Za naraščajočo nepopularnost so si ZDA krive same: Zgodba o ameriškem obratu v protekcionizem

Tri desetletja nazaj so washingtonske institucije (IMF in Svetovna banka) v okviru iniciative ameriškega State departmenta inicirale t.i. Washingtonski konsenz, to je niz priporočil za optimalne  ekonomske politike (od privatizacije, liberalizacije trgovine in investicij do vzdržnih fiskalnih politik). Ena izmed ključnih priporočenih politik je bila prosta trgovina, ki naj bi bi bila optimalna za hitrejši gospodarski razvoj. Tri desetletja kasneje so ZDA oblikovale “nov Washingtonski konsenz“, v katerem ni več prostora za popolnoma prosto trgovino in investicije, pač pa je odkrito protekcionističen in temelji na konceptu “nacionalne varnosti”. Torej ZDA so odstopile od koncepta, ki so ga oblikovale, ki so ga pridigale drugim in ki so ga zahtevale od vseh držav. Kot pravi Edward Luce v Financial Timesu: “včerajšnja ameriška ortodoksija se je sprevrgla v herezijo.

In namesto odprtosti se ZDA zadnje desetletje dejansko zapirajo, in to pospešeno. Uvedle so carine na uvoz, ne podaljšujejo izteklih sporazumov o znižanih carinah za države v razvoju (GSP), niso del regionalnih trgovinskih integracij (nekdanji Trans‐​Pacific Partnership, ki se je po umiku ZDA preoblikoval v Comprehensive and Progressive Trans‐​Pacific Partnership), sprejele so zelo protekcionistične zakone, ki močno subvencionirajo domačo proizvodnjo in spodbujajo povratek podjetij nazaj v ZDA (Chips Act, Inflation Reduction Act) itd. Problem tega ameriškega zapiranja je, da je prizadel vse države, najbolj pa države v razvoju. In te države se obračajo h glavnemu konkurentu ZDA – Kitajski, ki je oblikovala lastne regionalne in bilateralne trgovinske sporazume. Kitajska pospešeno nase navezuje azijske, afriške in latinskoameriške države. V zadnjem desetletju je postala največji trgovinski partner in največji investitor v večini teh držav (glejte slike na koncu članka). Kitajska je zasedla prostor, ki so ga ZDA prostovoljno izpraznile.

In kot je Larry Summers citiral afriškega politika: Od Kitajske dobimo letališče, od ZDA pa pridige”. Toda ZDA so se izkazale ne samo kot povsem neverodostojne v svojih pridigah, pač pa škodljive za razvoj tretjih držav. Kitajska se zanje kaže kot bolj koristna naveza.

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Tukaj je dober povzetek ameriškega zapiranja:

If recent reports are to be believed, it’s tough out there for Team America right now, especially in its ongoing clash (ahem, competition) with China. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers kicked off the worrying a couple weeks ago when he cautioned that, based on his recent discussions with various foreign officials about U.S.-China economic “fragmentation,” many developing countries are choosing to “fragment” with Beijing:

Somebody from a developing country said to me, ‘what we get from China is an airport. What we get from the United States is a lecture,’…. We are on the right side of history—with our commitment to democracy, with our resistance to aggression in Russia… But it’s looking a bit lonely on the right side of history, as those who seem much less on the right side of history are increasingly banding together in a whole range of structures.

Others have voiced similar concerns about waning U.S. popularity abroad, pointing to various events and international meetings at which American diplomats feel sidelined and “powerless.

For the record, conclusions about whether the United States is “popular” (or whatever) abroad—and how important such “popularity” is for U.S. interests—are subjective, fluid, and complex. It’s far more shades of gray than it is black and white or some binary “Team America vs. Team China” choice. Nevertheless, two things about this complicated situation remain undoubtedly true: First, there are some unwelcome signs that large and geographically (if not economically) important developing countries are, if not choosing China over the United States, at least hedging their bets and shrugging off core U.S. geopolitical priorities. And, second, the United States government is foolishly giving them plenty of reasons to do so.

Not So Team America

In just the last few weeks, in fact, there have been several reports of foreign leaders basically telling the U.S. to go pound sand—and usually embracing China in the process:

  • During Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s three‐​day visit to China, he not only signed more than a dozen bilateral accords (worth about $10 billion), but also vowed to work with Chinese President Xi Jinping to “balance world geopolitics” and suggested that the developing countries “come up with an alternative currency to the dollar for use in trade between them.” Then, he “struck a further note of defiance against Washington in another speech given alongside [his “good friend”] Xi, during which Lula noted he had visited the Chinese telecom company Huawei, which is subject to US sanctions.”
  • A few days before Lula’s visit to Beijing, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was there doing much the same thing (albeit more quietly): During his four‐​day stint, “19 agreements were signed to boost investments in green technology, digital economy and modern agriculture.” The meetings also signaled “the importance of China to Kuala Lumpur’s foreign policy framework” and underscored China’s strong economic ties to Malaysia: “China has been Malaysia’s top trading partner for 14 years running and was also the biggest source of foreign direct investment in 2022 at US$12.5 billion (S$16.7 billion), nearly double that of the United States in the second place.”
  • According to James Crabtree, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia, Anwar’s visit is par for the recent course for developing countries in China’s orbit: “Asian nations from Bangladesh and Indonesia to Malaysia and Thailand view China as central to their economic future. Rather than decoupling, they seek more trade with Beijing.” Vietnam, he notes, is also on this list: “Its bilateral trade with China has rocketed in recent years, with similar patterns discernible in the rest of what is sometimes called ‘factory Asia.’”
  • Finally, there’s the Middle East, where OPEC oil producers earlier this month “announced further oil output cuts of around 1.16 million barrels per day, in a surprise move that analysts said would increase prices and that the United States called inadvisable”; where Saudi Arabia and China have explored invoicing oil sales in yuan (in part to avoid the threat of U.S. sanctions); and where Saudi Arabia last month announced a surprise “détente” with Iran (which is still subject to U.S. sanctions) that was hosted by Beijing and “prompted questions about U.S. leadership” in the region.

Despite what the Biden administration and its domestic cheerleaders would have you believe, none of this screams “America is BACK, baby!”

Washington’s Bad Parenting

As the Financial Times’ Alan Beattie smartly notes regarding Lula’s comments, these actions do not mean that Brazil has suddenly “joined a Chinese geopolitical camp and abandoned the US and the EU.” And the same goes for the other countries mentioned above and many others (e.g., in Africa). The United States remains a very attractive market with a lot of great global companies and people, and our government and culture have earned a lot of global goodwill. Team America’s laurels can still support a lot of weight.

But it’s also undeniable that, in terms of both recent and historic policy, the U.S. government isn’t doing itself or its diplomats any favors in the developing world and is in several ways actively antagonizing the very countries it would need in any “Great Power Competition” with China. Combined with the aforementioned U.S. “lectures,” it’s a bad case of “do as I say not as I do” foreign policy—and it’s generating predictable “rebellious teenager” results.

Start with just the recent actions:

Most obviously, the United States has implemented three new industrial policy laws—the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the IRA—that are replete with beggar‐​thy‐​neighbor “Buy American” protectionism that openly encourages multinational corporations to divert their dollars away from foreign markets, especially in Asia, and towards the United States. Beattie helpfully how some of this industrial policy will affect Brazil:

The US and Europe have traditionally been by far the biggest sources of [foreign direct investment] into Brazil, but Biden’s policy in the US in particular is in favour of reshoring, or trading with a small number of trusted trading partners, rather than producing overseas. While GM has a big presence in Brazil, for example, Ford shut down all car production there in 2021 and is concentrating on producing electric vehicles in the US.

And, even when not being outright protectionist, various anti‐​China “friendshoring” initiatives and restrictions—such as the IRA subsidy requirement that EV battery minerals be sourced from “free trade agreement” countries—will likely exclude developing countries like Indonesia (which has a lot of those minerals but also does a lot of business with China).

The United States still imposes bogus “national security” tariffs on steel (25 percent) and aluminum (10 percent) from almost every country in the world, including all the ones mentioned above—many of whom are significant steel producers and have long complained about the taxes. In fact, while certain developed country allies (Japan, the EU, the U.K.) have secured slightly better import terms—“tariff rate quotas” (reduced duties on specified quantities of the metals)—under the Biden administration, developing Brazil and Argentina (and South Korea) are stuck with Trump‐​era hard quotas that are in key respects worse than the tariffs (and especially worse than the TRQs) because they cap import volumes regardless of market conditions.

The United States abandoned the Trans‐​Pacific Partnership (now the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans‐​Pacific Partnership), which already includes Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei and to which Ecuador, Uruguay, Taiwan and (maybe) Thailand are acceding. The Biden administration also has refused to initiate new free trade agreement negotiations or even continue Trump‐​era ones (e.g., with Kenya), choosing instead less‐​ambitious talks that don’t involve Congress—even as developing countries, allies, and U.S. diplomats beg for more ambitious and long‐​lasting economic engagement. Beattie again shows how this affects U.S.-Brazil relations: “The US’s aversion to signing any new trade deals will handicap Brazil’s attempts to mesh with supply networks aimed at the American market — certainly compared with a country like Mexico, which has privileged access through the US‐​Mexico‐​Canada trade pact.”

China, by contrast, has not only concluded its own CPTPP‐​competitor agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, but is also trying to join the CPTPP and is negotiating other FTAs too—maybeeven one with Brazil and other members of the Southern Common Market (aka “Mercosur”).

As noted, the United States still has a lot of things going for it in any great geopolitical showdown (or whatever) with China—including many non‐​economic factors and foreign countries’ strategic self‐​interest in playing both sides of the rivalry. But it’s undeniably true that one of America’s longstanding global advantages has been our economic openness and engagement abroad, and that China’s gravitational pull has increased in recent years—and in key locations. Consider, for example, these recent charts on Africa:

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And this one on many others:

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Some of these trends are unavoidable because of the size of China’s economy and its proximity to various Asia‐​Pacific economies (what we nerds call the “gravity model” of trade). But, as Summers noted in a subsequent interview, the relatively recent and more protectionist shift in U.S. policy still deserves some—if not much—of the blame:

Indeed, as economist Scott Sumner explains, the shift is actually worse when put into broader historical context:

Over the past 4 decades, many if not most of our “lectures” have been US officials arrogantly telling less developed nations (and even developed places) that they needed to follow the “Washington Consensus”. You remember the Washington Consensus, the idea that countries should refrain from protectionism and industrial policies.

Now the US has abandoned the Washington Consensus and decided to go all in with protectionism and industrial policy. And that’s because we supposedly need to do this to keep from falling behind. But weren’t we told that these policies slow economic development.

The United States wasn’t perfect during those four decades of supposed “Washington Consensus,” but it’s recently dialed the hypocrisy up to 11, with both parties seemingly on board with the inevitable (bad) geopolitical results. As the FT’s Edward Luce notes, this new “Washington Consensus” is “as pessimistic as the old one was optimistic” and “less intuitively American than what it replaced.” Will it be as effective as the old consensus, which was—contra the myths—pretty darneffective in plenty of ways? It’s too early to say for sure (though I of course remain skeptical), but the initial returns aren’t promising.

Vir: Scott Lincicome

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