Another enlistee for the trade war with China

October 6, 2010

China just lost Martin Wolf. The FT columnist spends a good chunk of his latest column on why the yuan needs to rise. He then outlines a plan of action:

This leads to the final question: how might China be cajoled or coerced into changing its policies? Negotiation remains a hope. The rest of Group of 20 leading countries should unite in calling for these changes. But if negotiation continues to fail, alternatives must be considered. Import surcharges are one possibility. Fred Bergsten of Washington’s Peterson Institute called for countervailing currency intervention in the FT this week; and Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels recommends capital account reciprocity: affected countries could prevent other countries from purchasing their financial instruments, unless the latter offered reciprocal access to their financial markets. This idea would also make the Bergsten plan more effective.

I find ideas for intervention in capital markets far more attractive than those involving action against trade, as the US House of Representatives proposed last week. First, action on trade would have to be discriminatory: there is no reason to attack all imports, merely to change Chinese behaviour. But this would almost certainly be a violation of the rules of the World Trade Organisation. A trade war would be very dangerous. Insisting that China stop purchasing the liabilities of other countries so long as it operates tight controls on capital inflows is, instead, direct and proportionate and, above all, moves the world towards market opening.

Some fear that a cessation of Chinese purchases of US government bonds would lead to a collapse. Nothing is less likely, given the massive financial surpluses of the private sectors of the world and the continuing role of the dollar. If it weakened the dollar, however, that would be helpful, not damaging.

Me: In addition, China is losing big US multinationals and the GOP, both key members of the old free-trade lobby. This will be a major US political issues next year with unemployment continuing to stay an elevated levels.

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