Let Us Organize World Trade

There is broad historic agreement that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been one the most successful international institutions; its membership accounts for more than 98 percent of world trade. However, today’s global economic landscape is changing rapidly, coupled with retrenchment and distancing from multilateral agreements. Combined, these factors impact the discernible value and role of the WTO going forward.

Changed Patterns of Trade and Investment

The expansion and development of IT infrastructure, telecommunications, and computing made the global revolution of the last few decades possible. New technologies, nonexistent when the WTO was established in 1995, have become crucial for growth and development in this decade. The outsourcing revolution has affected the developing world in a major way: global manufacturing and new services have dramatically changed supply chains; corporate espionage and intellectual property infringements supported many corporate changes in developing countries; and WTO negotiations and augmented enforcement procedures have not been able to slow that trend.

Moreover, one of the most critical issues in global trade is the aspect of unprecedented imbalances. Today, China is the new top global merchandise exporter with a total of $2.263 trillion, or 16.25 percent of world exports, according to WTO reports. It is the largest global exporter of goods, 17 percent of world exports, and the third largest importer, 12 percent of global imports.

The United States is the main goods importer with 13.4 percent of the global imports, totaling $2.4 trillion. In 1994, the United States was running an annual merchandise trade deficit of about $120 billion; by 2017, the U.S. annual trade deficit with China alone has ballooned to over $375 billion.

Stalemate at the WTO: Too Big to Be Effective?

The last successful WTO negotiation — the Uruguay Round — was a result of a strengthened, single market in Europe, the creation of NAFTA, and several plurilateral agreements, such as the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

The Doha Round of negotiations, beginning in November 2001, aimed to achieve major reforms in the international trading system, with an explicit focus on developing nations. Nevertheless, this premise failed; disagreements concerning the agricultural sector, free trade of services, and intellectual property rights have stalled negotiations.

Twenty years ago, the principal WTO concerns were pollution, global warming, disease, and structural unemployment — none of these agenda items, arguably, have been addressed effectively, much less solved.

Size is also an issue. The WTO is comprised of 164 members, with widely diverse perspectives, levels of development, linkages, and ambitions. The WTO system has become unwieldy because of the unanimity requirement of its voting process. The result: progress with new agreements is at a standstill. Case in point is the reduction of trade tariffs, which, at a global 3 percent of Most Favored Nations status, is at the same level as in 2000.

China: A “Rule Shaker” or a “Rule Maker”?

The West’s open invitation for China to join the WTO in 2001 paved the way for its rise to a global economic power. Since then, the balance of power at the WTO has changed dramatically. Chinese outward investment in the global economy has increased thirtyfold, from $7 billion (making up only one percent of the global FDI) to almost $200 billion (13 percent of the global FDI).

China entered the WTO as a “rule taker,” evolved into a “rule shaker,” and now aims to become a “rule maker.”

In fact, economic relations between China, the United States, and the EU define many of the agreements and disputes at the WTO. Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” of national rejuvenation could be seen as a way to reshape the international economic system, putting China at the center.

China has not been an easy partner for the West. Initial optimism that China would turn toward a free market economy has yet to come to fruition. Moreover, with its “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” the country has taken the main benefits of the open trade system by creating major distortions and causing disputes that the WTO lacked the capacity to handle. Controversial issues include intellectual property rights (IPR), free market revisions through government subsidies and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), unequal conditions for market access with major restrictions to market entry in China, and unfair technology transfer. Foreign firms operating in China struggle against restrictive regulations — the government often requires them to hand over their intellectual property as a condition of market access. Asymmetrical market access and lack of reciprocity are magnified further at political levels.

With the existing WTO rule book, it is difficult to hold China accountable. Implications of Chinese “market distortion” and “unfair competitive conditions” consume global trade relations rhetoric; these opinions, voiced loudly by the current U.S. administration, are also shared broadly by other players, such as the EU and Japan. Due to high trade deficits, the United States is pushing for WTO reforms, increasing tariffs, and blocking the nominations of seats on the WTO’s appellate body (where the U.S. is a major player in the dispute resolution process) as leverage. Desired reforms aim to regulate market distortions caused by government interventions, simplifying the process of gathering information on unfair trade and investment practices, broadening the scope of banned subsidies, and setting boundaries to proportionate retaliations. But, at the end of the day, why would China agree on reforms that jeopardize its state-run economic model?

The WTO as a Reflection of a “New World”

The WTO does not operate in isolation from changes and new developments impacting trade. In the last two decades, the world’s macroeconomic environment was shaken by at least two significant events: the spread of terrorism, and the financial crisis of 2008. Terrorism has enhanced the inward focus of the political and economic aspects of national security; the global recession has caused an inward retraction of production and services. International economic issues were largely ignored as attention shifted to domestic job creation, the security and protection of domestic credit markets, and enhancing liquidity. Further, financial and political conflicts seem to foster greater polarization among legislators in many countries around the world.

As a result of continued stalemates and disagreements at the WTO, external actors are adopting a new “do-it-yourself” approach defined by preferential plurilateral trade negotiations — handmade for and benefitting only a limited number of players.

In addition, there is the issue of China’s growth in influence. In September 2018, the United States together with  the EU and Japan signed a brief statement voicing shared concerns regarding the future of the WTO, questioning its validity as a primary platform for multilateral trade. As an immediate result of difficult trade relations between the United States and China, and tremendous  pressure applied by the current U.S. administration, China afforded European companies access to some sectors, while pledging to cooperate with the EU on WTO reforms — a decision taken in July 2018 during the EU-China Summit.

Since the appearance of President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum two years ago, Beijing has been signaling that it is willing and prepared to assume the role of a new custodian of globalization. However, it seems obvious that China would not accept any reforms at the WTO, or any level, that would jeopardize its own economic model and welfare. At the same time, China wants to preserve the existing global trade order, as the outside world is more crucial than ever for its economic development.

Today’s global economic realities are not only introducing a new set of concerns and means of doing business, they are also challenging the very effectiveness of the WTO’s historical role as an arbiter of world trade.

Valbona Zeneli is the Chair of the Strategic Initiatives Department at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. The views presented are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent views and opinions of the Department of Defense or the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. 

Michael R. Czinkota is a professor at the University of Kent in Canterbury and at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, He is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the United States Department of Commerce. 

New World, New Policy: Entrepreneurial Money Produces Residency Permits

A successful Chinese entrepreneur, showed me a news article. It reported that wealthy Chinese could buy an American passport and become US citizens. Is this really true? What are the implications of this visa program?

The US Employment Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1990, to link investment, employment and residency. Three years later, the program language was relaxed from “to create ten direct employment opportunities”, to “directly or indirectly create 10 job opportunities.” This is broad and flexible wording. It is designed for entrepreneurial and wealthy investors outside the US, who fund a new commercial enterprise of  at least $500,000 for investments. Under the program, those entrepreneurs, their spouses and their unmarried children under 21 years old can apply for green cards permitting residency.The objective is to attract foreign investments to the U.S., and to stimulate economic development and job creation.

EB-5 demand has increased rapidly. In 2012, President Obama extended the program. In May of 2017, Congress extended the EB-5 Program until September 2017. There are many supporters.

In 2014, 10 thousand EB-5 petitions were filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Overall, 5,115 have been approved. Over $2.5 billion investments were attracted. An additional $6.2 billion are awaiting federal adjudication. EB-5 capital is also an attractive low cost funding tool for project developers in the U.S. It offers foreign investors a way to permanent residency that is not backlogged by other applications and does not require sponsorship by a US employer.

Throughout the world today,  numerous programs like the EB-5 have been established. In Australia for example, foreign investors are granted the opportunity to immigrate, but only receive temporary residency for four years. An investment of AUD $1.5 million in an Australian company ( U.S $1.2 million) is required. France allows foreign investors to obtain residency for 10 years by making a “long term  and non-speculative investment of at least € 10 million (U.S $11.8 million) in industrial or commercial assets.”

There is a standard moral objection to the EB-5 program: The United States should not be in the business of selling the right to live there. This claim suffers from a slight misunderstanding. In effect, the government gives the visas away — to profit-making businesses that have jumped through the program’s requisite bureaucratic hoops. Then the companies can solicit investment based on the promise of permanent residency. In spite of ten thousand slots a year, 40,000 investors still wait for a green card. Obviously investor needs have not been met.

Investment immigrants are in high supply. The U.S government should use the opportunity and open the gates to them. The U.S. has an immigration culture, with a spirit willing to absorb both elites and  refugees of the world.

However, change must come; the program needs to be refined in terms of size of investment, number of jobs generated, industry direction, geographic location, and job recipients. I believe that the investment minimum should be $2.5 million, and the American job creation shall be at least 25. Then we can continue this program helping both investors and employees; a noble outcome!

New World New Policy: What Art Tells Us About the Global Economy

dafen-oil-painting-villageProfessor Michael R. Czinkota

The modern world of art offers fascinating insights into the forces currently shaping world trade and the global economic system. For decades, China has experienced breakneck economic growth and has become a world leader in both the consumption and production of art, which illustrates some intriguing changes in the global economy.

The global market for high-end, rare art pieces is a good example. In recent years, as China grew more prosperous, there has been a sharp uptick in luxury art purchases by Chinese customers. In 2016, according to insider information, Oprah Winfrey sold a 54”x54” painting to a Chinese collector for $150 million. This example indicates how China has grown in its appreciation of originals. This shift perhaps presages an eventual reduction in counterfeit products for which China is still infamous. Chinese auction houses have also risen to prominence. Of the world’s top ten art auction houses, six are Chinese, and many of the largest art houses are state-owned enterprises.

In the art world, China has not only become a dramatic consumer of art, but also a prodigious producer. The southern Chinese city of Dafen, nearby to megacity Shenzhen which borders Hong Kong, has become the center of knock off art masterpieces. Beginning in the 1980’s reform era, Dafen became a hub for starving artists from around the country to work and train, pumping out high-quality knock-offs of famous European and American painters ranging from van Gogh’s Sunflowers to portraits of Western icon John Wayne. Artists produce these works on the cheap and can offer custom alterations, such as changes to the color or size to fit the purchaser’s own décor. Since the works are not signed, they do not count as fakes.

The producers of export knock-off masterpieces will face pressure to adapt, focusing more on creativity and original works. When Chinese artists copy the great masters, they hone their skills and imagination, which over time will allow them to eventually emerge as new artists in their own rights

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New World, New Policy: How Tax Cuts help U.S companies to go abroad

Professor Michael Czinkota

World trade has forged a network of global linkages, in which everyone and every country is involved. Nowadays, a drought in Brazil and its effect on coffee production and prices is felt around the world. U.S subsidies for ethanol production from corn affects prices for other agricultural crops and livestock in the far reaches of the world. As the key player in globalization, any U.S reform tends to change the international market. The old saying goes, if the U.S. sneezes, other nations catch a cold.

After only 100-days in office, President Trump has already released a tax reform memo to the public. Although not complete and detailed, there is clear a signal coming from the release how the government would like to encourage U.S companies to export and invest abroad.

First, comes a cut in the top tax rate for all businesses to 15%, far below the current 35% top rate. This reduction is not imbalanced since it would also benefit the owners and shareholders of international corporations in the United States. With this tax cut, companies, especially manufacturers, can lower the price of exports and have more money for R&D and marketing. This measure will greatly enhance the competitiveness of U.S goods in the global market. Also, a tax reduction will significantly reduce the financial constraint on companies and allow American companies to seek investment opportunities on a global scale.

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New World, New Policy

The changing composition of U.S. trade 
international_trade_2We have often heated discussions on trade policy shifts. To make reasonable arguments, we must consider that the fundamental composition of trade has been changing. For example, from the 1960s to 1990s, the trade role of primary commodities has declined precipitously while in parallel, the importance of manufactured goods has increased. This has meant that those countries and workers who had specialized in commodities such as rubber or mining typically fell behind those that had embarked on strengthening their manufacturing sector. With sharply declining world market prices for commodities and rising prices for manufactured goods, commodity producers were increasingly unable to keep pace. Some commodity-dependent countries realized temporary windfalls as prices of oil, wheat, and corn rose dramatically, only to watch them evaporate as prices dropped in 2009.

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