More stories

  • in

    How the Stimulus Could Power a Rebound in Other Countries

    As Americans buy more, they are expected to spur trade and investment and invigorate demand for German cars, Australian wine, Mexican auto parts and French fashions.Washington’s robust spending in response to the coronavirus crisis is helping to pull the United States out of its sharpest economic slump in decades, funneling trillions of dollars to Americans’ checking accounts and to businesses.Now, the rest of the world is expected to benefit, too.Global forecasters are predicting that the United States and its record-setting stimulus spending could help haul a weakened Europe and struggling developing countries out of their own economic morass, especially when paired with a rapid vaccine rollout that has poised the U.S. economy for a faster recovery.As Americans buy more, they should spur trade and investment and invigorate demand for German cars, Australian wine, Mexican auto parts and French fashions.The anticipated economic rebound in the United States is expected to join China’s recovery, adding impetus to world output. China’s economy is forecast to expand rapidly this year, with the International Monetary Fund predicting 8.1 percent growth. That is good news for countries like Germany, which depends on Chinese demand for cars and machinery.Yet the United States is particularly important to the world economy because it has long spent more than it makes or sells, spreading dollars globally. China is one of the major beneficiaries of Washington’s largess because many Americans have spent their stimulus checks on video game consoles, exercise bicycles or other products made in China.The United States’ comparatively fast recovery was neither guaranteed nor expected: It was the result of a little bit of luck — new variants of the virus that have coursed through other countries have just begun to push infections higher in the United States — and a large policy response, including more than $5 trillion in debt-fueled pandemic relief spending passed into law over the past 12 months. Those trends, paired with the accelerating spread of effective vaccinations, seem likely to leave the American economy in a stronger position.“When the U.S. economy is strong, that strength tends to support global activity as well,” Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said at a recent news conference.A year ago, it was not at all certain that the United States would gain the strength to help lift the global economy.The International Monetary Fund forecast last April that the U.S. economy might expand 4.7 percent this year, roughly in line with forecasts for Europe’s growth, after an expected slump of 5.9 percent in 2020. But the actual contraction in the United States was smaller, and in January, the I.M.F. upgraded the outlook for U.S. growth to 5.1 percent this year, while the euro area’s expected growth was marked down to 4.2 percent.Germany has extended its lockdown to April 18, and there is a good chance restrictions will be extended further.Lena Mucha for The New York TimesSince then, the U.S. government has passed a $1.9 trillion relief package, and the I.M.F. has signaled that the estimates for the country’s growth will be marked up further when it releases fresh forecasts on Tuesday.The recent relief package continues a trend: America has been willing to spend to combat the pandemic’s economic fallout from the start.America’s initial pandemic response spending, amounting to a little less than $3 trillion, was 50 percent larger, as a share of gross domestic product, than what the United Kingdom rolled out, and roughly three times as much as in France, Italy or Spain, based on an analysis by Christina D. Romer at the University of California, Berkeley.Among a set of advanced economies, only New Zealand has borrowed and spent as big a share of its G.D.P. as the United States has, the analysis found.In Europe, where workers in many countries were shielded from job losses and plunging income by government furlough programs, the slow pace of the European Union’s vaccination campaign will probably hurt the economy, said Ludovic Subran, the chief economist of German insurance giant Allianz.On Wednesday, France announced its third national lockdown as infected patients fill its hospitals.Mr. Subran also questioned whether the European Union can distribute stimulus financing fast enough. The money from a 750 billion-euro, or $880 billion, relief program agreed to by European governments in July has been slow to reach the businesses and people who need it because of political squabbling, creaky public administration and a court challenge in Germany.Karen Dynan, a former U.S. Treasury Department chief economist who is now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, estimated that economic output would take at least a year longer to return to prepandemic levels in Europe than it would in the United States.“Fiscal policy has differed across countries in ways that are really shaping the experience they have now,” Ms. Dynan said.Vaccine supplies are limited in many developing economies, including Venezuela.Ariana Cubillos/Associated PressPoorer and smaller countries, facing severely limited vaccine supplies and fewer resources to support government spending, are likely to struggle to stage an economic turnaround even if the U.S. recovery increases demand for their exports. Places including Venezuela, Iraq and Namibia have administered only about 1 vaccine dose per 1,000 people, if that, based on New York Times data. In the United States, the rate is more than 400 doses per 1,000 people.Still, a booming American economy poses some hazard to other nations — and especially emerging markets — as economic fates diverge.Market-based interest rates in the United States are already climbing, as investors, sensing faster growth and quicker inflation around the corner, decide to sell bonds. That could make financing more expensive around the globe: If investors can earn higher rates on U.S. bonds, they are less likely to invest in foreign debt that offers either lower rates or higher risk.If the United States lures capital away from the rest of the world, “the rose-colored view that we are helping everyone is very much in doubt,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance.Philip Lane, chief economist of the European Central Bank and a member of the policymaking Governing Council, said the strength of the U.S. economy was generally good news for Europe. But, in an interview on Monday, he warned that rising market interest rates could be a burden for the eurozone economy.Imported goods at a cold storage port in China.Yao Jianfeng/Xinhua, via Associated Press“We do think it’s net positive for the European economy — positive for G.D.P., positive for inflation,” Mr. Lane said of the economic rebound in the United States. “But that’s based on the assumption that the increase in bond yields is very limited.” He noted that bond yields had so far risen faster than expected.Trans-Atlantic trade should get help from warmer relations between the United States and the European Union. The Biden administration has already moved to defuse trade tensions with Europe, which the Trump administration treated as an adversary. President Biden met online with European leaders last week.The U.S. stimulus packages “will be part of the water that lifts all boats,” said Selina Jackson, senior vice president for global government relations and public policy at Procter & Gamble, during a recent panel discussion organized by the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union. “We are hoping for a calm slide out of this economic situation.”Keith Bradsher More

  • in

    The Agency at the Center of America’s Tech Fight With China

    Washington lawmakers, lobbyists and other parties have been vying to influence how the Bureau of Industry and Security, under the Biden administration, will approach a technology relationship with China.WASHINGTON — As tensions between the United States and China escalate, a little-known federal agency is at the center of a debate in the Biden administration about how tough an approach to take when it comes to protecting American technology.The Bureau of Industry and Security, a division of the Commerce Department, wields significant power given its role in determining the types of technology that companies can export and that foreign businesses can have access to.In recent months, Washington lawmakers, lobbyists and other interested parties have been vying to influence how the agency, under the Biden administration, will approach a technology relationship with China that is both crucial for American industry and national security.China hawks, including a collection of national security experts, congressional Republicans and progressive Democrats, say that in the past, American industry has held too much sway over the bureau. They have been pressing the administration to select a leader for the agency who will take a more aggressive approach to regulating the technology that the United States exports, according to people familiar with the discussions.Their opponents, including some current and former Commerce Department employees, and many in industry and Washington think tanks, caution that putting a hard-liner at the helm could backfire and harm U.S. national security by starving American industry of revenue it needs to stay on the cutting edge of research and encouraging it to relocate offshore.“It’s a very complicated relationship between the economic and national security interest,” said Lindsay Gorman, a fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund. “The fine line the Commerce Department has to walk is protecting against national security risks that may not be top of mind for the industry in the short run, without killing the golden goose.”The bureau’s powers became clear during the Trump administration, which wielded its authority aggressively, though somewhat erratically, using the agency to curb exports of advanced technology goods like semiconductors to the telecommunications company Huawei and other Chinese businesses. It weaponized the bureau’s so-called entity list, adding hundreds of Chinese companies to a list that blocks exports of American products to companies or organizations that pose a national security threat.But many of these regulations were enacted haphazardly and often did less to restrict Chinese access to American technology than the Trump administration intended. And at times, President Donald J. Trump offered Chinese companies concessions from these punishments to try to advance a trade deal with China, including offering a reprieve for the Chinese telecom company ZTE and licenses so companies could continue supplying goods to Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation.The Biden administration is still carrying out a review of its China policies and has not indicated how it plans to use the bureau’s powers. Its initial engagement with China got off to an acrimonious start last week at a meeting in Anchorage, and President Biden, in his first news conference on Thursday, emphasized investing heavily in new technologies to compete with Beijing.“The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology, quantum computing, a whole range of things, including in medical fields,” Mr. Biden said.“I see stiff competition with China,” he added. “They have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States are going to continue to grow and expand.”Last week, the Commerce Department said it had issued subpoenas to multiple Chinese technology companies asking them to provide more information on their activities, potentially presaging tighter restrictions on their use and transfer of American data.U.S. officials will soon need to make difficult choices about specific policy actions. That includes how to use the Commerce Department’s powers, including whether to block more exports of American technology, whether to keep or scrap Mr. Trump’s tariffs on foreign metals, and how to set the standards for national security reviews of foreign investments.The complication stems from China’s position as both the largest export market for many multinational companies, and America’s biggest acknowledged security threat.China’s authoritarian leaders have proposed plans to expand their market share in emerging industries like semiconductors, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, while easing the country’s dependence on foreign energy and technology. And as Beijing’s economic influence and technological capacities grow, so will its military and geopolitical influence.“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system — all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said this month in his first major address, in which he called the U.S. relationship with China “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”The Commerce Department is responsible for promoting the interests of American business and has always had a close relationship with industry. But as the China tech competition has intensified, the department has taken on a larger role in regulating company activity, as well. In 2018, Congress updated its laws governing export controls, giving the Bureau of Industry and Security more power to determine what kind of emerging technologies cannot be shared with China and other geopolitical rivals.A semiconductor factory in Nantong, China. The country accounts for about one-third of the industry’s revenue.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBut critics say the bureau has given companies and industry groups too much influence over its regulatory process and failed to adopt to the new realities of global competition.“The industry viewpoint has been the commerce viewpoint since the fall of the Soviet Union, and they’re not able to make the adjustment that the world has changed,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who advocates stronger export restrictions.“The industry capture is not, in my view, industry saying, ‘Hey, meet me at the Jefferson Memorial and I have a suitcase of money for you.’ It’s that these guys have been trained for 30 years to think that exports are good for America and that’s that,” Mr. Scissors said. “So surprise, they don’t want tighter export controls.”But distancing the bureau from industry may have repercussions, too. Critics say that without the guidance of industry on complex technological issues, regulations can easily backfire, harming the American economy while doing little to combat security threats from China. And any policy that hamstrings innovation could in turn hold back the American military, which acquires most of its technology from the private sector.John Neuffer, the chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, said that China accounted for about one-third of his industry’s revenue, and that it would be “disastrous” for semiconductor companies to not have access to such a huge and growing market.“When you start cutting off capital profits that can flow into R&D, many of them coming from the huge Chinese market, you really undermine our ability to stay at the tip of the spear in terms of semiconductor innovation,” Mr. Neuffer said.“The sense of urgency in recent years inclined our leadership to make decisions without reference to what industry thought,” said Daniel H. Rosen, a founding partner of Rhodium Group. “We’re not going to serve the American interests if we don’t consider commercial interests and national security interests at the same time.”The Biden administration has already run into the political minefield surrounding the bureau. In her confirmation hearing in January, Gina Raimondo, the new secretary of commerce, attracted criticism from Republicans when she declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the bureau’s entity list. Ms. Raimondo later said that she would use the entity list “to its full effect,” and that Huawei and ZTE should be on the list.With Ms. Raimondo sworn in to her post this month, the Biden administration is considering candidates to lead the Bureau of Industry and Security. It has become a contentious process, a kind of proxy battle among trade advisers, industry groups and lawmakers of both parties for the future of the United States’ tech strategy.One early contender, Kevin Wolf, a partner in the international trade group at the law firm Akin Gump, has run into resistance from some China hawks in Washington over his industry ties. Mr. Wolf, who was previously assistant secretary at the bureau, issued the sanctions against ZTE. He has consistently argued that restrictions that are unclear and unpredictable can backfire, “harming the very interests they were designed to protect.”But critics have found fault with his work on behalf of industry since leaving the government, including counseling clients on what is permitted under Mr. Trump’s regulations, and trying to obtain licenses for his clients to supply products to Huawei and S.M.I.C.Mr. Wolf said that he had merely helped companies understand the new rules, as other export control lawyers do, and that it was the Trump administration that was responsible for creating a new process to grant companies licenses to supply products to listed entities. Some who believe the Bureau of Industry and Security requires a more fundamental transformation have instead pushed for James Mulvenon, an expert on the Chinese military at research firm Defense Group, who has publicly called for refocusing the bureau’s mandate to place national security interests before those “of Silicon Valley, Wall Street and other multinationals.”The administration may also be considering less prominent candidates for the bureau’s three Senate-confirmed posts, like Brian Nillson, a former employee of the Bureau of Industry and Security and the State Department, or export control lawyers like Douglas Jacobson and Greta Lichtenbaum, people familiar with the deliberations say.Whoever leads the bureau, officials at the National Security Council are likely to play a guiding role, according to people familiar with the deliberations. More

  • in

    In Washington, ‘Free Trade’ Is No Longer Gospel

    Like its predecessor, the Biden administration has largely dispensed with the idea of free trade as a goal in and of itself.WASHINGTON — For decades, the principle of “free trade” inspired a kind of religious reverence among most American politicians. Lawmakers, diplomats and presidents justified their policies through the pursuit of freer trade, which, like the spread of democracy and market capitalism, was presumed to be a universal and worthy goal.But as the Biden administration establishes itself in Washington, that longstanding gospel is no longer the prevailing view.Political parties on both the right and left have shifted away from the conventional view that the primary goal of trade policy should be speeding flows of goods and services to lift economic growth. Instead, more politicians have zeroed in on the downsides of past trade deals, which greatly benefited some American workers but stripped others of their jobs.President Donald J. Trump embraced this rethinking on trade by threatening to scrap old deals that he said had sent jobs overseas and renegotiate new ones. His signature pacts, including with Canada, Mexico and China, ended up raising some barriers to trade rather than lowering them, including leaving hefty tariffs in place on Chinese products and more restrictions on auto imports into North America.The Biden administration appears poised to adopt a similar approach, with top officials like Katherine Tai, Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Office of the United States Trade Representative, promising to focus more on ensuring that trade deals protect the rights and interests of American workers, rather than exporters or consumers.The Senate is expected to vote on Ms. Tai’s nomination on Wednesday, and supporters say she will be easily confirmed.Mr. Biden and his advisers have promised to review the impact that past trade policies have had on economic and racial inequality, and put negotiating new trade deals on the back burner while they focus on improving the domestic economy. And they have not yet made any moves to scale back Mr. Trump’s hefty tariffs on foreign products, saying that they are reviewing them, but that tariffs are a legitimate trade policy tool.In her hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 25, Ms. Tai emphasized that she would help usher in a break with past policies that would “pit one of our segments of our workers and our economy against another.”While Ms. Tai reassured senators that she would work with them to promote exports from their districts, she called for a policy that would focus more on how trade affects Americans as workers and wage earners.When asked by Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican of Pennsylvania and a noted free trader, whether the goal of a trade agreement between two modern, developed economies should be the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers, Ms. Tai declined to agree, saying she would want to consider such agreements on a case-by-case basis.“Maybe if you’d asked me this question five or 10 years ago, I would have been inclined to say yes,” Ms. Tai responded. But after the events of the past few years — including the pandemic, the Trump administration’s trade wars and a failed effort by the Obama administration to negotiate a Pacific trade deal — “I think that our trade policies need to be nuanced, and need to take into account all the lessons that we have learned, many of them very painful, from our most recent history,” she said.Katherine Tai, the Biden administration’s nominee for trade representative, promised a break with past policies that had “pit one of our segments of our workers and our economy against another.”Pool photo by Bill O’LearyIn his first major foreign policy speech on March 3, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also said that the calculus on free trade had changed.“Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains,” he said. “But we didn’t do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain.”“Our approach now will be different,” Mr. Blinken said.Clyde Prestowitz, a U.S. negotiator in the Reagan administration, called the administration’s statements on trade “a revolution.” While Robert E. Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s trade representative, also parted with the conventional wisdom on trade, he was seen as an exception, a former steel industry lawyer steeped in protectionism, said Mr. Prestowitz.“Now here is Ms. Tai, with a mostly government official career behind her, talking without making any of the formerly necessary gestures toward the sanctity and multitudinous bounties of free trade,” Mr. Prestowitz said. “The conventional wisdom on trade no longer has an iron grip on policymakers and thinkers.”Like Ms. Tai and Mr. Lighthizer, many past presidents and trade officials emphasized fair trade and the idea of holding foreign countries accountable for breaking trade rules. But many also paid homage to the conventional wisdom that free trade itself was a worthy goal because it could help lift the economic fortunes of all countries and enhance global stability by linking economies.That idea reached the height of its popularity under the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, where the United States negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, led the talks that gave the World Trade Organization its modern format, granted China permanent normal trading relations, and sealed a series of trade agreements with countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.President Barack Obama initially put less emphasis on free trade deals, instead focusing on the financial crisis and the Affordable Care Act. But in his second term, his administration pushed to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which came under criticism from progressive Democrats for exposing American workers to foreign competition. The deal never won sufficient support in Congress.For Democrats, the downfall of that deal was a turning point, propelling them toward their new consensus on trade. Some, like Dani Rodrik, a professor of political economy at Harvard, argue that recent trade deals have largely not been about cutting tariffs or trade barriers at all, and instead were focused on locking in advantages for pharmaceutical companies and international banks.David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that economic theory had never claimed that trade makes everybody better off — it had said that trade would raise overall economic output, but lead to gains and losses for different groups.But economists and politicians alike underestimated how jarring some of those losses could be. Mr. Autor’s influential research shows that expanded trade with China led to the loss of 2.4 million American jobs between 1999 and 2011. China’s growing dominance of a variety of global industries, often accomplished through hefty government subsidies, also weakened the argument that the United States could succeed through free markets alone.Today, “people are much more sensitive to the idea that trade can have very, very disruptive effects,” Mr. Autor said. “There’s no amount of everyday low prices at Walmart that is going to make up for unemployment.”But Mr. Autor said that while the old consensus was “simplistic and harmful,” turning away from the ideal of free trade held dangers too. “Once you open this terrain, lots of terrible policies and expensive subsidies can all march in under the banner of the protection of the American worker,” he said.Some have argued that the approach could forgo important economic gains.William Reinsch, the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that Americans had come to understand that the argument that “a rising tide would lift all boats” is not always correct.“A rising tide does not lift all boats; it only lifts some boats, and for a long time, workers’ boats have been stuck in the muck while the owners’ yachts flow free,” he wrote. However, Mr. Reinsch added, “no tide lifts no boats. In economic terms, if we forgo the expansion of trade, we do not get the benefits trade provides, and there is nothing to distribute.”Workers making iron bars in a steel factory in China last month.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt remains to be seen how much the Biden administration will adhere to the Trump administration’s more protectionist policies — like keeping the tariffs on foreign metals and products from China.While the Biden administration has tried to distance its trade policy from that of the previous administration, many former Trump administration officials say the direction appears remarkably similar.In an interview in January, Mr. Lighthizer said that the Trump administration had reoriented trade policy away from the interests of multinational businesses and the Chamber of Commerce and toward working-class people and manufacturing, goals that Democrats also support. He said the Biden administration would try to make trade policy look like their own, but ultimately “stay pretty close.”“The goal is creating communities and families of working people, rather than promoting corporate profits,” Mr. Lighthizer said. “I think the outlines of what we’ve done will stay. They will try to Biden-ize it, make it their own, which they should do, but I’d be surprised if they back away from the great outline of what we’ve done and how we’ve changed the policy.”Ms. Tai has acknowledged some similarities between the Biden and Trump administration’s goals, but emphasized the difference in their tactics.In her confirmation hearing, she said that she shared the Trump administration’s goal of bringing supply chains back to America, but that the prior administration’s policies had created “a lot of disruption and consternation.”“I’d want to accomplish similar goals in a more effective, process-driven manner,” she said. More

  • in

    U.S. and Europe Will Suspend Tariffs on Alcohol, Food and Airplanes

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyU.S. and Europe Will Suspend Tariffs on Alcohol, Food and AirplanesThe governments agreed to temporarily halt levies on billions of dollars of products as they search for a settlement to a long-running clash over subsidies given to Airbus and Boeing.The dispute over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing started almost two decades ago.Credit…Ulrich Lebeuf for The New York TimesMarch 5, 2021Updated 5:09 p.m. ETThe United States and European Union agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs levied on billions of dollars of each others’ aircraft, wine, food and other products as both sides try to find a negotiated settlement to a long-running dispute over the two leading airplane manufacturers.President Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, agreed in a phone call on Friday to suspend all tariffs imposed in the dispute over subsidies given to Boeing and Airbus for “an initial period of four months,” Ms. von der Leyen said in a statement.“This is excellent news for businesses and industries on both sides of the Atlantic and a very positive signal for our economic cooperation in the years to come,” she said.In a statement, the White House said Mr. Biden had “underscored his support for the European Union and his commitment to repair and revitalize the U.S.-E.U. partnership.”The World Trade Organization had authorized both the United States and Europe to impose tariffs on each other as part of two parallel disputes, which began almost two decades ago, over subsidies the governments have given to Airbus and Boeing. The E.U. had imposed tariffs on roughly $4 billion of American products, while the United States levied tariffs on $7.5 billion of European goods.The aircraft dispute is an early test of the Biden administration’s ability to rebuild America’s relationship with Europe, which U.S. officials see as crucial for accomplishing other trade and foreign policy goals.Former President Donald J. Trump took a more adversarial and aggressive stance toward the bloc. He accused it of cheating the United States on trade and imposed tariffs on European metals, aircraft and other products. He also threatened further tariffs against European automakers.The Biden administration has said it would restore ties with the E.U., formerly a close ally, as it seeks to form coalitions to take on bigger global problems, like China’s unfair trade practices. And it has committed to pressing Europe for a settlement on the aircraft dispute, as well as other continuing trade spats over metals, digital service taxes and other issues.“Finally, we are emerging from the trade war between the United States and Europe, which created only losers,” Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said on Twitter. He added that a burden would be lifted for French winegrowers, whose sales have been pummeled by steep retaliatory tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on imports to the United States.In a joint statement with the European Union, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said the suspension would take effect “as soon as the internal procedures on both sides are completed” and that the agreement signaled “the determination of both sides to embark on a fresh start in the relationship.”The statement said both sides were committed to reaching a comprehensive solution to the disputes, which would include rules on future aircraft subsidies, monitoring and enforcement, and efforts to address “the trade distortive practices of and challenges posed by new entrants to the sector from nonmarket economies, such as China.”The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade group representing the liquor industry, called the decision a “a promising breakthrough in the longstanding trade dispute on civil aircraft subsidies, which has left much destruction to the spirits sector in its wake.”The deal would suspend a 25 percent tariff imposed by Europe on American rum, brandy and vodka, as well as a 25 percent tariff the United States imposed on liqueurs and cordials from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain, and Cognacs and other grape brandies from France and Germany. On Thursday, the United States said it would temporarily suspend tariffs levied against the United Kingdom, including on Scotch whisky, as part of the dispute for a period of four months.Monika Pronczuk More

  • in

    How Can Biden Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs? Weaken the Dollar

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsRevere Copper Products in Rome, N.Y., once had two plants and nearly 600 workers. Today the company employs about 300 and operates only one plant.Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York TimesHow Can Biden Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs? Weaken the DollarCritics of a strong currency say it hurts American factory workers by making imports cheap.Revere Copper Products in Rome, N.Y., once had two plants and nearly 600 workers. Today the company employs about 300 and operates only one plant.Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyMarch 1, 2021, 10:47 a.m. ETPresident Biden has made reviving American manufacturing a top priority. To deliver, he may first have to deal with something even more fundamental to the U.S. economy: the strength of the dollar.Because a strong dollar lowers the price of imports and raises the price of exports, it gives foreign companies an advantage over American competitors and can drag down U.S. employment.“Dollar overvaluation is the big problem,” said Mike Stumo, chief executive of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, which represents small and midsize manufacturers and farmers. Mr. Stumo describes policies that prop up the dollar as a “war on the working class.”Few recent presidents have devoted much attention to this issue. Donald J. Trump fulminated against the decline of U.S. manufacturing and occasionally mused about weakening the dollar, but focused his policies more on tariffs than on currency.But Mr. Biden has hired a handful of senior economic advisers who are concerned about the dollar’s strength and have explored ways to reduce it.“There are a lot of folks who want to try some new things in there,” said Mr. Stumo, whose group presented ideas for weakening the dollar to three of Mr. Biden’s agency transition teams.The dollar’s strength over much of the past few decades has bloated the U.S. trade deficit, which roughly tripled as a share of gross domestic product in the late 1990s and has remained high.At its simplest level, the trade deficit represents a kind of leakage from the U.S. economy: Americans buy more in goods and services from abroad than the rest of the world buys from the United States, and the country takes on foreign debt to pay for the difference. If Americans bought more domestically made products and fewer imports, the spending would create jobs for U.S.-based workers and require less debt.Traditionally, most economists have nonetheless taken a blasé posture toward trade deficits, arguing that they reflect underlying economic fundamentals — namely, a country’s appetite to consume or invest rather than save.A country with a young population may run a large trade deficit because young workers tend to consume more than older workers, who are focused on saving for retirement. An economy growing unusually quickly can also run a larger-than-usual trade deficit, as spending spikes for goods like cars and phones.The problem for the United States is that its trade deficit appears to be far larger than demographics and other fundamentals would predict. According to an analysis by the International Monetary Fund, a reasonable current account deficit, a somewhat broader measure of the trade deficit, would have been about 0.7 percent of the $21 trillion U.S. economy in 2019. The actual deficit, adjusted for short-term factors like the strength of the economy, was about 2 percent of gross domestic product — larger by hundreds of billions of dollars.This divergence between economic models and the actual trade deficit partly reflects the dollar’s strength relative to other currencies. In some cases, other countries have suppressed their currencies’ value to make their goods cheaper for Americans.China was the world’s leading currency manipulator during roughly the first decade of the 2000s, according to a paper by Joseph E. Gagnon, a former Federal Reserve Board economist now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and C. Fred Bergsten, the institute’s founding director. The paper estimated that currency manipulation cost the United States one million to five million jobs in 2011. Manufacturing jobs tend to be hit particularly hard by the strong dollar because manufactured goods are easy to import.Over the past several years, medium-size economies like Switzerland, Taiwan and Thailand have been most active in holding down their currencies, Dr. Gagnon found in a more recent study. Collectively, currency interventions by such countries have been more than half the size of China’s earlier interventions, he notes.But the dollar can appreciate even without currency interventions — for example, if foreign investors increase their appetite for American bonds, which require dollars to buy, as they have in recent years.The former Rome Cable complex in Rome. President Biden has made reviving American manufacturing a top priority.Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York TimesDr. Gagnon estimates that as a result of these forces, the dollar was 10 to 20 percent above its expected value in 2019, probably costing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.Revere Copper Products in Rome, N.Y., which makes copper strip used in automobiles and air-conditioners, has suffered from these changes. In 2000, Revere had two plants and nearly 600 workers. Today the company, founded in 1801 by that Revere, employs about 300 and operates only one plant.The strong dollar has made it difficult for the company’s customers to compete with imports, said its chairman, Brian O’Shaughnessy. In the 1990s, for example, Revere supplied several American door-lock makers with copper or brass. Today, Mr. O’Shaughnessy said, most of the lock makers have shifted production abroad, undercut by imports made cheaper by the strong dollar.“The industry moved offshore,” he said. “It was currency. It overwhelms everything else.”The U.S. government could reverse these trends using one of two approaches. It could essentially fight fire with fire — buying enough foreign currency to lower the value of the dollar by 10 to 20 percent and restoring the equilibrium that would exist without foreigners’ excessive dollar-buying. Or it could tax foreign purchases of U.S. assets, like stocks and bonds, an approach prescribed in a bill sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican.A tax would make these investments less attractive to foreigners and therefore reduce their need for dollars. It would also raise revenue for the government.But a tax would ignite opposition from financial firms, which would see it as driving away customers, and could raise interest rates by reducing the supply of potential lenders to the U.S. government. (John R. Hansen, a former World Bank economist who has designed such a proposal, said the rate increases were not likely to be significant.)To date, a major obstacle to action on currency and the trade deficit has been resistance from senior economic policymakers in the U.S. government. Mr. Stumo said his group’s efforts to persuade the Obama administration of the dangers of an overvalued dollar and a large trade deficit were “the opposite of fruitful.”Dr. Gagnon said that institutionally, the Fed and the Treasury Department tended to oppose adjusting the value of the dollar, both on philosophical grounds — economists there believe that markets should set exchange rates — and on practical ones. Doing so could require complicated judgments about when a foreign country’s efforts to influence the dollar should trigger an intervention, while the Treasury is likely to resist anything that makes U.S. government debt harder to sell, like a tax on purchases of debt by foreigners.Menzie Chinn, an economist at the University of Wisconsin, said foreign investors could find ways around paying the tax, as they have to some extent in similar instances abroad.Brian O’Shaughnessy, the chairman of Revere Copper Products, said the strong dollar had made it difficult for his customers to compete with imports.Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York TimesEven experts, like Dr. Bergsten, who acknowledge that the dollar is overvalued and results in job losses for manufacturing workers are reluctant to call for aggressive action. Some argue that the trade deficit is helping sustain economies abroad during a delicate moment for the global economy.“It would essentially be an act of economic war to aggressively intervene to push the dollar down against the euro, the yen, the Canadian dollar,” Dr. Bergsten said. “Those countries are doing worse than we are.”But the political landscape has shifted in recent years, as reflected in Mr. Trump’s rise, and momentum for reining in the dollar and the trade deficit may be building. Though Mr. Trump’s tariffs on products like steel and aluminum were ineffective on this front — tariffs tend to increase the dollar’s value, leading to more imports of other goods — the Trump administration gave the Commerce Department new authority to penalize countries that had weakened their currencies.It used that authority for the first time in November to impose tariffs on Vietnamese tires, after the A.F.L.-C.I.O. submitted a petition saying Vietnam had used its currency as an unfair subsidy to producers.Mr. Biden’s team may be picking up the baton. One of his top economic advisers, Jared Bernstein, has long expressed concern about the overvaluation of the dollar. A second, Bharat Ramamurti, oversaw economic policy for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, which proposed “more actively managing our currency value to promote exports and domestic manufacturing.” And the Biden administration hired Brad W. Setser, a skeptic of the strong dollar, as a counselor to its trade representative.These aides may face resistance from Biden advisers with more orthodox views. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said at her confirmation hearing in January that the dollar’s value “should be determined by markets” and that “the United States does not seek a weaker currency to gain competitive advantage.”But some former Treasury officials interpreted this as a more nuanced position than that of other recent secretaries, who have explicitly supported a strong dollar.“Secretary Yellen speaks for the administration on the dollar, and her approach fully reflects the president’s focus on fostering strong and equitable economic growth,” a White House spokeswoman said.Those who have discussed the dollar and the trade deficit with Mr. Biden’s advisers have gotten the impression that many see it as a problem and are willing to press for action internally.“I think they are probably having that conversation,” Mr. Stumo said. “Who comes out on top — we’ll see.”Ana Swanson More

  • in

    Biden’s Pick for Trade Representative Promises Break With Past Policy

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyBiden’s Pick for Trade Representative Promises Break With Past PolicyKatherine Tai, the nominee to be America’s chief trade negotiator, declined to give policy specifics on tariffs and trade agreements, but laid out a broad vision of a more equitable trade policy.Katherine Tai, center, President Biden’s nominee for trade representative, with her mother on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Credit…Pool photo by Tasos KatopodisFeb. 25, 2021Updated 5:22 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — Katherine Tai, President Biden’s pick for United States trade representative, promised lawmakers during her confirmation hearing on Thursday that she would work with Congress to help reinvigorate the economy and aggressively enforce American trade rules against China, Mexico and other trading partners.Ms. Tai, in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, said her background challenging China’s unfair trade practices in the Obama administration had given her knowledge of “the opportunities and limitations in our existing toolbox.” She promised to work with allies and enforce the terms of the trade deal that President Donald J. Trump signed with Beijing last year, while working to develop a more “strategic and coherent plan” for competing with China’s state-directed economy.As trade representative, Ms. Tai would work toward several of the Biden administration’s key goals, including helping to restore American alliances abroad and reforming and enforcing American trade rules to help alleviate inequality and mitigate climate change.In her testimony Thursday morning, Ms. Tai promised to ensure that trading partners adhered to new trade rules, including the agreement that Mr. Trump signed with China last year and new measures included in the revised North American trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.She declined to give many specifics on the trade policies the Biden administration would pursue, saying instead she would review existing tariffs and trade negotiations. But she laid out a philosophy on trade that would support broader, more equitable growth and “recognize that people are workers and wage earners, not just consumers,” which she said would be a significant departure from the past.Mr. Biden and other Democrats have complained that the trade policies of previous presidents were often driven by the interests of corporations and lobbyists, and ended up surrendering the interests of lower-wage workers for the benefit of certain businesses and exporters.Trade policy for the past several decades had often fallen “into a pattern where one sector of our economy and one segment of our workers feel like their livelihoods and their opportunities are sacrificed to another part of our economy,” Ms. Tai said.She said the administration would try “to break out of that pattern, so that what we are doing in trade is coordinated with what we are doing in other areas, but also not forcing us to pit one of our segments of our workers and our economy against another.”Asked about the tariffs that Mr. Trump had placed on foreign metals, Ms. Tai said that tariffs were “a legitimate tool in the trade toolbox,” but that the global steel and aluminum industries faced larger problems with overcapacity that might require other policy solutions. She also said that she was aware of “the many concerns” that had arisen with the process of companies applying for exclusions from the tariffs, and said that reviewing that system with an eye to transparency, predictability and due process would be “very high on my radar.”Ms. Tai most recently worked as the chief trade counsel of the House Ways and Means Committee, where she helped to hammer out reforms that ultimately brought Democrats on board with U.S.M.C.A., which was negotiated by Mr. Trump. Before that, she served in the trade representative’s general counsel office, where she brought several successful cases against China’s trade practices at the World Trade Organization.If confirmed, Ms. Tai would be the first woman of color and first Asian-American to serve in the position.Ms. Tai also said that she wanted take a role in a new Biden administration effort to strengthen critical supply chains, saying that past trade policy had focused on efficiency rather than resilience, and needed to be rethought. She said that she shared the Trump administration’s goal of bringing supply chains back to America, but that the prior administration’s policies had created “a lot of disruption and consternation,” adding, “I’d want to accomplish similar goals in a more effective, process-driven manner.”She pledged to re-engage the United States at the World Trade Organization, which the Trump administration largely bypassed or ignored, but acknowledged that the global trade group faced big challenges to its effectiveness.The United States can’t afford not to be a leader in the organization, she said, but “the W.T.O. does need reform.”Ms. Tai also expressed interest in resolving a long-running trade dispute between the European Union and the United States at the World Trade Organization over subsidies given to the plane makers Boeing and Airbus, which has resulted in a volley of tariffs.“If confirmed, I would very much be interested in figuring out — pardon the pun — how to land this particular plane,” Ms. Tai said.Senators of both parties were mostly complimentary of Ms. Tai’s experience and trade knowledge, though several Republican senators expressed concerns about her failure to commit to free trade in principle, and to pledge to aggressively drive forward new trade negotiations.Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, praised Ms. Tai’s extensive experience in trade, but raised concerns about Mr. Biden’s pledges to address domestic priorities first before signing any new trade deals.“Our businesses and workers are ready to sell American to all foreign customers right now,” Mr. Crapo said. “Our businesses need that access more than ever because other countries are not standing still.”Ms. Tai said she planned to review the trade negotiations with Britain, saying that the country’s departure from Europe, the coronavirus pandemic and other developments since negotiations started in 2018 demanded new consideration.Asked about rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multicountry trade deal negotiated by President Obama that Mr. Trump withdrew from, Ms. Tai said that she would work with like-minded countries in the Asia-Pacific on the issue of China, but stopped short of calling for rejoining the T.P.P.The “basic formula for the T.P.P.,” of the United States engaging with countries with shared strategic and economic interests with the challenge of China in mind “is still a sound formulation,” she said.“I think what I would add is a lot has changed in the world in the past five or six years, and a lot has changed in terms of our own awareness of some of the pitfalls of the trade policies that we’ve pursued as we’ve pursued them over the most recent years.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Amid Shortfalls, Biden Signs Executive Order to Bolster Critical Supply Chains

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyAmid Shortfalls, Biden Signs Executive Order to Bolster Critical Supply ChainsThe order is intended to help insulate the economy from future shortages of critical imported components by making the United States less reliant on foreign supplies.President Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order requiring his administration to review critical supply chains with the aim of bolstering American manufacturing.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesJim Tankersley and Feb. 24, 2021Updated 7:28 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — Automakers have been forced to halt production because of a lack of computer chips. Health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic had to make do without masks as the United States waited on supplies from China. And pharmaceutical executives worried that supplies of critical drugs could dry up if countries tried to stockpile key ingredients and block exports.Deep disruptions in the global movement of critical goods during the pandemic prompted President Biden on Wednesday to take steps toward reducing the country’s dependence on foreign materials. He issued an executive order requiring his administration to review critical supply chains with the aim of bolstering American manufacturing of semiconductors, pharmaceuticals and other cutting-edge technologies.In remarks at the White House, the president cast the move as an important step toward creating well-paying jobs and making the economy more resilient in the face of geopolitical threats, pandemics and climate change.“This is about making sure the United States can meet every challenge we face in the new era,” he said.But the effort, which has bipartisan support, will do little to immediately resolve global shortages, including in semiconductors — a key component in cars and electronic devices. A lack of those components has forced several major American auto plants to close or scale back production and sent the administration scrambling to appeal to allies like Taiwan for emergency supplies.Administration officials said the order would not offer a quick fix but would start an effort to insulate the American economy from future shortages of critical imported components.Mr. Biden discussed the issue in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon with nearly a dozen Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, called for the crafting and passage of a bill this spring to address supply chain vulnerabilities.“Right now, semiconductor manufacturing is a dangerous weak spot in our economy and in our national security,” Mr. Schumer said. “Our auto industry is facing significant chip shortages. This is a technology the United States created; we ought to be leading the world in it. The same goes for building-out of 5G, the next generation telecommunications network. There is bipartisan interest on both these issues.”Republicans emerged from the White House meeting optimistic that such efforts could soon move forward. Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, said he was pleased to see that the White House made the issue a top priority and that the president was receptive. “His words were, ‘Look, I’m all in,’” he said.Mr. McCaul said that much of the conversation revolved around legislation that Congress had passed last year to incentivize the chips industry — but which still needs funding for research grants and a refundable investment tax credit — as well as the current chips shortage and possible looming job losses in the auto industry.“China is looking at investing $1 trillion in their digital economy,” Mr. McCaul said. “If we’re going to be competitive, we have to incentivize these companies to manufacture these advanced chips in the United States.”Mr. Biden called the meeting one of the best of his presidency so far. “It was like the old days,” he said. “People were actually on the same page.”A global semiconductor shortage has led to production delays for American automakers.Credit…Mohamed Sadek for The New York TimesThe president ordered yearlong reviews of six sectors and a 100-day review of four classes of products where American manufacturers rely on imports: semiconductors, high-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals and their active ingredients, and critical minerals and strategic materials, like rare earths.The Coronavirus Outbreak More