate the masses to increase state control. Central government loyalty is the prime directive. Trust is missing between the people and the state – yet the people give up freedom for money when we here the Hong Kong protesters who vandalized the legislature building in late June criticized by mainlanders with comments like ‘they need to quit protesting and get a good job and buy things’. This is a bargain with manipulative leaders resulting in an unhappy ending, as people’s hearts and minds are imprisoned for money, the benefits with be fleeting and the costs dear.

Farmers in the Midwest, growing soybeans have seen their market collapse, other crops like corn, sorghum, wheat have seen huge price drops as China stopped buying from US suppliers. As soybean prices have fallen farm income has dropped almost 20 % and Midwest bankruptcies of farmers have risen above levels seen in the Great Recession.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/15/18
Sources: The Federal Reserve Bank – Minneapolis, US Courts – 11/28/18

Since last fall when this Federal Reserve report was filed, bankruptcies have continued to increase at an accelerated rate, as farmers cannot get loans from banks to buy seed when prices are so low. The Administration has promised subsidies to farmers totaling $16bn yet the president of Soybean Farmers Association says he has not been able to see Agriculture Secretary Perdue or any of the subsidy money nor farmers in his group. Many farmers believe that when the money does come from the government it will not be enough and not replace the contracts for farm goos lost to Brazil, Russia and other countries.

Next Steps:

World War II was catastrophe for the world, millions of people killed, whole societies wiped out, along with an aftermath of starvation and depressed economies.  World leaders did not want to see a repeat of the WWII disaster.  They knew if they built a set of world-wide agreements and regional organizations to sustain and enforce those agreements there might be a better chance to prevent war from happening again.  The United Nations was founded in October of 1945 in San Francisco to provide a forum for discussion and implementation of world community building programs. The NATO alliance was founded by 29 countries who were WWII allies by approving the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington in April, 1949.  Economic disputes were to be settled by adhering to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs approved by over 100 countries in 1948. The World Trade Organization charted in 1994 succeeded GATT, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Thus, many treaties and organizations were founded by most developed countries and many emerging countries to give economic, cultural and governmental support toward building a world community.  Presidents from both parties through the years since WWII have supported the uniting of diverse people around the globe so they all have a piece of the economic pie and security.

Now, our POTUS seems to think that ripping up global treaties and organizations, undermining them, and going it alone will somehow be better for the US.  Maybe things will get better for a few companies or sectors for a little while. However the trade deficit continues to trend worse since the January 2017 term of POTUS to the highest deficit ever with $55 bn last May,

Source: Department of Commerce,, Federal Reserve of St.Louis, Marketwatch – 7/2/19

Some soybean contracts have returned, yet the US still imports more from Europe, Mexico and Canada than we export, the tariff war is just making the deficit worse.   Already, we have seen with retaliatory tariffs from China, threats of reunification to take Taiwan – as a national publication likened to Lincoln unifying the United States. Today countries are going after their own goals spiraling downward into economic wars and eventually military action.  The lessons of the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, harsh reparations on Germany and nationalism (rising today in a hideous way) led to WWII. When other countries see the US leader of the free world embrace ‘America First’ ambitions, why should they sit back and let America get ahead, the fight is on.  We should work with the capitalism elements and businesses in the China that are largely free of state control, building bridges to them, empowering them so country leaders see that the only path to lasting prosperity is when the people’s minds are free to innovate and create.

Yes, it is true, there were unbalanced agreements, the US did lose jobs to overseas countries, and maybe a few emerging countries took advantage the US.  But, we need to be thinking about helping people build their economies, or they will want a piece of the economic pie by force from the US. Job safeguards for American workers should be in place in all agreements, and fair levees and access to markets, protection of intellectual property, yet we need to work within the world order to make structural changes supported by all countries.

Protectionist Policies Are Damaging the Mexican Economy and US Businesses Today!

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: hurd.us.gov

Last Friday, POTUS announced that he was considering just dropping the NAFTA agreement.  His announcement sent the Mexican Stock Market racing down with the fall continuing today:

Source: Patrick Hill, The Progressive Ensign – 6/5/2018

When President Trump was elected in November of 2016, the Mexican market tumbled, then regained when it seemed the Administration would negotiate in good faith.  Then, late 2017 threats and bullying started with the latest swoon when POTUS wanted to just pull out of the agreement.

The administration continues to use a ‘whack a mole’ policy approach, even with Vice President Pence suggesting last week that the NAFTA agreement should be renegotiated every 5 years.  Trade agreements are complex, legal documents which business leaders, consumers and government policy makers depend upon in making economic, infrastructure and industry plans for 10 to 20 years into the future.  Corporations when they plan for building a manufacturing plan, are looking at government trade policies and trends over the next 10 years to determine whether a plant will be profitable or not.  Policy makers can’t be changing the rules of the economic game constantly.

We are concerned that the anti-Mexico trade policies of the administration will continue to cause uncertainty, chaos and severe trade constraints driving the Mexican economy into a recession or worse.  Mexico is the second largest trading partner for the US.  States like California and Texas depend on exports to Mexico and will be hurt if the Mexican economy continues to slide:

Sources: US Census Bureau, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/4/18

Mexico just announced today their first shot across the economic bow of the US.  Slapping tariffs totaling $3 billion on whiskey, cheese, pork and other products. A spokesman for the trade group Farmers for Free Trade commented on ongoing trade war economic missiles being hurled at each other, declaring that the new tariffs would have disastrous consequences for farmers, “Hog, apple, potato and dairy farmers are among those suddenly facing a 10 or 20 percent tax hike on the exports they depend of for their livelihoods. Farmers need certainty and open markets to make ends meet. Right now they are getting chaos and protectionism.” Larry Kudlow, the President’s chief economic advisor shared the latest negotiating strategy for NAFTA on Fox and Friends, taking a strong protectionist stand against a three nation agreement, ‘preference now, and he asked me to convey this, is to actually negotiate with Mexico and Canada separately.”

Next Steps:

We know from research that when the Mexican economy does better, immigration from our south of the border neighbor goes down.

Sources: Five Thirty Eight, PEW Research, The World Bank – 2/28/17

The GOP administrations needs to start treating Mexico with dignity, respect and partnership – which they have earned as our southern neighbor and ally. When the Mexican people are prospering, they don’t seek jobs in the US.  So, instead of withdrawing support for NAFTA which our farmers and other businesses throughout the US are profiting by, focus on the main issue which is the imbalance in autos, trucks, automotive parts and manufacturing as the chart below describes:

Sources: US Census Bureau, The Wall Street Journal – 6/2018

Let’s start using evidence, facts and real insights in negotiating our agreements with our allies instead of bullying, prejudice and smear tactics. We recommended over a year ago, that the Administration, focus on the automative industry imbalance, and protect worker jobs and US businesses:

  1. Tax companies that move jobs to other countries. For example, a company moves a $1 billion plant with a 1000 workers offshore, they pay a 10 % plant offshore tax or $100M, and $20k per worker or $20M penalty to be used for training and apprenticeship programs in the US. (Tax the action we don’t want.)
  1. Establish worker councils in corporations to make decisions jointly, ensuring apprentice and new job training programs are in place.
  1. Offer incentives to keep plants here including fed, state, and local tax reductions, and training programs implemented in local universities and colleges.
  2. Train US workers on advanced assembly and use of robotics in manufacturing to build increased productivity capability and reduce costs.

POTUS Employs ‘Whack a Mole” Trade Tactics Launching the Trump Trade War (TTW)

 

Image: danbyink.bangordailynews.com

After declaring two weeks ago a trade truce with China, POTUS declared last week that 25 % tariffs would be imposed on $50 billion of Chinese of Chinese goods if they don’t commitment to purchases of US energy and agriculture products.  Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross left China on Sunday with no real progress except to make the Chinese angry, confused and upset.

The bullying, intimidation, zero sum negotiating tactics may work in the rough and tumble of New York real estate but not international trade where over 70 years of careful negotiations by all the major trading partners have put into place a trading platform with rules and fairness wherever possible.  Now it is true that some nations take advantage of the slow, ponderous and confusing decision making of the World Trade Organization.  But blowing up the present trade agreements by saying things like Vice President Pence said last week to Canada and Mexico that the NAFTA agreement should be revisited every five years is insulting, duplicitous and lacking in good faith.  So last Friday, to heap more chaos on the NAFTA negotiations POTUS says he is thinking of just pulling out of NAFTA completely.  Welcome to a POTUS caused trade war, we call The Trump Trade War (TTW), as history books will likely record.

Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada has condemned the way the US administration has been treating a valued partner calling the actions “frankly insulting”, and in return he receives more trumped (pun intended) up national threats.  He continued in an NBC interview:

“The idea that the Canadian steel that’s in military, military vehicles in the United States, the Canadian aluminum that makes your, your fighter jets is somehow now a threat?” Trudeau declared. “Our soldiers who had fought and died together on the beaches of World War II… and the mountains of Afghanistan, and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow — this is insulting to them.”  Maybe our POTUS doesn’t understand that dying for a common cause is a higher value than provoking, bullying and intimidation to make an extra short term buck.

EU ministers are confused and upset at being grouped in with China in steel and aluminum tariffs.  The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Turkey and Japan have either announced or launched retaliatory tariffs on US goods and are reviving trading alliances that the US has abandoned like the TTP (Trans Pacific Partnership).

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 6/4/18

The TPP non – US nations are in a dialog with China who is excited about filling the role the US once occupied. Experts note the long term effects and loss in business for the U.S., Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics observed, “It will be hard to establish trust in the U.S. again, and all the uncertainty will drive down investment and productivity.”

US businesses are busy trying to minimize the damage to their export revenue streams,. Farmers in the midwest have already found that China has cancelled some sorghum shipments causing ships to be turned back, as the Chinese are making deals with Russia for agricultural goods.  American businesses are being cut out of customer contracts now, resulting in lost business that will be extremely difficult to get back once new suppliers are in place. Still incredibly, the White House trade team blows up the present world-wide trade framework replacing it with nothing, which results in uncontrolled reprisals and chaos. Seems like economic missiles have been launched and attacked nations are sending economic missiles back (sounds like a trade war to us, the TTW (Trump Trade War).

Next Steps:

To begin, our political leaders need to stop being invisible as the world trade fabric unravels. Next Congressional leaders need to bring all key trade factions, business and trade representatives and develop an alternative to the destructive protectionist policy now being implemented.  Sound trade policy based on win – win negotiations, fair agreements, protections for labor, working within the WTO, and legal order will win over allies and concessions from adversaries.  The GOP administration needs to stop going it alone, and work with our allies, build consensus, and make improvements in the present painstakingly developed agreements over the past 70 years. Over 1100 economists, the US Chamber of Commerce and world leaders have condemned the declared TTW which needs to end now.

Threatening Mexico Will Lead to Loss of American Jobs – Let’s Build Bridges Not Walls

(Editor Note: This is the third in a series of posts examining the polices of the new GOP administration.)

The View:

In the past week there has been a series of threatening tweets from POTUS45 to President Nieto telling him that if the trade imbalance is not fixed he will impose a 20 % tariff on all imports from Mexico.  In a vacuum it may seem  like this would save US jobs.  Yet, the facts are that the US depends on Mexico to purchase $235 billion of exports each year. Damaging the Mexican economy will cause a loss of jobs and purchasing capacity by Mexican workers leading the loss of US jobs.  The solution is to tax those actions we don’t want like manufacturing plants and jobs being moved to Mexico and offering incentives to companies to hire and keep workers here for advanced manufacturing and automation.

The Story:

We need a win-win trade relationship with our southern neighbor.  The number of illegal immigrants in the US has dropped to an all-time low of 10.9 million based on an analysis by Robert Warren at the Center for Migration Studies of US Census Bureau data.  Also, his study shows that immigration by Mexicans to the US has dropped by 7 % over the past few years while immigration has increased by 5 % from Central American countries.  Experts believe one factor in the reduction of immigration is the improved Mexican economy providing better wages for Mexican workers. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal a worker describes how his life has changed:

“Alexander Calderón, 46, grew up the son of a farmer in a rural part of the Mexican state of Veracruz. He started working at Metalsa welding frames for Chrysler trucks in 1993, initially earning 600 pesos, or about $194 at the time, per month. He now earns 40,000 pesos, $1,860, per month as a supervisor in the plant’s steel hydroforming division, owns a house in the Monterrey suburb of Guadalupe, and sent his oldest son to study accounting at the state of Nuevo Leon’s public university.

“For me, I really started to notice the development of industries here in the last 15 years as companies from other countries came here. That’s when my salary started to go up,” Mr. Calderón said. “It’s gotten very competitive.”

Mexican workers with good jobs has dramatically reduced their desire to migrate to the US.  Trade reduces crime, and integrates the economies of both countries more closely. For example, before NAFTA cars sold by Mexico had only 5 % US content, today they have 40 %.  When both countries prosper through a productive partnership workers will enjoy a better life. Yes, there has been a loss of US auto industry jobs but a trade war would cost US jobs too.  The Center for Automotive Research estimates that a 35 % tariff on imports would cause a loss of 450,000 car sales, leading to 6700 jobs lost in North America in both the US and Mexico and a loss of 31,000 jobs in US parts supply chain companies.

However, it is estimated that only 18 % of the loss of all US manufacturing jobs has been caused by overseas job placement according to a recent Ball State University study.  82 % of manufacturing job losses are due to automation.  Auto plants in both the US and Mexico are highly automated.

The latest round of tweets between POTUS45 and President Nieto on NAFTA trade has resulted in a standstill and cancellation of their planned meeting next week.  Even though talks are at a standstill the series of US threats has badly damaged the Mexican economy already. As noted in our Economic News section, since November 8th the Mexican Peso has dropped in value against the dollar by 13 % and the Mexican stock market dived by 20 %.

The US exports 50 % of the gasoline that Mexicans purchase. If Mexican companies are hit with a 20 % tariff on exports to the US, Mexican corporate sales to the US will drop.  Mexican firms will be forced to lay off workers. Unemployed Mexican workers will buy less US gasoline. Then, US oil field workers lose their jobs.  Is the tariff policy trading US auto industry jobs for oil worker jobs?

This chart outlines by industry sector the exports and imports between the US and Mexico in 2015 (right click to enlarge the chart under a separate tab):

The largest trade imbalance with Mexico is in auto parts, trucks, buses, cars and crude oil.  The US ships more computer technology, telecom gear, and gasoline to Mexico than we import. Note Mexico is a major oil exporter, shipping oil here for refining into gasoline then piped back to Mexico.  What would a 20 % tariff on Mexican oil do to the US gasoline industry?

Prior to the 1994 NAFTA agreement with Mexico, Mexico ran a trade deficit with the US. Since then Mexican imports to the US have exploded from $65 billion per year to $295 billion in 2016.  While US exports to Mexico have jumped from $68 billion to $235 billion, particularly boosting the economies of the border states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Yet, there is a US trade deficit of $60 billion in 2016. What should the solution be to keep companies investing in the US and saving US manufacturing jobs?

The Solution:

While the NAFTA trade agreement should be reviewed for fairness for both countries and workers, in the meantime taxes and incentives are the preferred approach:

  1. Tax companies that move jobs to other countries. For example, a company moves a $1 billion plant with a 1000 workers offshore, they pay a 10 % plant offshore tax or $100M, and $20k per worker or $20M penalty to be used for training and apprenticeship programs in the US. (Tax the action we don’t want.)
  1. Establish worker councils in corporations to make decisions jointly, ensuring apprentice and new job training programs are in place.
  1. Offer incentives to keep plants here including fed, state, and local tax reductions, and training programs implemented in local universities and colleges.
  1. Train US workers on advanced assembly and use of robotics in manufacturing to build increased productivity capability and reduce costs.

Editor Note: References for this article are under the Research tab in US – Mexican Trade Trends.)

 

 

 

 

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