February 23, 2019
A Trade Deal with China will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset, say Andrew Sheng and Xiao
In the ongoing US-China trade talks, considerable progress has been made on several key trade issues, such as intellectual-property rights protection. But to defuse tensions in any sustainable way will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset.
HONG KONG – Trade negotiations between the United States and China are closing in on the March 1 deadline, after which the bilateral tariff war will resume – beginning with an increase from 10% to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese products. While global financial markets are fluctuating wildly, investors seem to assume that too much is at stake for the US and China to fail to reach a deal. Their optimism could prove short-lived.
To be sure, there has been considerable progress on several key issues, such as technology transfer, protection of intellectual-property rights, non-tariff barriers, and implementation mechanisms. But to defuse tensions between the US and China in any sustainable way will require a more comprehensive approach, based on a fundamental shift in mindset.
Over the last 40 years, Sino-US engagement has been largely cooperative, reflecting a holistic approach that takes into account the interests of the entire global system. US President Donald Trump’s administration, however, does not seem to believe that engagement with China (or anyone else for that matter) can benefit both sides. As Trump’s “America First” agenda shows, the US is now playing a zero-sum game – and it is playing to win.
For example, the US has threatened to punish or desert its closest allies unless they increase their defense spending. Under pressure from the Trump administration, South Korea just agreed to increase its contributions to US forces in Korea by 8.2%, to $923 million, in 2019.
Similarly, Trump has repeatedly disparaged fellow NATO members for insufficient defense spending. Most recently, Trump has criticized Germany for spending only 1% of GDP for defense, compared to America’s 4.3%. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by condemning US isolationism at the Munich Security Conference, and calling for the revival of multilateral cooperation.
The Trump administration’s myopic approach is also apparent in its preoccupation with bilateral trade imbalances. Any US deficit with another economy is, from Trump’s perspective, a loss. Given this, if China agrees to cut its bilateral trade deficit with the US, other economies with bilateral surpluses vis-à-vis the US – including close allies, such as the European Union and Japan – may find themselves facing intensifying pressure to do the The weakening of trade that could result in this scenario would compound existing negative pressure on global growth, hurting everyone. A global economic downturn is the last thing the world needs at a time when it is already beset with risks, including a possible no-deal Brexit and populist gains in the European Parliament election in May.
Of course, while Trump does not spare his allies, his primary target remains China. After all, the competition between the US and China extends far beyond trade. Although the US maintains military, technological, financial, and soft-power superiority, China has been steadily catching up, leading to bipartisan support in the US for a more confrontational approach.
Last October, US Vice President Mike Pence bluntly accused China of technology theft, predatory economic expansion, and military aggression. Pence’s stance echoed the fears of the US national security community. As former US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter put it, “Because it is a Communist dictatorship, China is able to bring to bear on US companies and our trading partners a combination of political, military, and economic tools that a government such as ours cannot match. This puts us at an inherent disadvantage.”
And yet America’s tools are hardly useless. The US authorities have mobilized a broad range of domestic and international resources – from law and diplomacy to national security measures – to stop the overseas expansion of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. If Western countries allow Huawei to build their 5G infrastructure, America’s hawks and their allies argue, they will be vulnerable to cyberattacks from China in some future war.
All of this has shaken business and market confidence to the core, wiping out trillions of dollars in market capitalization. And the Trump administration’s apparent insistence that countries choose sides in its dispute with China is further heightening fears. As the rest of the world’s trading countries understand, Trump’s approach will fragment business and reverse the globalization-enabled economies of scale that have fueled growth for decades.
“Ending the Sino-US trade war will require considerable statesmanship on the part of Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But, beyond that, both sides need to recognize that supporting global peace and prosperity requires less ideology and more respect for diversity of political, social, and cultural systems. Failing that, the fault lines will continue to deepen – much as they did in the 1930s – potentially setting the stage for full-blown war”- .
More broadly, the Trump administration’s rejection of multilateralism undermines the global cooperation needed to confront a range of issues, including migration, poverty and inequality, climate change, and the challenges raised by new technologies. Trump’s focus on geopolitical rivalry – and the associated rise in security and defense spending – will dramatically reduce resources available for global public goods, such as infrastructure investment and poverty-reduction programs.
February 16, 2016
EU and ASEAN: Advancing partnership for sustainability
By Francisco Fontan
The EU–ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brussels on 21 January. Cooperation, solidarity and prosperity have long been the hallmark of the EU–ASEAN relationship.
As global stakeholders, the EU and ASEAN have the responsibility to advance the international rules-based order and preserve their ‘global commons’, writes Francisco Fontan.
In January I joined Federica Mogherini ( pic above), the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Brussels as she co-chaired the 22nd EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. It was an impressive occasion, and the best attended such gathering anyone could remember, with almost all the ten ASEANan and twenty-eight EU member states represented by their Foreign Ministers. Brussels was preparing for its first big snowfall of the winter, but the reception we gave our ASEAN partners was a truly warm one.
The debate inside the room reflected the depth and breadth of our relations, from conflict in the Middle East, to the importance of the South China Sea and the Rohingya crisis, to promoting trade, investment, or higher education. Much was said but there was also a unity of purpose – a common desire to strengthen EU–ASEAN cooperation including in new areas such as combating unregulated fishing, or launching a new high level dialogue on environment and climate change, and an agreement in principle to upgrade our relations to a strategic partnership.
As Ms Mogherini said after the meeting, this was “a recognition of the strategic nature of the partnership we already have in many fields. It was an important signal showing that the two most advanced and most successful integration processes in the world stand firmly behind multilateralism and a rules-based global order.”
Or as her fellow co-chair Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore and ASEAN coordinator for EU relations put it “we take our partnership to a greater height, we will continue to explore new areas in which we can cooperate and learn from each other, such as cybersecurity, maritime security, connectivity and climate change.” A close and deep partnership between the EU and ASEAN is thus of strategic importance for both regional blocs.
We are certainly pivotal economic partners already. Our private sector is, by far, the first investor in ASEAN, holding a quarter of total stock in the region, and we are ASEAN’s second largest trading partner. The EU has concluded or is negotiating free trade and investment agreements with a number of Asean members, building blocks for an ambitious region-to-region trade and investment framework.
We are working hard to increase transport links and our overall connectivity. If – as I hope – we soon agree the first ever region-to-region Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, millions of our citizens will benefit and the travel and tourism industry in particular stands to make great gains. We can build on this and establish a comprehensive EU–Asean Connectivity Partnership. While some question globalisation and are retreating into economic nationalism, it is important that ASEAN and the EU together seek to bolster global links, make them work for all and show their true value to our shared prosperity.
And as ASEAN says, we can leave no one behind.
The EU remains the largest donor to ASEAN, helping the organisation and your governments to reduce poverty and spread opportunity, with over 200 million euros ($225 million) in support of ASEAN regional integration and connectivity, on top of over 2 billion euros of bilateral assistance to ASEAN member states, and the direct efforts of our 28 EU member states. We will also continue to stand by you after each major natural disaster, from tsunamis to cyclones, putting victims’ needs above any other consideration.
Cooperation, solidarity and prosperity have long been the hallmarks of our relations. And while they remain so, the rapidly evolving international scene is leading us to focus more on key strategic issues. Our shared ambitions can only realise their full potential in a rules-based, peaceful and stable environment. This is what makes ASEAN so important for the EU in Asia – not just as a community of ten, but being also the core of the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, or the ADMM+ process. And this is where ASEAN and the EU are already rightly expanding their security cooperation – from trafficking in persons to cyber-crime, from maritime security to transnational crime and counter-terrorism.
No one can achieve these goals alone. And thankfully that is something else we agree on – the Foreign Ministers spent more time talking about the environment, climate change and sustainable development than anything else. We agreed to deliver together on our United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
As global stakeholders, the EU and ASEAN have the responsibility to advance the international rules-based order and preserve our “global commons.” I have been immensely privileged, as the EU’s First Ambassador to ASEAN, to have seen our strategic relationship go from strength to strength. I am confident that it has even further to run and that, together, we will play a leading role in developing the global responses needed for the challenges of tomorrow.
Francisco Fontan is European Union Ambassador to ASEAN.
February 14, 2019
Southeast Asian economies may face major economic headwinds this year amid US–China trade tensions and US Federal Reserve interest rate increases. To help weather the impact, ASEAN member states should prioritise progress on regional economic initiatives.
Some observers think that the 90-day truce between Washington and Beijing could beget better relations between the two powers. But they may be overestimating China’s ability to make concessions that fulfil what the Trump administration wants. Buying more American products is easy, but implementing measures to address ‘unfair’ trade practices to a degree that satisfies the United States is more difficult to achieve within 90 days. More rounds of tariff escalations or other trade-restricting measures could be in the offing.
On the financial front, in December 2018 the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates from 2.25 to 2.50 per cent and forecast the possibility of further increases in 2019. The Fed did so to ensure there will be room for it to use monetary policy and decrease interest rates to fight the next US recession.
Additional hikes could trigger capital pull-outs from Southeast Asian countries as investors move funds to seek higher yields in the United States. If not well-managed, such capital outflows may instigate financial instability in the ASEAN region.
Regional economies must brace themselves for future economic and financial turbulence. While they are unlikely to be able to avoid such headwinds, ASEAN member states can nevertheless cushion the impact through regional initiatives: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2025, ASEAN–Hong Kong Free Trade and Investment Agreements (AHKFTA and AHKIA), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM).
Policymakers should prioritise the complete implementation of the AEC 2025. This is a regional economic integration project by the 10 ASEAN member states designed to achieve five objectives: a highly integrated and cohesive economy; a competitive, innovative and dynamic ASEAN; enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; a resilient, inclusive, people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN; and a global ASEAN.
Advancing the AEC 2025 will enable businesses to better tap into the integrated market of over 600 million people, rendering regional economies more resilient to the incoming headwinds.
Southeast Asian governments should also ratify the AHKFTA and AHKIA signed in November 2017 so that these treaties can enter into force in early 2019 as expected. The agreements will enhance cross-border flows of goods, services and investment between ASEAN and Hong Kong.
The agreements will not only allow firms to enjoy greater access to goods and services markets and better investment protection, but also enable ASEAN nations to further tighten trade and investment ties with China. The latter will help Southeast Asian economies to recuperate from any damage that future Washington–Beijing trade spats may inflict on them.
ASEAN authorities should also concentrate on wrapping up RCEP talks. If concluded, this 16-economy free trade bloc will encompass a market of 3.6 billion people that contributes to a third of global GDP. It will cover 29 per cent of global trade and 26 per cent of the world’s foreign direct investment flows.
Concluding the negotiation will create more opportunities for businesses to deepen their supply chains, and provide RCEP economies with another means to diversify their economic relations and cushion against the negative effects of future US–China trade war spats.
Finally, ASEAN nations together with China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN+3) should advance the CMIM, a regional financial safety net under the ASEAN+3 framework. Launched in 2010, the scheme provides financial support through a network of currency swaps to help ASEAN+3 nations weather their balance-of-payments difficulties.
Because future Fed rate hikes could trigger investor panic leading to financial instability and capital flights in certain regional economies, the CMIM can provide financial assistance to alleviate such problems.
Admittedly, the above initiatives face their own challenges. A major hurdle for implementing the AEC 2025 is a lack of coordination among domestic ministries and agencies. Individual ASEAN countries must sort out how to improve coordination among the involved authorities. Certain domestic hurdles must also be cleared for a successful ratification of the ASEAN–Hong Kong treaties.
Planned elections in Australia, India, Indonesia and Thailand in 2019 may delay the conclusion of RCEP negotiations in the first half of 2019. Politicians in these nations will likely prioritise their electioneering over international matters. And if the momentum of RCEP talks picks up in the second-half of the year, the parties’ different positions and preferences will still need to be reconciled to seal the deal.
Regarding the CMIM, while a laudable agreement was signed in December 2018 to create more favourable conditions that will enable the regional financial safety net to better assist in a crisis, efforts to advance other aspects of the CMIM have been lacklustre in recent years.
For one, its size has remained the same at US$240 billion since 2012. With this amount, the scheme can at best provide simultaneous lending support to a few small- and medium-sized economies should they come under a crisis. The participants must push for an expansion of the CMIM’s size.
US–China trade tensions and Fed rate hikes will likely generate undesired effects for Southeast Asian economies this year. Despite the challenges of the above initiatives, ASEAN countries must collectively pursue them to navigate through the coming economic headwinds. Time is running out and policymakers must act fast.
Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit is Deputy Head and Assistant Professor at the Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Trump vs. the Economy
December 30, 2018 by
Between publicly chastising US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and escalating his trade war with China, US President Donald Trump has finally rattled the markets. While investors were happy to look the other way during the first half of Trump’s term, the dangerous spectacle unfolding in the White House can no longer be ignored.
NEW YORK – Financial markets have finally awoken to the fact that Donald Trump is US president. Given that the world has endured two years of reckless tweets and public statements by the world’s most powerful man, the obvious question is, What took so long?
For one thing, until now, investors had bought into the argument that Trump is all bark and no bite. They were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as long as he pursued tax cuts, deregulation, and other policies beneficial to the corporate sector and shareholders. And many trusted that, at the end of the day, the “adults in the room” would restrain Trump and ensure that the administration’s policies didn’t jump the guardrails of orthodoxy.
These assumptions were more or less vindicated during Trump’s first year in office, when economic growth and an expected increase in corporate profits – owing to forthcoming tax cuts and deregulation – resulted in strong stock-market performance. In 2017, US stock indices rose more than 20%.
But things changed radically in 2018, and especially in the last few months. Despite corporate earnings growing by over 20% (thanks to the tax cuts), US equity markets moved sideways for most of the year, and have now taken a sharp turn south. At this point, broad indices are in correction territory (meaning a 10% drop from the recent peak), and indices of tech stocks, such as the Nasdaq, are in bear-market territory (a drop of 20% or more).
Though financial markets’ higher volatility reflects concerns about China, Italy and other eurozone economies, and key emerging economies, most of the recent turmoil is due to Trump. The year started with the enactment of a reckless tax cut that pushed up long-term interest rates and created a sugar high in an economy already close to full employment. As early as February, growing concerns about inflation rising above the US Federal Reserve’s 2% target led to the year’s first risk-off.
Then came Trump’s trade wars with China and other key US trade partners. Market worries about the administration’s protectionist policies have waxed and waned throughout the year, but they are now reaching a new peak. The latest US actions against China seem to augur a broader trade, economic, and geopolitical cold war.
An additional worry is that Trump’s other policies will have stagflationary effects (reduced growth alongside higher inflation). After all, Trump is planning to limit inward foreign direct investment, and has already implemented broad restrictions on immigration, which will reduce labor-supply growth at a time when workforce aging and skills mismatches are already a growing problem.
Moreover, the administration has yet to propose an infrastructure plan to spur private-sector productivity or hasten the transition to a green economy. And on Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has continued to bash corporations for their hiring, production, investment, and pricing practices, singling out tech firms just when they are already facing a wider backlash and increased competition from their Chinese counterparts.
Emerging markets have also been shaken by US policies. Fiscal stimulus and monetary-policy tightening have pushed up short- and long-term interest rates and strengthened the US dollar. As a result, emerging economies have experienced capital flight and rising dollar-denominated debt. Those that rely heavily on exports have suffered the effects of lower commodity prices, and all that trade even indirectly with China have felt the effects of the trade war.
Even Trump’s oil policies have created volatility. After the resumption of US sanctions against Iran pushed up oil prices, the administration’s efforts to carve out exemptions and bully Saudi Arabia into increasing its own production led to a sharp price drop. Though US consumers benefit from lower oil prices, US energy firms’ stock prices do not. Besides, excessive oil-price volatility is bad for producers and consumers alike, because it hinders sensible investment and consumption decisions.
Making matters worse, it is now clear that the benefits of last year’s tax cuts have accrued almost entirely to the corporate sector, rather than to households in the form of higher real (inflation-adjusted) wages. That means household consumption could soon slow down, further undercutting the economy.
More than anything else, though, the sharp fall in US and global equities during the last quarter is a response to Trump’s own utterances and actions. Even worse than the heightened risk of a full-scale trade war with China (despite the recent “truce” agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping) are Trump’s public attacks on the Fed, which began as early as the spring of 2018, when the US economy was growing at more than 4%.
Given these earlier attacks, markets were spooked this month when the Fed correctly decided to hike interest rates while also signaling a more gradual pace of rate increases in 2019. Most likely, the Fed’s relative hawkishness is a reaction to Trump’s threats against it. In the face of hostile presidential tweets, Fed Chair Jerome Powell needed to signal that the central bank remains politically independent.
But then came Trump’s decision to shut down large segments of the federal government over Congress’s refusal to fund his useless Mexican border wall. That sent markets into a near-panic, and the government shutdown was soon followed by reports that Trump wants to fire Powell – a move that could turn a correction into a crash. Just before the Christmas holiday, US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin was forced to issue a public statement to placate the markets. He announced that Trump was not planning to fire Powell after all, and that US banks’ finances are sound, effectively highlighting the question of whether they really are.
Recent changes within the administration that do not necessarily affect economic policy making are also rattling the markets. The impending departure of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will leave the room devoid of adults. The coterie of economic nationalists and foreign-policy hawks who remain will cater to Trump’s every whim.
As matters stand, the risk of a full-scale geopolitical conflagration with China cannot be ruled out. A new cold war would effectively lead to de-globalization, disrupting supply chains everywhere, but particularly in the tech sector, as the recent ZTE and Huawei cases signal. At the same time, Trump seems to be hell-bent on undermining the cohesion of the European Union and NATO at a time when Europe is economically and politically fragile. And Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 election campaign’s ties to Russia hangs like a Sword of Damocles over his presidency.
Trump is now the Dr. Strangelove of financial markets. Like the paranoid madman in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, he is flirting with mutually assured economic destruction. Now that markets see the danger, the risk of a financial crisis and global recession has grown.
Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and CEO of Roubini Macro Associates, was Senior Economist for International Affairs in the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve, and the World Bank.
December 15, 2018
Europe in Disarray
In what by historical standards constitutes an instant, the future of democracy, prosperity, and peace in Europe has become uncertain. And with the US under President Donald Trump treating its allies like enemies, the continent must confront the growing threats it faces largely on its own.
NEW YORK – It was not all that long ago – just a few years, as hard as that it is to believe – that Europe appeared to be the part of the world most closely resembling the end-of-history idyll depicted by Francis Fukuyama at the end of the Cold War. Democracy, prosperity, and peace all seemed firmly entrenched.
Not anymore. Parts of Paris are literally burning. The United Kingdom is consumed and divided by Brexit. Italy is led by an unwieldy left-right coalition that is resisting EU budget rules. Germany is contending with a political realignment and in the early phases of a transition to a new leader. Hungary and Poland have embraced the illiberalism seen across much of the world. Spain is confronting Catalan nationalism. And Russia is committing new acts of aggression against Ukraine.
In what by historical standards constitutes an instant, the future of democracy, prosperity, and peace in Europe has become uncertain. Much of what had been widely assumed to be settled is not. NATO’s rapid demobilization after the Cold War looks premature and precipitous.
There is no single explanation for these developments. What we are seeing in France is populism of the left, the result of people having difficulty making ends meet and rejecting new taxes, whatever the justification for them. This is different from what has fueled the rise of the far right across Europe: cultural defensiveness amid local and global challenges, above all immigration.
The European Union, for its part, has gradually lost its hold on the public imagination. It has been too remote, too bureaucratic, and too elite-driven for too long. Meanwhile, renewed Russian aggression may simply reflect President Vladimir Putin’s judgment that, having realized large political returns on his previous military “investments” in Ukraine and Syria, he had little to fear or lose from further actions.
Europe’s political class deserves its share of responsibility for today’s growing disarray. The EU introduced a common currency without a fiscal or banking union, making it all but impossible to conduct a coherent economic policy. The decision to put the UK’s continued EU membership to a popular vote, while allowing a simple majority to decide the issue and failing to spell out the terms of departure, was misguided.
We should not assume things will get better. It is only a matter of time before France’s far-right National Rally (formerly the National Front) and political parties across Europe figure out how to combine economic and cultural populism and threaten the post-World War II political order. Italy’s hybrid populist government is a version of just that.
The UK will remain torn over its relationship (or lack thereof) with the EU no matter what comes of Brexit; and it is entirely possible that a post-Brexit UK might come under serious strain itself, given renewed calls for Irish unity and Scottish independence. There is no formula for dividing power between Brussels and capitals that would be acceptable to both the EU and national governments. Meanwhile, it is far from certain that Putin is content or done with his aggression against Ukraine or conceivably others.
Moreover, in a world of increasing inequality, violence within and between countries, and climate change, the pressures posed by immigration are more likely to worsen than fade away. And economic dislocation is bound to intensify in a world of global competition and new technologies that will eliminate millions of existing jobs.
Why this matters should be obvious. Europe still represents a quarter of the world’s economy. It is the largest constellation of democratic countries. The last century demonstrated more than once the cost of a breakdown of order on the continent.
Alas, just as there is no single cause that explains Europe’s increasing disarray, there is no single solution either. To be precise, there is no solution of any sort. There is, however, a set of policies that, if adopted, would help leaders manage the challenges.
A comprehensive immigration strategy that balances security, human rights, and economic competitiveness is one such policy. A defense effort that focuses more on how money is spent than on how much is needed would go a considerable way in buttressing Europe’s security. Moreover, deterrence should be strengthened by bolstering NATO and further arming Ukraine. Weaning Europe from Russian natural gas makes sense as well, which implies halting the Nord Stream II pipeline that is meant to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. And additional retraining programs are needed for workers whose jobs will disappear as a result of globalization and automation.
Much of this agenda would benefit from American involvement and support. It would help if the United States stopped viewing the EU as an enemy and NATO allies as free-riders. Europe includes the countries most prepared to work with the US to deter Russian aggression; integrate China into global trade and investment frameworks on terms consistent with Western interests; mitigate and, where necessary, adapt to climate change; and set rules of the road for cyberspace.
Alas, such an approach is unlikely to be forthcoming from Donald Trump any time soon. That leaves Europe with no choice but to confront its disarray mostly on its own.