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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Stiglitz: No Time for a Trade War

Joseph Stiglitz warns against unilateral sanctions against China in retaliation for its currency policy:

No Time for a Trade War, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Commentary. Project Syndicate: The battle with the United States over China’s exchange rate continues. When the Great Recession began, many worried that protectionism would rear its ugly head. ... But ... protectionism was contained, partly due to the World Trade Organization.
Continuing economic weakness ... risks a new round of protectionism. In America, for example, more than one in six workers who would like a full-time job can’t find one.
These were among the risks associated with America’s insufficient stimulus, which was designed to placate members of Congress as much as it was to revive the economy. With soaring deficits, a second stimulus appears unlikely, and, with monetary policy at its limits and inflation hawks being barely kept at bay, there is little hope of help from that department, either. So protectionism is taking pride of place.
The US Treasury has been charged by Congress to assess whether China is a “currency manipulator.” ...[T]he very concept of “currency manipulation” itself is flawed: all governments take actions that directly or indirectly affect the exchange rate. Reckless budget deficits can lead to a weak currency; so can low interest rates. Until the recent crisis in Greece, the US benefited from a weak dollar/euro exchange rate. Should Europeans have accused the US of “manipulating” the exchange rate to expand exports at its expense?
Although US politicians focus on the bilateral trade deficit with China – which is persistently large – what matters is the multilateral balance. ... Many factors other than exchange rates affect a country’s trade balance.  A key determinant is national savings. America’s multilateral trade deficit will not be significantly narrowed until America saves significantly more...
Adjustment in the exchange rate is likely simply to shift to where America buys its textiles and apparel – from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, rather than China. Meanwhile, an increase in the exchange rate is likely to contribute to inequality in China, as its poor farmers face increasing competition from America’s highly subsidized farms. This is the real trade distortion in the global economy – one in which millions of poor people in developing countries are hurt as America helps some of the world’s richest farmers.
During the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, the renminbi’s stability played an important role in stabilizing the region. So, too, the renminbi’s stability has helped the region maintain strong growth, from which the world as a whole benefits. ...
But exchange rates do affect the pattern of growth, and it is in China’s own interest to restructure and move away from high dependence on export-led growth. China recognizes that its currency needs to appreciate over the long run, and politicizing the speed at which it does so has been counterproductive. ...
Since China’s multilateral surplus is the economic issue..., the US should seek a multilateral, rules-based solution. Imposing unilateral duties after unilaterally labeling China a “currency manipulator” would undermine the multilateral system, with little payoff. China might respond by imposing duties on those American products effectively directly or indirectly subsidized by America’s massive bailouts of its banks and car companies.
No one wins from a trade war. So America should be wary of igniting one in the midst of an uncertain global recovery – as popular as it might be with politicians whose constituents are justly concerned about high unemployment, and as easy as it is to look for blame elsewhere. Unfortunately, this global crisis was made in America, and America must look inward...

    Posted by on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 11:11 AM in China, Economics, International Finance, International Trade | Permalink  Comments (125)

          


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