Thursday, July 01, 2010

Soaring job losses, trade deficit: is it time to increase tariffs on China’s imports?

The U.S.-China economic relationship is so greatly unbalanced in China’s favor that the United States needs to initiate a system of tariffs against China’s export machine. So says Steven Pearlstein, business columnist of the Washington Posr.

“Getting this economic relationship back into balance,” Pearlstein writes in his June 30 column, “is the single biggest challenge to the global economy, not just because of its direct effects on China and the United States, but the indirect effects it has on the rest of the world.“
China received a free pass into the World Trade Organization without having in place the fundamentals of a market system, Pearlstein points out. “Its business sector continues to de dominated by state-owned companies financed by state-owned banks within the context of what remains largely a state-planned economy.”

The result, as Pearlstein describes it, is a business sector difficult if not impossible for foreigners to penetrate, and “those outsiders who manage to break through invariably find that they have few protections from a system that is larded with corruption and largely unconstrained by the rule of law.”

Administration after administration in the United States has refused to challenge China’s mercantilism, in the hope that as the relationship deepened China would “make the inevitable transition to democratic capitalism.” But China’s view of business remains thoroughly mercantilist, and “to try to convince [it] otherwise is folly.”

Pearlstein contends it is urgent that the United States take the lead toward a solution by establishing a tariff regime that will increase the cost of imports not just from China, but also from ”other counties that keep their currencies artificially low, restrict the flow of capital or maintain significant barriers to imports of goods and services.”

How would such system work? Would it comply with WTO rules? Pearlstein declined to get into such details. “That’s why God created trade lawyers.”

Nor does he counter the arguments made against increasing tariffs. That would take a book. As it happens, the U.S. Business & Industry Council has just published a volume that buttresses Pearlstein’s position: “Free Trade Doesn’t Work: Why America Needs a Tariff.” Its author, Ian Fletcher, makes a strong case for “a flat tax on all imported good and services.”

Controversies over tariffs go back to the beginning of the nation. In a classic volume, “Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776,” Alfred. E Eckes Jr. describes how, at crucial times, “U.S. officials unilaterally opened the American market without gaining commensurate advantages in foreign markets for the products of American workers and American factories.”

Hence a merchandise trade deficit that this year in a single month, April, totaled $52,500,000,000, reaching $19,300,000,000 for China alone. According to a report earlier this year by the Economic Policy Institute, the growing overall trade deficit with China eliminated or displaced an estimated 2,400,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2008.

A new EPI report illustrates how China’s export-driven policies work. Its paper and paper products industry is now the largest in the world, thanks to WTO-illegal government subsidies of more than $32,100,000,000 since 2002. Paper imports to the United States are now rising faster than those from any other country. According to industry sources, an estimated 400,000 jobs are at risk, even though the U.S. industry is highly competitive.

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