Thursday, November 13, 2008

Milking the Issue

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced a new policy to stop food products from China at the border.

Producers must prove that their products are not contaminated. Large scale contamination of milk, eggs, and animal feed with industrial chemicals prompted this action.

EIL looked at this issue earlier and found that such actions are allowed under the WTO.

Monday, November 10, 2008

World Leaders react to Obama's Election Victory

In a followup to my previous post about the world reacting to the election of Barack Obama as the next U.S. President, here are some of the reactions of political leaders around the world.

You can read the article at the Guardian's website here.

My favorite quote:

Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero: Obama's victory "opens a new era for dialogue in international relations".

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Worldwide Reactions to Obama's Elections

The biggest of current events is the election of Barack Obama to be the 44th President of the United States of America.

Why is this such an important election?

In part, the election of Obama represents a repudiation of the policies of the current President, George W. Bush.

Bush's foreign policies were often at odds with international law. His theories of unilateral action conflicted with the growing interdependence of foreign relations.

Hopefully, the election of Obama will bring in an executive willing to work with the international community to build up international law.

The New York Times has a interesting summary of how this election is being viewed around the world.

You can read it here.

My favorite quote:

"The biggest economy in the world has a leader that the world can talk to," said Alejandro Saks, an Argentine television scriptwriter.

Get to work, Obama, the world is watching.

Monday, November 3, 2008

China's Bailout Plan - WWWTOD

China is starting to worry about the effect of the global slowdown on their economy.

China's State Council announced a plan to increase export tax rebates in order to protect domestic industries. Rebates would go to labor-intensive products like garments and textile to high-value products like mechanical and electrical products.

These measures may be against China's obligations under international law.

Worth noting, the U.S. Bush administration has become so dependent on China's purchasing of Treasury bonds needed to finance a bailout of the American financial system that they have stopped criticizing China's trade and currency policies.

China may be violating international law and there is nothing the U.S. can do.

Or is there? Let's go to EIL's big three questions:


1.) Does China's export rebates violate international law?

2.) Can China's trading partners do anything to stop China's violation of their international legal obligations?


Issue 1's Legal Analysis

When you see a trade issue in an international setting, you should immediately look to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Export rebates fall under the WTO's Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM).

The SCM defines a subsidy in Article 1 to be an act that either is a direct transfer of funds or failing to collect funds - by a government, public body, or a private group entrusted by the government - to confer a benefit (on domestic producers).

Article 3.1 states that subsidies would be prohibited if they fall into two types:

(a) subsidies contingent, in law or in fact, whether solely or as one of several other conditions, upon export performance, including those illustrated in Annex I;

(b) subsidies contingent, whether solely or as one of several other conditions, upon the use of domestic over imported goods.

The Annex I is the Illustrative List of Export Subsidies (ILLES).

In this list is the key to determining if China's export rebates are illegal under the WTO.

Part (g) of the list reads:

(g) The exemption or remission, in respect of the production and distribution of exported products, of indirect taxes in excess of those levied in respect of the production and distribution of like products when sold for domestic consumption.

What does that mean? It means a government can give back to exporters the taxes they paid for materials needed to produce their goods - but only for products being exported.

Part (g) of the ILLES also limits the amount of money that can be given back to producers. The money rebated can be no more than the taxes levied on the same product being sold in that nation.

For example, a company in China manufactures televisions. Some get sold in China; some get sold abroad.

For the televisions that get sold in China, the Chinese government collects taxes. The components and raw materials used to make the television are taxed when this company buys them. Taxes are also paid when the televisions are sold. China uses a value-added tax system (VAT). Eventually, the manufacturing company gets a tax break due to the taxes on the final sale of the TV to a Chinese consumer.

For the television sold abroad, the Chinese government would not get taxes from the final sale. Those taxes would be collected by the government in whatever nation that television arrives. So the manufacturer loses money as they no longer get the tax break they would normally get for domestic sales.

Part (g) of the ILLES allows China to rebate to the television producer a similar amount as if the TV had been sold in China - but no more than that.

This is the crux of whether China's export rebates are legal.

Is China giving a rebate higher in excess of the indirect taxes levied on similar products consumed domestically?

So far, I've seen no hard details on what the final export rebate amounts will be. Some articles indicate that rebates may be raised up to 9 - 13 percent. Some rebates go as high as 17 percent.

These articles fail to compare that with the VAT for each product domestically.

If the rebates are too high, China will be in violation of their obligations under the WTO.

Issue 2's Legal Analysis

What can China's trading partners do if China's subsidy violates the WTO?

Article 4 of the SCM has a dispute resolution method.

First, the SCM encourages member nations to consult with each other when a dispute arises.

After 30 days, if no resolution can be found through consultation, members may file a dispute with the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

From there, a panel and experts begin reviewing the subsidy. If they determine that it is prohibited under the SCM, the offending nation is required to withdraw the subsidy without delay.

There are other processes, including possible delays and appeals.

There is a formal process in place for resolving such disputes through the WTO.


China exports a lot of goods - $1.22 trillion in 2007. Nearly 20% of those goods were shipped to the U.S.

It is in China's interest to keep their exports high. This brings in tremendous revenue to the country. These rebates allow Chinese producers to keep the costs of their products extremely competitive in the world market.

It is in the U.S.'s interest (to a degree) to keep the prices of goods low too. Consumer spending in the U.S. is dropping to record lows. Considering that consumer spending accounts for 2/3 of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), pursuing a dispute resolution that leads to more costly goods from China may not be a smart short-term move.

What will probably happen is that China's higher export rebates will be scrutinized by their trading partners.

At some point, a trading partner will file a complaint with the WTO DSB.

Resolving the dispute will be a lengthy process that allows China to keep the costs of their manufactured goods low long enough to help their manufacturers.

Consumers worldwide will benefit from the cheap goods to which we've become addicted. When the economy rebounds, the DSB can rule on the matter of the rebates.

China can then withdraw the rebates without harming their own economy.

The imperfect system may actually work.