March 2, 2014

OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT :

More homework, please (R.A., 2/28/14, The Economist)

[T]ariff rates are not universally low. On some categories of goods they remain quite high, and while those categories might be too small to make liberalisation macroeconomically important, tariff-reduction might nonetheless be microeconomically desirable. Slashing tariffs on equipment used in wind-power installations or solar-energy facilities will not make a dent in GDP growth. But it would still be a really good thing to do. And trade in environmental goods and services is part of the TPP agenda.

Second, one of the stated ambitions of both TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is reduction in non-tariff barriers, which in most cases add substantially more to goods costs than tariff barriers. According to estimates by the World Bank, for instance, American tariff restrictions on agricultural imports are relatively low on the whole, at just 2.2%. But the tariff equivalent of an all-in measure of restrictiveness, which takes into account non-tariff barriers, jumps to 17.0%. The all-in rates for many of the partners in TPP negotiations are substantially higher; Japan's all-in tariff equivalent on agricultural imports is 38.3%. South Korea's is 48.9%. Australia's is 29.5%.

Third, "implicit protection of services" does indeed impose additional costs. For instance, the cost to foreign providers of some crucial transport and shipping services within the American market is basically infinite. Services account for four times as much economic output as goods production in America but only around one-fifth of American trade. Many services aren't tradable, of course; haircut tariffs will not be on the TPP agenda. But a growing array are. And rules on service trade have barely changed at all in two decades. TTIP and TPP (as well as the Trade in Services Agreement) are aimed at updating rules on services trade to make it easier to sell insurance, or financial and consulting services, or IT and environmental services, and so on, across borders. Now maybe these deals are "really about" intellectual property, and all-powerful Hollywood has convinced the government to expend a lot of time and effort setting standards for services trade, the better to provide a smokescreen for its own nefarious activities. But I doubt it.

Investment is another key item on the agenda. At present rules on cross-border investment can be pretty ad hoc; a firm interested in buying shares in a business in another country often needs to be careful not to buy too much or not to invest in politically sensitive industries, lest the investment invite political scrutiny. TPP is working to reduce the scope for ad-hockery in interference in investment, which I think we would generally consider to be a good thing. TTIP is as well (that's what the "I" is all about).
Posted by at March 2, 2014 3:02 PM
  
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