Category Archives: U.S. trade

30/3/19: The Art of Trade Fudge: USMCA


Much-lauded Trump's Nafta 2.0, officially known as the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) came to being on November 30, 2018. In his State of the Union speech on February 5, 2019, President Donald Trump claimed that the USMCA will replace “the catastrophe known as NAFTA” and “deliver for American workers like they have not had delivered to for a long time.” In a brief summary of the USMCA, Vox (see https://www.vox.com/2018/10/3/17930092/usmca-nafta-trump-trade-deal-explained) has effectively argued that the new Agreement is largely a rehashing of the original Nafta - a step in no new direction, with only minor modifications of the Trump-hated agreement.

Last week, the IMF piped in with its own analysis of the Agreement. The new IMF paper (see: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/03/26/NAFTA-to-USMCA-What-is-Gained-46680) provides "an analytical assessment of five key provisions in the new agreement, including:

  • tighter rules of origin in the automotive, textiles and apparel sectors, 
  • more liberalized agricultural trade, and 
  • other trade facilitation measures." 
So how good is the USMCA in driving forward trade and investment flows between the three economies? Per IMF, the "results show that together these provisions would adversely affect trade in the automotive, textiles and apparel sectors, while generating modest aggregate gains in terms of welfare, mostly driven by improved goods market access, with a negligible effect on real GDP. The welfare benefits from USMCA would be greatly enhanced with the elimination of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico and the elimination of the Canadian and Mexican import surtaxes imposed after the U.S. tariffs were put in place."

So, repealing the problem created by Mr. Trump - steel and aluminum tariffs - has more potential for welfare gains for Mr. Trump's electorate, than the new Nafta agreement that Mr. Trump claims to be one of his Administration's major achievements.

Mr. Trump has referenced, on many occasions, the need for reducing U.S. trade deficits with Mexico and Canada as the core justification for altering Nafta. IMF analysis of the USMCA shows that under the most welfare-enhancing scenario of USMCA introduction, accompanied by normalization of trade in steel and aluminum, U.S. trade deficit with Mexico can be expected to improve by only USD576 million per annum (0.58%), and with Canada by USD 1,781 million (4.31% improvement). However, U.S. trade balance with the rest of the world is expected to worsen by USD 2,698 million (a deterioration of 0.375%), more than offsetting the gains from Canada and Mexico trade.

Worse, U.S. workers will see no material gains from USMCA, as the IMF estimates presented in Table 9 (below) show:

As noted above, IMF projects no material growth boost from USMCA. More detailed analysis - by sector - shows that under the scenario involving repeal of Trump tariffs (the only scenario with positive welfare impact of USMCA), only two non-agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy can expect gains in output: food manufacturing and Other Manufacturing. In contrast, six sectors are likely to see their output decline:


All in, the IMF research shows the extent of economic fudge that is the current Administration's trade and investment policy. The art of the deal seems to be the art of faking soundbites and slogans, while delivering nothing new.

30/3/19: The Art of Trade Fudge: USMCA


Much-lauded Trump's Nafta 2.0, officially known as the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) came to being on November 30, 2018. In his State of the Union speech on February 5, 2019, President Donald Trump claimed that the USMCA will replace “the catastrophe known as NAFTA” and “deliver for American workers like they have not had delivered to for a long time.” In a brief summary of the USMCA, Vox (see https://www.vox.com/2018/10/3/17930092/usmca-nafta-trump-trade-deal-explained) has effectively argued that the new Agreement is largely a rehashing of the original Nafta - a step in no new direction, with only minor modifications of the Trump-hated agreement.

Last week, the IMF piped in with its own analysis of the Agreement. The new IMF paper (see: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/03/26/NAFTA-to-USMCA-What-is-Gained-46680) provides "an analytical assessment of five key provisions in the new agreement, including:

  • tighter rules of origin in the automotive, textiles and apparel sectors, 
  • more liberalized agricultural trade, and 
  • other trade facilitation measures." 
So how good is the USMCA in driving forward trade and investment flows between the three economies? Per IMF, the "results show that together these provisions would adversely affect trade in the automotive, textiles and apparel sectors, while generating modest aggregate gains in terms of welfare, mostly driven by improved goods market access, with a negligible effect on real GDP. The welfare benefits from USMCA would be greatly enhanced with the elimination of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico and the elimination of the Canadian and Mexican import surtaxes imposed after the U.S. tariffs were put in place."

So, repealing the problem created by Mr. Trump - steel and aluminum tariffs - has more potential for welfare gains for Mr. Trump's electorate, than the new Nafta agreement that Mr. Trump claims to be one of his Administration's major achievements.

Mr. Trump has referenced, on many occasions, the need for reducing U.S. trade deficits with Mexico and Canada as the core justification for altering Nafta. IMF analysis of the USMCA shows that under the most welfare-enhancing scenario of USMCA introduction, accompanied by normalization of trade in steel and aluminum, U.S. trade deficit with Mexico can be expected to improve by only USD576 million per annum (0.58%), and with Canada by USD 1,781 million (4.31% improvement). However, U.S. trade balance with the rest of the world is expected to worsen by USD 2,698 million (a deterioration of 0.375%), more than offsetting the gains from Canada and Mexico trade.

Worse, U.S. workers will see no material gains from USMCA, as the IMF estimates presented in Table 9 (below) show:

As noted above, IMF projects no material growth boost from USMCA. More detailed analysis - by sector - shows that under the scenario involving repeal of Trump tariffs (the only scenario with positive welfare impact of USMCA), only two non-agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy can expect gains in output: food manufacturing and Other Manufacturing. In contrast, six sectors are likely to see their output decline:


All in, the IMF research shows the extent of economic fudge that is the current Administration's trade and investment policy. The art of the deal seems to be the art of faking soundbites and slogans, while delivering nothing new.

5/7/18: Does the WTO treat the U.S. "very badly"?


Yesterday, President Trump has suggested that the WTO is treating the U.S. "very badly"


In reality, the U.S. leads WTO in terms of dispute resolutions wins and in terms of intransigence to WTO functioning and reforms. Here is a slide from my lecture on international institutions frameworks highlighting this fact:
In the previous post, I also shown that the U.S. contributes disproportionately less than the EU and China to WTO budget: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2018/07/3718-china-eu-and-us-arch-stantons-grave.html.

In fact, back in October 2017, President Trump claimed that: Trump, Oct. 25: "The WTO, World Trade Organization, was set up for the benefit for everybody but us. They have taken advantage of this country like you wouldn’t believe. And I say to my people, you tell them, like as an example, we lose the lawsuits, almost all of the lawsuits in the WTO — within the WTO. Because we have fewer judges than other countries. It’s set up as you can’t win. In other words, the panels are set up so that we don’t have majorities. It was set up for the benefit of taking advantage of the United States."

WTO dispute resolution rules require that none of the panelists on each 3-person panel hearing disputes cases can be from the country involved in a dispute (per Article 8: https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/28-dsu_e.htm). In other words, the number of experts from any particular country that are available to serve on dispute resolution panels is immaterial to the experts service in the U.S. dispute cases.

In reality, thus, the U.S. loses slightly fewer cases brought against it, than it wins cases brought against other nations by it. The high rates of U.S. losses and wins are fully comparable with those of other advanced economies and reflect, in fact, not some WTO bias against any given nation, but rather the simple fact that majority of nations, including the U.S. tend to bring to the WTO arbitration only such cases where concerns raised are well-founded and researched. Which, in effect, means that the WTO dispute resolutions system (slow as it might be) is effective at restricting the number of frivolous cases being brought to resolution, aka, a good thing.

Much of the above evidence does not just come from my own arguments alone. Here is an intelligent and pro-trade set of arguments about why the U.S. claims of unfair treatment under the WTO regime are not only wrong, but actually conceal the much less pleasant protectionist reality of the Washington's policies: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danikenson/2017/03/09/u-s-trade-laws-and-the-sovereignty-canard/2/#657177747edc.

3/7/18: China, EU and U.S.: Arch Stanton’s grave


In a recent statement on Fox News, the U.S. President has compared China and the EU in quite stark and unfavourable, to the EU, terms: ""The European Union is possibly as bad as China, just smaller. It’s terrible what they do to us,” Trump said." Contextually, the statement relates to trade, but it prompted a torrent of replies from Mr. Trump critics, pointing to various aspects of the statement as being untrue. One example:

The problem is, as commonly the case with economic statistics, there is a number to suit any point of view, and the choice of metrics matters.

  • GDP comparatives 1: in current prices terms, expressed in billions of U.S. dollars, China's GDP in 2017 was USD12.015 trillion, against the EU's USD 17.309 trillion. The EU was 'bigger' if not 'badder' than China. The U.S, was 'bigger' than both at USD 19.391 trillion.
  • GDP comparatives 2: in Purchasing Power adjusted terms (expressed as International dollars to take account of exchange rates differentials and price differences), China GDP was IUSD23.159 trillion against smaller EU GDP of IUSD 20.983 trillion and even lower U.S. GDP of IUSD19.391 trillion. Since PPP adjustment, imperfectly, accounts for the simple fact than people in China and the EU do not live in a dollar-priced world, although some of their imports do reflect dollar-priced goods and services, this is one of the salient measures for comparing three economies. And by this measure, Mr. Trump is correct: the EU is 'smaller' than China, although the U.S. is smaller than both.
  • Trade measures: EU ranks second in the world in terms of exports and imports of merchandise trade (excluding intra-EU trade), and it ranks first in the world in terms of exports and imports of services; with total extra-EU trade accounting for 16.8 percent of EU GDP. Merchandise exports amounted to USD 1.932 trillion in 2016, with merchandise imports of USD 1.889 trillion, services exports of USD917 billion against services imports of USD771.8 billion. China ranked first in the world in merchandise exports and second in the world in merchandise imports, fifth in commercial services exports and second in services imports. China's trade with the rest of the world amounted to 20 percent of its GDP, with merchandise exports and imports of USD2.098 trillion and USD1.587 trillion, respectively, and services exports and imports of USD207.3 billion and USD449.8 billion respectively. So total EU trade volumes were USD 5.51 trillion in 2016 against China's USD 4.342 trillion. 'Large' Europe, 'small' China. The U.S. total trade volumes with the rest of the world were between the two at USD4.921 trillion, making the U.S. smaller than the EU.
'Badness measures':
  • One possible measure of a nation's 'badness' in trade is the number of official disputes involving that nation as a complainant or the respondent in the WTO. Per WTO 2018 Annual Report, over 1995-2017 period, the U.S. were involved in 115 disputes as a complainant and 134 disputes as a respondent. 'Badsky' China numbers were 15 and 39 respectively - both, fractions of the U.S. Aggregating the EU member states' numbers, EU was involved in 107 and 122 disputes, respectively, although omitting states' disputes before they joined as the EU members reduces these numbers to 98 and 111. Which means the EU is 'worse' than China, but 'better' than the U.S. when it comes to following rules-based trade. The comparative, of course, is distorted by shorter duration of China membership. Adjusting for that, China figures rise to around 50 disputes filed and 160-170 disputes responded, making things even more complicated in terms of 'badness'.
  • Another possible measure is the current account surplus each country / block runs against its trading partners. IMF delivers some stats. The U.S. is the 'Goldilocks goodie' in that department, using dollar reserve currency status to run massive deficits at USD 466.25 billion in 2017 (similar to 2016 USD451.7 billion deficit, but vastly smaller than the IMF-projected CA deficit of USD614.7 billion for 2018 - all praise Mr. Trump's profligacy). China is clearly a 'baddy' in these terms, with a current account surplus of USD 164.9 billion in 2017, down on USD202.2 billion in 2016. The EU, however, is in the league of its own 'awfulness', with current account surplus of USD417.24 billion in 2017 up on surplus of USD332.5 billion in 2016. So the EU is 'badder' than the already 'bad' China in these terms.
  • Third measure of 'badness' as it relates to trade is the physical support for WTO by each country/block, which can be measured by the annual share of each in total WTO budget. Again, per WTO report cited above: the EU share of total WTO budget is 33.6 percent, against the U.S. 11.38 percent and China 9.84 percent. While China's budget contribution should be lower due to the country having s bizarre, 'non-market economy' status in WTO standing, U.S. contribution is small relative to the country's share of global GDP, while EU's share is disproportionately large. Who's the 'baddest' in these terms?
  • Fourth measure of 'badness' can be trade-weighted average tariff imposed by the country. WTO latest data on this covers 2015. The EU run 3.0% trade-wighted average tariff across all of its trade, with average agricultural tariff of 7.8% and average non-agricultural tariff of 2.6% with 100% binding coverage. China average trade-weighted tariff was 4.4% (agricultural 9.7% and non-agricultural 4 percent) with 100% binding coverage. Which makes China 'badder' than the EU. U.S. comparable figures were 2.4%, 3.8%, and 2.3% for average trade weighted tariffs, and 99 percent binding coverage. In summary, the EU is marginally 'worse' than the U.S. and vastly 'better' than China when it comes to tariffs protection.
  • In bilateral trade protection terms, 58.3 percent of non-agricultural imports from the U.S. were duty-free in the EU, against 19.6 percent of EU imports from China. China imported 56.5 percent of its imports from the U.S. duty-free, and 46.5 percent of imports from the EU were also zero-duty. U.S. imports from the EU were 64.9 percent duty-free and its imports from China were 35.5 percent duty free. When it comes to U.S. exports, the EU was a better destination, in these terms, than China. 'Better' EU than China in these terms.
We can draw many more comparatives in trying to gauge what 'worse' and 'smaller' might mean in the case of China vs EU comparatives when it comes to possible White House-targeting criteria. In reality, economics, trade, trade policies and finance are complex. Far more complex than Spaghetti Western. Yet, even 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' had serious shades of grey when it came to delineating the three villains Mexican standoff at the Arch Stanton's grave. 


9/6/18: Misinformed and wrong: President Trump’s trade policy stance on the EU


I just posted on @twitter a short thread concerning the U.S.-EU trade and payments balances from 2003 through 2017 and a trend-based forecast for same out to 2021. The thread can be accessed here: https://twitter.com/GTCost/status/1005467563034152961.

The key problem is that in his trade policy strategy, President Trump appears to be oblivious to several key factors that materially determine the true extent of imbalances the U.S. trade with the EU, including:

  1. Trade in services: while the U.S. is running a large (USD 153 billion dollars in 2017) deficit in goods trade with respect to the EU (and this deficit is persistent since 2003), the U.S. is running USD 51.3 billion surplus in services against the EU, and this surplus is rising (with some volatility).
  2. When trade balance is augmented by transfer payments (accounting for profits of the U.S. companies earned in the EU, less profits of the EU companies earned in the U.S., plus net transfers from the US to EU residents, including pensions payments, etc), the U.S. was running a surplus of USD14.22 billion in 2017 with respect to the EU. In fact, the current account balance for the U.S. with respect to the EU has been in surplus (in favour of the U.S.) since 2009, with 2008 figure being statistically zero (balance).
  3. U.S. net lending (+) or borrowing (-) from current- & capital-accounts vis-a-vis the EU has been in surplus every year since 2008.
  4. In fact, the 'New Economy' (services, IP etc) have generated a huge surplus for the U.S. when trade and income flows with the EU are accounted for.
  5. U.S. true exports to the EU are obscured by the U.S. multinationals accounting strategies that aim to minimise their tax exposures to the U.S. by engaging in extensive transfer pricing, shifting of tax base and complex offshoring of retained earnings. Were these factors taken into the account, the U.S.
  6. Over 2009-2017 period, cumulative balance on trade in goods and services, plus primary and secondary income with the EU, stood at USD 57.3 billion in favour of the U.S. and cumulative net balance on capital and current account transactions basis was USD 112.7 billion in favour of the U.S.


Prior to the G7 Summit President Trump complained in a tweet that the U.S. was running a deficit of USD 151 billion with the EU. The official figure from the U.S. Department of Commerce, however, is USD 153 billion but this figure only covers trade in goods.

The dynamics of full net cumulated 2003-207 balance in payments and trade for U.S.-EU trade, including forecast out to 2021 (pure trend forecast, not accounting for other factors that favour the U.S.) is presented below:

In simple terms, President Trump's trade war on the EU is unwarranted, dangerous, damaging to both economies and a major negative for the U.S. standing in the global economy. It is also reflective of his deeply economically illiterate understanding of the complexities of national accounts.