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Seeking a Trade Rule Enforcer

8:38 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

"10 Yuan Note" by upton on flickr

"10 Yuan Note" by upton on flickr

America is being played.

The U.S. allowed China to join the club of trading partners in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 under the condition that China observe club rules.

Over the past decade, however, China has profited immeasurably by ignoring, flouting and circumventing the rules barring market-distorting practices. Among the most destructive of these violations is China’s deliberate undervaluing of its currency, which makes Chinese exports to the United States artificially cheap and U.S. exports to China artificially expensive.

This nurtures Chinese industry and poisons American manufacturing.

In the trade contest with China, the referees have been absent or silent or completely craven on the issue of currency undervaluation, even as it kills U.S. factories and jobs. American workers need a trade rule enforcer. With unemployment above 9 percent, the situation is desperate. American workers can’t be played anymore.

Just last week, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-partisan think tank, issued a report showing that the trade deficit with China cost the United States 2.8 million jobs since the WTO allowed China into the trading club. Every congressional district in the U.S. lost jobs as Chinese exports to the United States overwhelmed U.S. exports to China.

The trade deficit is the difference between the value of Chinese exports to the United States and U.S. exports to China. It was $84 billion the year China entered the WTO. Last year it grew to $278 billion – a 230 percent increase. Read the rest of this entry →

To Counter Currency Manipulation: Rally Some Allies

8:09 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Japan, no economic small fry, challenged China last month. The conclusion of the dispute is a cautionary tale for countries confronting China about currency manipulation.

In September, Japan seized a Chinese trawler captain after his boat collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships near some East China Sea islands claimed by both countries.

Immediately afterward, China “coincidentally” detained four Japanese employees of Fujita Corp., charging them with filming in a restricted military area. When Japan proposed a prisoner swap, China upped the ante instead — halting shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan. China controls 93 percent of the world’s rare earths, which are minerals essential for manufacturing high-tech and energy-efficient products, from cell phones to wind turbines.

Japan caved, releasing the Chinese captain unconditionally. Suddenly, China rescinded its restriction on rare earth exports to Japan and released three of the four imprisoned Japanese nationals, ending the dispute one captive ahead of Japan.

This incident confirmed China as a burly international tyrant. The caution for countries attempting to negotiate with China is to avoid Japan’s mistake, which was single-handedly contesting the giant. For America, that means seeking an end to China’s currency manipulation by simultaneously pursuing every option the United States has, including formally naming China a currency manipulator, imposing tariffs on imports from countries that undervalue currency and creating a community of allies to campaign together to combat the illegal trade practice.

Rallying partners should be reasonably easy, as Japan, Brazil and the European Union all have exhorted China in recent weeks to allow the value of its currency to freely float on international markets.

Like the United States, each has acted unilaterally. Last week, EU finance ministers confronted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a European-Asian economic summit in Brussels. Wen rejected their demands for China to speed appreciation of the yuan in relationship to the euro.

Also last week, Brazil doubled a tax it charges foreigners who purchase Brazilian bonds. This was an attempt to slow speculation that has increased the value of its currency, the real, by 39 percent against the dollar over the past 22 months.

A day later, Japan announced it would lower its benchmark interest rate and purchase $60 billion in government bonds and securities, both actions designed to lower the value of the yen, which would cheapen its exports.

The Swiss tried intervening in the market in 2009 to hold down the value of its currency, the franc, but failed. Singapore, Thailand, India and Canada have considered it.

So far, America has just attempted to persuade China to stop undervaluing the yuan – a practice that artificially suppresses the price of Chinese exports while at the same time artificially raising the price of imports into China from America and other nations. China’s deliberate currency undervaluation accounts for a significant part of America’s massive trade deficit with China.

Last spring, the United States asked China politely to allow the value of its currency to float up. As the United States awaited China’s answer, the U.S. Treasury delayed issuing its semi-annual foreign exchange report in which it could name China as a currency manipulator, then initiate a formal response.

China replied June 19 that it would allow the yuan to float on international currency markets. Treasury then released its report – which, no surprise, failed to list China as a currency manipulator. Since China’s announcement, the yuan has increased in value less than two percent – this for a currency believed by many economists, including the conservative C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, to be undervalued between 25 and 40 percent.

Annoyed with China’s failure to keep its pledge and angry over unfair trade gutting 2 million jobs from the body of the American economy over the past decade, Congress reacted just before its recess. With massive bi-partisan support, the House passed a bill that would allow the Commerce Department to impose tariffs on imports to counter the effects of currency manipulation. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, it would expand the definition of improper government subsidies to include manipulation of currency to gain trade advantages.

Afterward, just nine days before the next Treasury report on currency manipulation is due on Oct. 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, offered thinly veiled criticism of China’s persistent manipulation:

“When large economies with undervalued exchange rates act to keep the currency from appreciating, that encourages other countries to do the same. . . This sets off a dangerous dynamic.”

In rebuffing the European Union’s request for revaluing, the Chinese prime minister claimed allowing the yuan to appreciate too quickly would bankrupt Chinese factories as their prices rose to uncompetitive levels, and the resulting exodus of unemployed workers to the countryside would provoke social unrest.

No one wants that. Workers everywhere applaud the rise of millions of Chinese citizens out of abject poverty. But increasing the value of the yuan will benefit Chinese workers at the same time as it begins to balance currencies worldwide. An appreciated yuan effectively increases Chinese workers’ wages.

By deliberately undervaluing its currency, the government of China is waging a stealth trade war against the rest of the world. Independently, the United States must protect its economy, but to reign in this international outlaw, America also must secure the help of a posse.

We are No. 2; We are No. 2!

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

For 110 years America has reigned as the world’s number one manufacturing nation. Next year, China is expected to wrest that title from the United States.

Last year, the U.S. manufactured $1.7 trillion worth of goods; China fell second at $1.6 trillion. Next year, China is expected to edge out America with production worth $1.87 trillion.

America will be Number 2. And unlike the Dutch at the world cup, America is losing the crown it held for a century, not seeking a first-time anointment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. China’s manufacturing sector is using the equivalent of steroids to attain the title. It deliberately devalues its currency, an outlawed practice on international markets. Devaluation means China’s exports are artificially cheap in the U.S. and American exports to China are falsely expensive. It’s no puny sum either. The discount for Chinese products sold in America is as much as 40 percent. – 40 cents on the dollar.

Allowing China to devalue its currency devalues American workers and businesses. Chinese currency manipulation is driving American manufacturers out of business and America workers into unemployment. For 110 years, American factories and workers have proved they can compete and win against all comers in the world. They can continue to do that if Congress places tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. or taxes them to compensate for the 40 percent price break the Chinese government arranges for its manufacturers.

Inaction means the U.S. government disrespects American workers and manufacturing in a way that the Chinese government does not. China deliberately manipulated its currency value to protect and preserve Chinese manufacturing jobs as the worldwide recession deepened in 2008.

Read the rest of this entry →

End the Denial; Label China a Currency Manipulator

6:10 pm in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

America and China share a terrible delusion. They are in denial about currency manipulation. Both officially state that China is not devaluing its currency.

In mid-March, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flatly denied that China deliberately suppresses the value of its currency against the dollar, a practice that decreases the price of its exports and increases the cost of America goods imported into China. Similarly, the U.S. Treasury Department, which is required by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 to name foreign currency manipulators in bi-annual reports, has not in the past decade and a half called out China — including in the past two reports submitted during the Obama administration.

China and America decline to acknowledge what everyone else knows: China suppresses the value of its currency to gain a trade advantage over America. The New York Times reported on the practice in a story published March 14 describing how currency manipulation has worked wonders for Chinese industry while killing American manufacturing.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came to Pittsburgh, home of the United Steelworkers’ International Headquarters, this week to talk about the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing. He visited a modern Allegheny Technologies Inc. specialty steel mill and met privately with business and union leaders. We deeply appreciate his time and attention. What he must do now, as a first step in leveling the playing field with China, is insist that the Treasury label China as a currency manipulator in the next report, which is due April 15.

That would end the denial – at least on the U.S. side — and could set in motion sanctions to reduce the manipulation or at least the effects of it. Ending the imbalance would create between 1.5 million and 3 million U.S. jobs, without Congress passing a new stimulus bill, without adding a dollar to the national debt.

America has talked to China about this problem for too long. Three years ago, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, who was then the federation’s secretary-treasurer, wrote that over the previous seven years warnings had proved worthless:

“The script is always the same. The Treasury Department admits there is a problem but can’t find a technical violation of the law. Then comes a warning against Congress taking action that is followed by a promise of increased dialogue with the Chinese government.”

That dialogue never produced effective results. China briefly allowed its currency value to increase by about 15 percent against the dollar from July 2005 to July 2008. China stopped the revaluation at the height of the world economic crisis. The 15 percent rise now has been offset by increased productivity in China, according to conservative economist C. Fred Bergsten, the free-trader and currency expert from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. So the net effect of the brief Chinese currency float is zero.

Still, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is suggesting more dialogue. He told the Associated Press in Brussels late in March, “. . .my first preference is always to see if we can’t build a partnership to work with China to see if we can’t get a resolution sooner rather than later.”

This inexplicable response came after Chinese premier Wen Jiabao denied that China’s currency – called renminbi and traded in a denomination called yuan — was undervalued. And China’s Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said, “It is wrong for the United States to jump to the conclusion that China is manipulating currency from the sheer fact that China is enjoying a trade surplus. . .Besides, it’s wrong for the United States to press for the appreciation of the renminbi and threaten to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese exports. That is unacceptable to China.”

It is unacceptable to America to continue countenancing China’s currency manipulation.

It’s too costly to America.

It works like this. Chinese exporters are paid in dollars. They exchange them for yuan in Chinese banks. No matter the value of the dollar on the international free market, the state-controlled market in China pays 6.83 yuan for every dollar. While the value of the dollar fluctuates against the Euro and other market-based currencies from day to day, China determines its exchange rate to be 6.83 every day.

In a market-based economy, the value of currency in an export-strong country increases. That is what would happen to the yuan if China stopped interfering in the exchange rate. Essentially, demand for Chinese goods would raise their prices. But that doesn’t happen in China because the government stops it. China’s manipulation has caused the yuan to be undervalued by between 20 and 40 percent, according to even the most conservative economists.

The result is that every time a Chinese company sells a $1 product in the U.S., it has received a subsidy from the Chinese government of as much as 40 cents.

That makes competition extremely difficult for U.S. companies that don’t get such subsidies. It is a primary cause of the U.S. trade deficit. China’s share of the U.S. non-oil goods trade deficit tripled since 2005. China accounted for 80.2 percent of the entire U.S. non-oil trade deficit with all countries in the world in 2009.

That costs the U.S. jobs. The Economic Policy Institute released a study in March showing that since 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, 2.4 million jobs have been lost or displaced in the U.S. as a result of the growing trade deficit with China.

Unions, industry leaders, and both Republican and Democratic politicians are all sick of the talking about manipulation. During a Congressional hearing on the undervalued yuan in March, Nucor Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dan DiMicco complained about U.S. inaction, saying, “We are in a trade war. We just haven’t shown up for it.”

In mid-March, 130 Congressmen, including 40 Republicans, sent a letter to Secretary Geithner asking him to label China a currency manipulator in the April 15 report. They also asked Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to apply countervailing duties on Chinese imports. That would be legal if China’s devalued currency is deemed an export subsidy, and they said that has been clearly demonstrated.

Just a day later, a group of U.S. senators, including Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas, introduced the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2010 to penalize countries like China that undervalue their currency to artificially discount their products exported to the U.S. The legislation, if passed, would effectively compel the Treasury Department to cite China for manipulation.

“We’re fed up,” Graham told the New York Times:

“China’s mercantilist policies are hurting the rest of the world, not just America. It helped create the global recession that we’re in. The Chinese want to be treated as a developing country, but they’re a global giant, the leading exporter in the world.”

China remains in denial. They’re so far in denial, this is what Mr. Wen said:

“I understand some economies want to increase their exports, but what I don’t understand is the practice of depreciating one’s own currency and attempting to force other countries to appreciate their own currencies, just for the purpose of increasing their own exports.”

That is exactly what China has done to increase its exports.

It requires China to essentially buy $1 billion worth of dollars a day. If the Chinese stopped currency manipulation, the value of those dollars would decline against the Chinese yuan, and the Chinese Treasury would suffer a significant loss on its investment – at the same time Chinese exports would rise in price.

That is why China continues to deny manipulation.

But every day America remains in denial costs the U.S. additional manufacturing bankruptcies and unemployment.

Secretary Geithner raised hopes that Treasury would end the denial when he said of China during his visit to Pittsburgh, “It is important that they take the steps they said they would to take their currency to a more flexible system.”

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Click here to tell the Treasury Department to stop denying that China is manipulating its currency.