Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama: Building trade to build growth

The Obama administration has quietly embraced the most ambitious agenda on trade and investment liberalization in the past two decades.

The United States is currently juggling no fewer than five high-level trade negotiations: free trade talks with the European Union; the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks with a dozen Asia-Pacific countries; a new Information Technology Agreement covering trade in high-tech goods; negotiations on liberalizing services trade though the World Trade Organization, and a last-ditch effort this week to agree on new trade facilitation measures at the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali.

This about-face on trade from President Barack Obama’s first term is remarkable.

In 2008, candidate Obama promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico to add tougher provisions for protecting worker rights and the environment. Once in the Oval Office, he stalled for several years before even sending to Congress three free trade agreements — with South Korea, Panama and Colombia — that had been completed by the Bush administration. Today, however, the administration’s trade agenda is the most far-reaching since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the United States was negotiating NAFTA and the Uruguay Round of world trade talks.

The new direction is as much accidental as deliberate. Except for the new talks with Europe, the various trade initiatives have been slowly advancing for many years and are now coming to fruition. But it also reflects the administration’s belated recognition that opening new global markets is vital for generating stronger U.S. growth.

The U.S. economy needs an exports-led boost

A recent visit by President Obama to an Ohio steel mill underscored his promise to create 1 million manufacturing jobs. On the same day, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced her department’s commitment to exports, saying “Trade must become a bigger part of the DNA of our economy.”

These two impulses — to reinvigorate manufacturing and to emphasize exports — are, or should be, joined at the hip. The U.S. needs an export strategy led by research and development, and it needs it now. A serious federal commitment to R&D would help arrest the long-term decline in manufacturing, and return America to its preeminent and competitive positions in high tech. At the same time, increasing sales of these once-key exports abroad would improve our also-declining balance of trade.

It’s the best shot the U.S. has to energize its weak economic recovery. R&D investment in products sold in foreign markets would yield a greater contribution to economic growth than any other feasible approach today. It would raise GDP, lower unemployment, and rehabilitate production operations in ways that would reverberate worldwide.

from David Rohde:

Will “Made in America” sell in China?

Update: My apologies. In the first version of this column, I confused two different Camaro models. A corrected version is below.

SHANGHAI –When the third film in Hollywood’s Transformers franchise debuted here in July, vast numbers of young Chinese flocked to movie theaters -- and Chevrolet dealerships. Wealthy moviegoers wanted to buy one of the film’s half-car, half robot main characters, a bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro coupe called “Bumblebee.”

“Everyone knew Bumblebee,” said Richard Choi, the director of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in Shanghai. “I had to get the press guys to call it Camaro, not Bumblebee.”

America as an export nation?

The following is a guest post by Bruce Katz, Emilia Istrate and Jonathan Rothwell. Mr. Katz is the editor of several books on transportation, demographics and regionalism, including “Elevate Our Cities.”  Ms. Istrate is a senior research analyst with the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative. Mr. Rothwell is a senior research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy program focusing on urban economics, innovation, and economic opportunity. The opinions expressed are their own.

In debates over how to boost the flagging recovery, promoting exports isn’t usually at top of the list.  But it should be.  Export growth can make this recovery job-filled rather than jobless.

And the White House and allied business leaders agree. They’ve been discussing how to achieve the “new goal” that President Obama set in his last State of the Union speech: double exports over the next five years.

China’s export dominance must force U.S. rethink

Managing the rise of China’s vast economy and healing the U.S. trade deficit will require a new willingness and capacity to boost U.S. technology exports at affordable prices. More importantly it requires a new language from policymakers and a new mindset.

In a recent survey of American businesses, the proportion who felt unwelcome operating in China had risen sharply, amid tense stand offs involving Rio Tinto and Google. But with U.S. legislators in full flag-waving cry about China as a currency manipulator, is it really surprising China is looking to become more self-reliant?

At the heart of the trade problem is the difficulty the United States (and other western economies) are experiencing in adjusting to China’s rise to superpower status in the 21st century. It is causing the same problems the rise of Germany, Japan and the United States itself caused for Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

For Chinese exporters, grass is greener abroad

WeiGucrop.jpg- Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own. -

The U.S.-China tire dispute threatens to spill into other sectors and squeeze Chinese exporters’ already razor-thin margins further. It might seem mind-boggling to many that Chinese manufacturers are still hanging on to weak overseas markets even though the domestic economy looks much healthier and surely offers more potential.

But there are structural reasons why the grass is greener outside China. The risk of not getting paid, or getting paid late, is significantly lower when dealing with foreign buyers. The cost of international shipping has dropped so much that it can be cheaper to send goods over the Pacific Ocean than across the country.

In addition, selling to large buyers such as Wal-Mart creates volumes large enough to compensate for weak margins. Moreover, Chinese exporters get all sorts of export rebates and local government incentives which help to lower their costs.

from Commentaries:

Japan takes a kinder approach to growth

The victorious Democratic Party of Japan did not put economic growth at the heart of its electoral sales pitch. The party's manifesto mentions "growth" only once. The word "support", by contrast, appears 19 times.

Even so, there are reasons for optimism that the DPJ's softer and more nurturing policies are just what the economy needs.

The global slump provided a painful reminder of the dangers of Japan's export-oriented growth strategy. Output has fallen even faster than in other rich countries, leaving national income at roughly the same level as in the early 1990s.

  •