Category: Trade War Watch

By on January 22, 2010

Representatives Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Dan Boren (D- Oklahoma) are tired of Obama’s punitive tariff on Chinese tires. They called for a government report on the economy-wide effects of the measure, Reuters reports.

“I am concerned that the administration’s tire tax will cost us jobs in the United States and raise prices for tires for hardworking Americans,” Brady said. Read More >

By on January 20, 2010

And it burns, burns, burns. Picture courtesy altimeco.com

In September 2009, incoming President Barak Obama slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA. That, in addition to an existing 4 percent duty. No American tire manufacturer had requested the boneheaded move. It was a thank-you to the steelworkers union. Cooper tires openly opposed the action. Ironically, US tire companies were hardest hit by the measure, because they had moved most if not all of their budget segment tire production to low labor cost overseas sites. No job was created in the US. Many were lost. Low cost tire manufacturing simply moved to other overseas countries, which were the only beneficiaries of the useless war.

TTAC warned of a trade war, predicted that China will drag the USA in front of the WTO, and that China would take tit-for-tat measures. All of it became true. Read More >

By on January 13, 2010

They all qualify. Picture courtesy japanesenostalgiccar.com

The nerve, the nerve: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada when they met – halfway in Hawaii, so that both had to travel – on Tuesday “that concerns are rising in the U.S. Congress” about Japan’s cash for clunkers incentive scheme, Reuters reports.

As if there aren’t other pressing problems. Such as the economy, global warming, saving the whales, or saving the Marines on Okinawa. (Well, they discussed the Marines. Inconclusively.)

Under the belated Japanese C4C scheme, consumers get up to $2,800 if they trade in their 13 year or older car for new vehicle that meets the 2010 fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg.  So far, so good. Read More >

By on September 14, 2009

Here we go. Just two days after Obama signed the edict to slap a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA, the Chinese government “has reacted by launching an anti-dumping and anti-subsidies investigation” into American goods exported to China, writes China Daily. In China’s cross-hairs: American cars exported to China. Next in line (who would have thunk it): American chickens exported to China.

Welcome to Trade War Watch. We fear, a regular feature of Thetruthaboutcars.com.

The value of American cars exported to China approximately matches the value of Chinese tires exported to the USA. Around $2 billion, each way. Poof.

Chickens are a totally different matter. According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, the US exported 330,000 tons of chicken to China in 2008. Chinese chicken exports to the USA? Zero. “America doesn’t allow any importation of chicken from China. It is quite unreasonable,” said Ma Chuang, deputy secretary-general of China Animal Agriculture Association, to China’s Global Times.

China’s chicken hatchers had contemplated an anti-dumping probe into America for a while. Now, Beijing sends the feathers flying.

Chicks are big business. “The total export value of U.S. poultry meat, table eggs and processed egg products set an all-time record last year, reaching $4.7 billion, 25 percent above 2007,” reports the chicken-chronicle Watt Poultry USA. The biggest markets for American broilers are Russia, China, and Mexico. 81 percent of America’s chicken claw exports go to China, 15 percent go to Hong Kong—we don’t want to know who consumes the remaining 4 percent.

With a face as straight as possible, China’s Ministry of Commerce says that the probes into cars and chicks are “not a retaliation” against the tire dispute, but simply “a response to domestic concerns.”

Also as predicted by TTAC, China wants to drag America in front of the WTO. Trade ministry spokesman Yao Jian said China “reserves all legitimate rights, including referring the case to the WTO”. If the case goes to the WTO, subsidy and anti-subsidy agreements under the WTO framework will come on the table. If anything is subsidized to the hilt, then it is cars made by the two zombie automakers. If we assume $100 billion dumped into them so far, every car made by Chrysler and GM carries a $20,000 subsidy.

This all may sound funny or righteous, but it is highly dangerous. Lessons not learned from the Great Depression: As every historian knows, protectionism was one of the reasons why America, after a recovery from Black Friday, plunged itself and the world deep into a prolonged depression that ultimately led to World War II.

As far as jobs go, Obama’s signature under the tire petition is a disaster. It will not bring a single job back to the American tire industry. As written on Saturday, tire makers will simply shift production to other low wage countries not affected by the China-only ban.

Supposedly, the outsourcing of tire production to low cost countries did cost 5000 US jobs. Now, witness the effect of Obama’s signature: In China, the measure will leave Chinese workers, whose welfare is ever so close to our hearts, jobless and hungry. Fan Rende, chairman of China Rubber Industry Association, said that “Obama’s decision may affect the employment of 100,000 tire workers in China.” China Daily even predicts (without naming sources) that “some 100,000 tire-related jobs in the United States could be affected, including such sectors as imports, distribution and retail.”

The definitely not left leaning Foreign Affairs journal writes:

Americans are increasingly disturbed by the growing economic clout of China. With Chinese growth rates consistently above nine percent, they accuse it of stealing U.S. jobs, of keeping the Yuan undervalued by pegging it to the dollar, of exporting deflation by selling its products abroad at unfair prices, of violating the rights of its workers to keep labor costs low, and of failing to meet its commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most of these charges have little merit. But the misunderstandings behind them have opened the way to a trade war between the United States and China — one that, if it escalates, could do considerable damage to both sides.

China is not stealing U.S. jobs or engaging in unfair trade practices to undercut U.S. economic might and exports its way to global power. In fact, almost 60 percent of Chinese exports to the United States are produced by firms owned by foreign companies, many of them American. These firms have moved operations overseas in response to competitive pressures to lower production costs and thereby offer better prices to consumers and higher returns to shareholders.

Wal-Mart alone purchased $18 billion worth of Chinese goods in 2004, more than Australia, Canada, or Russia imported from China. A global trade war is being started with America shooting at its own ghosts. China is prepping for counter-battery fire. Hold on to your wallets.

Ironically, the “fear that a trade war will erupt between China and the U.S.” lifted the value of the dollar this morning, says the Wall Street Journal. Which makes imports even cheaper. Stocks go the other way. Dow Jones reports that “European stock markets traded lower Monday, weighed down by fears of protectionism and a possible U.S./China trade war.” We’ll soon find out how our already battered 401Ks like the game of chicken.

By on September 12, 2009

President Obama paid his outstanding union dues and slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA. The new duty will take effect on September 26 and comes in addition to an existing 4 percent duty, Reuters reports. Everybody, except for the United Steelworkers, agrees that this is one of the most boneheaded decisions of the new administration.

No American tire manufacturer supported the case. Cooper Tire even publicly opposed it. No wonder: US tire companies are the biggest offenders (in the eyes of the United Steelworkers), having moved most if not all of their budget segment tire production to low labor cost overseas sites. Chinese tires are not in the USA because China wants to rape and pillage the market. Chinese tires are here, because US tire companies set up joint ventures in China to make what the market demands: Tires for less.

China is not the only exporter of budget tires to the USA. According to the Wall Street Journal, 43 percent of the tires sold in the USA are imported. Only 11 percent are imported from China. The far larger share is imported from low labor cost countries such as Malaysia, India, or Central Europe. What the boneheaded decision does is simply shift tire production from China to other low cost producing countries. These countries can take advantage of 11 percent of the tires effectively removed from the US market. The low cost producers can raise their prices until the market settles. The American consumer will bear the cost. Not a single new job is created in US tire companies. Jobs will be lost at tire distributors and dealers. This decision achieves nothing for America except higher prices and troubles with China.

The American Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition wrote in a letter to the US Trade Representative John Kirk: “The absence of tires from China in the market will raise costs to downstream consuming industries, including automobile manufacturers, will limit consumer choices and affect most seriously those with the fewest resources. Thus, these tariffs will be the most regressive of taxes.”

“Those with the fewest resources” (i.e., the poor) are easiest sold on buying the import-restriction Kool-Aid. They drink it in big gulps: Imports bad for jobs. When they find out that fewer low cost imports mean higher prices, that they still have no jobs, and that their welfare check buys much less, then it’s too late.

The complaint by the US Steelworkers does not allege unfair trade practices. No longer needed. In US law, there is a special anti-China provision, called section 421. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council explains the complicated law in the most succinct way: “Under Section 421, the USITC determines whether a specific product from the mainland is being imported into the U.S. in such increased quantities, or under such conditions, as to cause or threaten to cause market disruption. ‘Market disruption’ is defined as rapidly increasing imports, either absolutely or relatively, so as to cause or threaten to cause material injury to a U.S. domestic industry. If the USITC makes an affirmative determination it proposes a remedy, which the president may or may not implement.”

The USITC is the United States International Trade Commission, “an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that provides trade policy advice to both the legislative and executive branches of government.” The USITC is often called the International Trade Commission to give it a fake supranational flair. It’s pure US government.

“Market disruption” is a vague concept. If anyone feels disrupted by Chinese imports, they can petition the USITC. If the USITC accepts it and takes it to the president, and if he signs it, no more Chinese imports. Under Bush, for all his failings, every section 421 petition that reached his desk was rejected: He had to decide on strategically important goods such as wire hangers, steel pipe, brake drums and rotors and “pedestal actuators,” a component used in scooters for the disabled. All voted down.

Obama approved the first 421 petition that was put before him. China and US companies are rightly afraid that this will trigger a flurry of section 421 cases. “Multinational companies such as Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have urged Obama to refrain from curbing imports, saying it could lead to a “downward protectionist spiral,” writes Bloomberg.

The United Steelworkers based their complaint on the allegation that Chinese tires had cost a paltry 5,000 union jobs over a number of years. Which of course is bunk. The jobs were lost because US consumers increasingly refuse to buy the high priced tires, and because US tire companies have reacted to consumer demand and moved their production elsewhere. Only one fourth of the tire imports comes from China.

Understandably, the Chinese are deeply upset. China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, writes, “This ruling came at a time when the U.S. economy is at an uncertain turning point from the worst recession since World War II.” Officially, China exercises restraint. “Observers said that the president needs his people to help make domestic reform smoother,” is as low as Xinhua wants to publicly stoop.

The verbiage from China’s Ministry of Commerce is stronger: “China expressed strong dissatisfaction and is resolutely opposed to this,” said China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOC) spokesman Yao Jian. “This does not comply with WTO agreements on subsidies. The U.S. used an incorrect method to define and calculate the subsidies, which has resulted in an artificially high subsidy rate, hurting Chinese firms’ interests.”

What China is likely to do is threefold:

One, China will drag the USA in front of the WTO. China will have the tacit or open support from other low-cost countries, including the EU (many low cost countries, such as Poland or Romania are EU members.) The world will also love to slap around a country that demanded free trade as long as free trade was good for America. Note that China mentioned “subsidies.” The bail-outs will come on the table also. WTO proceedings can drag on forever.

Two, China will take some tit-for-tat measures. On the table is a hefty tariff on US auto imports to China. During the first half of the year, China imported more than $1 billion worth of automobiles from the US. China could buy fewer Boeings and more Airbusses. If things get really bad, China could put a dent in the Chinese growth of the automotive ward of the state, GM. Europe will love it all.

Three, Chinese President Hu Jintao will give Obama a tongue-lashing when they meet in Pittsburgh at the G-20 Summit September 24-25. Obama will be gently or not so gently reminded that America’s largest creditor deserves a little better treatment, or the money could be moved elsewhere. Timothy Geithner will also be reminded that his announcement in June that “Chinese assets are very safe” is bunk. The greenback is on its way down. A EURO bought $1.46 today and it’s heading toward $1.50. Come to think of it, a falling dollar is the best protection against cheap imports from all corners of the world: The lower the dollar, the more expensive the imports. A truly free market needs no section 421.

Forbes writes: “The current round of disputes will undoubtedly end up in a trade war, and China, a country extraordinarily dependent on exports, will surely be the biggest loser.”

Don’t bet on it.

America is already involved in two shooting wars which it couldn’t afford would China not buy its bonds. America cannot afford two shooting wars and a trade war with its largest creditor.

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