- Between 1985 and 2011, the United States entered into 14 free trade agreements (FTAs) with 20 countries. Data from the Census shows that U.S. merchandise trade (or trade in goods) with FTA partner countries represents nearly 70% of all U.S. exports in goods and services, and more than 80% of all U.S. imports of goods and services.
- In 2016, the United States ran a merchandise trade deficit of -$71.3 billion with the 20 FTA partner countries and a services surplus of $68.9 billion. The share of the U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners, however, has fallen by nearly half over the 2007-2017 period, from 18% to only about 10% of the total -$734.4 billion U.S. merchandise trade deficit.
- Regarding the economic impact of FTAs on the United States, a study conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission suggests that bilateral and regional trade agreements increased U.S. aggregate trade by about 3%, but less than 1% for U.S. employment (or 159,300 full-time equivalent employees). Specifically, the study finds that rising imports, due in part to the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), accounted for most of the reduction in U.S. employment in the apparel industry between 1998 and 2014.
- Current trade data treat exports and imports as though the full value of an export was produced domestically and the full value of an import was produced abroad. However, the rapid growth of global value chains and intra-industry trade (importing and exporting goods in the same industry) has significantly increased the amount of trade in intermediate goods in ways that can blur the distinction between domestic and foreign firms and goods. For example, foreign value added accounts for about 11% of the content of U.S. exports in 2010. As a result of the growth in value chains, traditional methods of measuring trade may obscure the actual sources of goods and services and the allocation of resources that are used in producing those goods and services.
- Trade agreements of the type currently being negotiated by the United States comprise a broad range of issues that could have significant economic effects on trade and commercial relations over the long run between the negotiating parties, particularly for developing and emerging economies. However, the negative effects of international trade and trade agreements, particularly potential job losses and lower wages, often are distributed disproportionately with the effects falling more heavily on some workers and on some firms.
The full report can be downloaded from HERE
While the Trump Administration is seeking to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and achieve a more “balanced trade” with its trading partners, a newly-released World Economic Forum (WEC) paper questions the necessity and economic rationale of doing so. As argued by the paper:
First, a country’s trade balance is NOT a measurement of its international commercial success. Neither is the case that “imports are bad and exports are good. “Instead, the paper says that “it is more accurate to think of imports as the benefits of trade, and exports as the cost that needs to be paid to obtain these benefits.”
Second, it is a misconception that “trade deficits cause a reduction in employment and production and trade surplus increase them.” Rather, imports could increase because of an increase in domestic income thereby increasing the aggregate demand. Empirical studies also overwhelmingly find that rapid economic growth and larger trade deficit are associated with faster employment growth in the United States in history (see the graphs above).
Third, as the supply chain goes global, a tax on imported inputs can reduce rather than promote a country’s exports, particularly manufacturing goods (for example high tariffs on imported fabrics will reduce the price competitiveness of clothing exports). Likewise, trade barriers could disrupt production and reduce domestic employment in both the “protected” industries and those downstream sectors that use their outputs.
Fourth, primarily trade balance is a function of a country’s national saving and investments, not of trade policies. In other words, trade policies, such as higher tariffs and quantitative restrictions, will have no impact on a country’s trade balance. Interesting enough, countries like Singapore which maintain fairly low trade barriers, run a trade surplus equal to as high as 20% of its GDP. In comparison, India was one of the most highly protected economies in the early 1990s when it experienced unsustainable large trade deficits. Further, there is a dynamic balance between a country’s trade balance and exchange rate: in an open economy, reducing a country’s imports could lead to an appreciation of its currency and eventually hurt its exports as well.
What is your view on the trade deficit and trade balance? Why do you agree or disagree with the arguments of the WEC paper? Do you find any evidence that challenges the findings of the paper? Please feel free to leave your comments.
At an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on September 18, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer addressed the U.S. trade policy in the Trump Administration, particularly Trump’s beliefs on trade:
Philosophy 1: The reason why some Americans oppose free trade is NOT that they were “ill-informed.” Rather, it is because the U.S. trade policy for decades has failed to create a “level playing field.” The Trump Administration will proactively use all instruments to “make it expensive” for U.S. trading partners to engage in the non-economic behavior, convince U.S. trading partners to treat U.S. workers, farmers, and ranchers fairly and demand “reciprocity” both in the home and international markets.
Philosophy2: Trade deficits matter. Although trade policy is not the only cause for the trade deficit, it can be a major contributor, such as high tariffs that deny the market access for U.S. products, not imposing the border adjustment tax and currency manipulation.
Philosophy 3: China is the top challenge. According to Lighthizer, “the sheer scale of China’s coordinated efforts to develop their economy, to subsidize, to create national champions, to force technology transfer, and to distort markets in China and throughout the world is a threat to the world trading system that is unprecedented.”
Philosophy 4: The Trump Administrations will exam all existing trade agreements to make sure they provide “roughly equivalent” measured by trade deficits. “Where there the numbers and other factors indicate a disequilibrium, one should renegotiate.”
During the Q&A session, Lighthizer further shared his views on some cutting-edge trade issues:
- Regarding the NAFTA renegotiation, Lightlizher said that the negotiation is “moving at warp speed, but we don’t know whether we’re going to get to a conclusion, that’s the problem.” The consultation process with U.S. Congress is complicated and time-consuming, but it is unavoidable.
- The Trump Administration prefers bilateral trade deal over regional and multilateral ones. Given the size of the U.S. economy, Lighthizer believes that bilateral trade agreement will provide more negotiation leverages and ensure better enforcement.
- The Trump Administration will still stay very much engaged in Asia.
- The WTO Dispute-Settlement mechanism doesn’t work well—it has both imposed new obligations for the U.S. and reduced a lot of U.S. benefits.
- Regarding the outlook for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiation, Lighthizer stressed the importance of the US-EU trade relations. He said that the series of elections in EU is a reason why the negotiation of the agreement hasn’t moved forward.
- Regarding TISA (Trade in services agreement), the U.S. objective is to open markets and eliminate market access barriers for U.S. companies.
Do you think the U.S. trade deficit is a problem or not? Please feel free to share your thoughts based on our lectures, the video above as well as a recent op-ed written by Peter Navarro (Director of the White House National Trade Council) for the Wall Street Journal.
Although the trade relationship with China is often blamed for causing job losses in the United States, a new study prepared for the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) by Oxford Economics suggests overall positive impacts of China on the US economy. According to the study:
- China has grown to become the third-largest destination for American goods and services, only after Mexico and Canada. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, representing 7.3 percent of all US exports and about 1 percent of total US economic output. By 2030, US exports to China are projected to rise to more than $520 billion annually.
- The US-China trade relationship supports roughly 2.6 million jobs in the United States. Specifically, US exports to China directly and indirectly supported 8 million new jobs in 2015.
- The reported gross US trade deficit with China is overstated and somehow misleading. As China has become an integral part of the global manufacturing supply chain, much of its exports are comprised of foreign-produced components delivered for final assembly in China. If the value of these imported components is subtracted from China’s exports, the US trade deficit with China is reduced by half, to about 1 percent of GDP—about the same as the US trade deficit with the European Union.
- Additionally, “Made in China” lowered prices in the United States for consumer goods. As estimated, US consumer prices are 1 percent – 1.5 percent lower because of Chinese imports–trade with China saved each American household up to $850 in 2015. Given the fact that hourly labor costs in the textile industry were $2.65 in China in 2014 compared with $17.71 in the United States, the report argues that replacing Chinese imports of textiles and clothing with US manufactured products would significantly raise US consumer prices.
In terms of the textile and apparel (T&A) sector, the report suggests that:
- The rising U.S. import from China mostly represents China’s displacement of imports from other countries and regions: China has been squeezing out traditional apparel manufacturers such as Mexico, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
- Meanwhile, textile and apparel manufacturing is one of the very few sectors that observe a paralleled pattern of rising imports from China and declining gross value added in the United States since 2000. In comparison, over the same period other sectors that experienced the most rapid growth in Chinese imports are also the sectors where US businesses have seen the strongest growth.
The report can be downloaded from HERE.