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  • Author: Chad P. Bown
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The Trump administration changed US trade policy toward China in ways that will take years for researchers to sort out. This paper makes four specific contributions to that research agenda. First, it carefully marks the timing, definitions, and scale of the products subject to the tariff changes affecting US-China trade from January 20, 2017 through January 20, 2021. One result is that each country increased its average duty on imports from the other to rates of roughly 20 percent, with the new tariffs and counter-tariffs covering more than 50 percent of bilateral trade. Second, the paper highlights two additional channels through which bilateral tariffs changed during this period: product exclusions from tariffs and trade remedy policies of antidumping and countervailing duties. These two channels have received less research attention. Third, it explores why China fell more than 40 percent short of meeting the goods purchase commitments set out for 2020, the first year of the phase one agreement. Finally, the paper considers additional trade policy actions—involving forced labor, export controls for reasons of national security or human rights, and reclassification of trade with Hong Kong—likely to affect US-China trade beyond the Trump administration.
  • Topic: Education, Trade Wars, Trade Policy, Protectionism
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Anna Gelpern, Sebastian Horn, Scott Morris, Brad Parks, Christoph Trebesch
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: China is the world’s largest official creditor, but basic facts are lacking about the terms and conditions of its lending. Very few contracts between Chinese lenders and their government borrowers have ever been published or studied. This paper is the first systematic analysis of the legal terms of China’s foreign lending. The authors collect and analyze 100 contracts between Chinese state-owned entities and government borrowers in 24 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Oceania, and compare them with those of other bilateral, multilateral, and commercial creditors. Three main insights emerge. First, the Chinese contracts contain unusual confidentiality clauses that bar borrowers from revealing the terms or even the existence of the debt. Second, Chinese lenders seek advantage over other creditors, using collateral arrangements such as lender-controlled revenue accounts and promises to keep the debt out of collective restructuring (“no Paris Club” clauses). Third, cancellation, acceleration, and stabilization clauses in Chinese contracts potentially allow the lenders to influence debtors’ domestic and foreign policies. Even if these terms were unenforceable in court, the mix of confidentiality, seniority, and policy influence could limit the sovereign debtor’s crisis management options and complicate debt renegotiation. Overall, the contracts use creative design to manage credit risks and overcome enforcement hurdles, presenting China as a muscular and commercially savvy lender to the developing world.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Debt, Government, Banking
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Jeffrey J. Schott
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: China’s policies in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea and its ongoing support for Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela pose major challenges for the United States, where bipartisan pressure is growing to ramp up punitive sanctions against leading Chinese firms and financial institutions. Financial sanctions freeze the US assets or bar US entry of the targeted individuals and firms and prohibit US financial firms from doing business with them. Schott explains why US officials should carefully weigh the risks to international financial markets and US economic interests before imposing punitive sanctions on major financial institutions engaged with China. The collateral costs of such sanctions would be sizable, damaging US producers, financial institutions, and US alliances. By restricting access of major banks to international payments in US dollars and barring use of messaging systems like SWIFT, tougher US financial sanctions would effectively “weaponize” the dollar; friends and foes alike would be pushed to seek alternatives to dollar transactions that, over time, would weaken the international role of the dollar. Instead of doubling down on current unilateral financial sanctions, US policy should deploy sanctions in collaboration with allies and calibrate trade and financial controls to match the expected policy achievements.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Sanctions, Finance, Economy
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Robert Z. Lawrence
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Afrequently voiced complaint from the Trump administration was that US firms have faced a competitive disadvantage in exports because the US market is open and US tariffs are low but US trading partners protect their markets with high tariffs. The administration used this concern to justify raising US tariffs whenever it could. Lawrence argues that these claims should be more nuanced and account for the extensive unilateral liberalization by many countries over the past 30 years and that the grievances that motivated the Trump trade policies are increasingly misplaced. Many developing countries have reduced their tariffs unilaterally to rates that are far lower than they applied three decades ago and far less than the bound rates reflected in their World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations. Globally, on average, tariffs were not raised during the global financial crisis of 2008 and continued to decline through at least 2018. Even when shocks from imports resulted in serious injury to domestic industries, several developing countries temporarily provided safeguard protection but at levels that were lower than their WTO bound rates. This evidence of import liberalization also suggests that rising protectionism was not responsible for the slow growth in world trade that has been evident since 2011. It remains uncertain whether countries will now respond to disruptions to global supply chains since 2018 caused by Trump’s trade policies and the COVID-19 pandemic by reversing their tariff liberalization stance, but the sustained enthusiasm for new megaregional trade agreements suggests many countries will not.
  • Topic: Emerging Markets, World Trade Organization, Trade Wars, Protectionism
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Martin Chorzempa, Adnan Mazarei
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 shock has exacerbated the struggles of many emerging-market and developing economies (EMDEs) to repay their external debt. One of the most urgent challenges relates to debt owed to China, whose lending spree under its Belt and Road Initiative and other programs has played an outsized role in what amounts to a crisis for many countries. The scope of the problem is striking. China is owed more than $100 billion, or 57 percent of all debt owed to official creditors by the countries that need help the most. China is not a member of the Paris Club of official creditors, which coordinates, within a multilateral framework, the resolution of general sovereign illiquidity or unsustainable external debt of EMDEs. There is an urgent need to put in place more effective, long-term solutions to help durably lower the risks of prolonged debt difficulties in EMDEs. These problems could be partly addressed by creating creditor committees to coordinate debt relief with China. The Group of Twenty (G20) has taken some steps to include creditor committees in the context of the Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), but only for low-income countries that qualify for the DSSI and only for official creditors. To better address debt distress, it needs to extend the approach, especially to middle-income debtor countries.
  • Topic: Debt, Development, Emerging Markets, G20
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Cullen S. Hendrix
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The Trump administration’s Africa strategy is rooted in three misconceptions about China’s African footprint—and a fourth about US-Africa economic relations—that are either factually incorrect or overstated in terms of the broader strategic challenges they pose to US interests: (1) Chinese engagement in Africa crowds out opportunities for trade and investment with and from the United States; (2) Chinese engagement in Africa is resource-seeking—to the detriment of US interests; (3) Chinese engagement in Africa is designed to foster debt-based coercive diplomacy; and (4) US-Africa economic linkages are all one-way and concessionary (i.e., aid-based). Hendrix finds little evidence to suggest Chinese trade and investment ties crowd out US trade and investment opportunities. China’s resource-seeking bent is evident in investment patterns, but it is more a function of Africa’s having comparatively large, undercapitalized resource endowments than China’s attempt to corner commodity markets. Chinese infrastructural development—particularly large projects associated with the Belt and Road Initiative—may result in increased African indebtedness to the Chinese, but there is little reason to think debt per se will vastly expand Chinese military capacity in the region. And finally, US-Africa economic relations are much less one-sided and concessionary (i.e., aid-based) than conventional wisdom suggests.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Infrastructure, Economy, Trade, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Africa, China, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Ana González, Euijin Jung
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: By refusing to fill vacancies in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body—the top body that hears appeals and rules on trade disputes—the Trump administration has paralyzed the key component of the dispute settlement system. No nation or group of nations has more at stake in salvaging this system than the world’s big emerging-market economies: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, and Thailand, among others. These countries have actively and successfully used the dispute settlement system to defend their commercial interests abroad and resolve inevitable trade conflicts. The authors suggest that even though the developing countries did not create the Appellate Body crisis, they may hold a key to unlock it. The Trump administration has also focused its ire on a longstanding WTO practice of giving these economies latitude to seek “special and differential treatment” in trade negotiations because of their developing-country status. The largest developing economies, which have a significant stake in preserving a two-step, rules-based mechanism for resolving trade disputes, could play a role in driving a potential bargain to save the appeals mechanism. They could unite to give up that special status in return for a US commitment to end its boycott of the nomination of Appellate Body members.
  • Topic: Development, Government, World Trade Organization, Developing World, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: China, Indonesia, India, South Korea, Brazil, North America, Mexico, Thailand, United States of America
  • Author: Peter A. Petri, Michael G. Plummer
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: he deepening US-China trade war and nationalist reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic are reshaping global economic relationships. Alongside these developments, two new megaregional trade agreements, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), will refocus East Asia’s economic ties in the region itself. The new accords are moving forward without the United States and India, once seen as critical partners in the CPTPP and RCEP, respectively. Using a computable general equilibrium model, we show that the agreements will raise global national incomes in 2030 by an annual $147 billion and $186 billion, respectively. They will yield especially large benefits for China, Japan, and South Korea and losses for the United States and India. These effects are simulated both in a business-as-before-Trump environment and in the context of a sustained US-China trade war. The effects were simulated before the COVID-19 shock but seem increasingly likely in the wake of the pandemic. Compared with business as before, the trade war generates large global losses rising to $301 billion annually by 2030. The new agreements offset the effects of the trade war globally, but not for the United States and China. The trade war makes RCEP especially valuable because it strengthens East Asian interdependence, raising trade among members by $428 billion and reducing trade among nonmembers by $48 billion. These shifts bring regional ties closer to institutional arrangements proposed in the 1990s and incentivize greater cooperation among China, Japan, and South Korea.
  • Topic: Treaties and Agreements, Trade Wars, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Free Trade, COVID-19, Protectionism
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Chad P. Bown
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The US-China trade war forced a reluctant semiconductor industry into someone else’s fight, a very different position from its leading role in the 1980s trade conflict with Japan. This paper describes how the political economy of the global semiconductor industry has evolved since the 1980s. That includes both a shift in the business model behind how semiconductors go from conception to a finished product as well as the geographic reorientation toward Asia of demand and manufactured supply. It uses that lens to explain how, during the modern conflict with China, US policymakers turned to a legally complex set of export restrictions targeting the semiconductor supply chain in the attempt to safeguard critical infrastructure in the telecommunications sector. The potentially far-reaching tactics included weaponization of exports by relatively small but highly specialized American software service and equipment providers in order to constrain Huawei, a Fortune Global 500 company. It describes potential costs of such policies, some of their unintended consequences, and whether policymakers might push them further in the attempt to constrain other Chinese firms.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Trade Wars, Industry, Protectionism
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Patrick Honohan
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Good international economic policy requires good comparative data on national economic performance. In May 2020, the World Bank published the latest comprehensive update of purchasing power parities (PPPs), as part of the International Comparison Program. Produced for 176 countries, these PPPs are used to convert data (especially GDP and other quantities based on national income accounts) from national currencies to a common basis in a way that is meaningful for economic analysis. PPP-adjusted data are essential because the distortions caused by sharp exchange rate movements are significant, especially for times of macroeconomic turbulence. The newly released PPP data contain fewer surprises than those published in previous updates and are an invaluable tool, but Honohan explains why PPPs should be used with caution and an understanding of their limitations. Apart from removing distortions caused by market exchange rate movements, PPPs remove the impact of other factors affecting relative prices, especially productivity differences, which Honohan argues should not be removed if one wishes to compare the overall economic size or strength of a country or region. Adjusting for productivity, he finds that the United States retains its position as the world’s largest economy for the time being, and the European Union (even without the United Kingdom) is just ahead of China.
  • Topic: World Bank, Economic Growth, Currency, Data, Productivity
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, United States of America