The WTO will soon initiate its 500th formal dispute, and discussions of such international litigation are now a media mainstay. Last Thursday, for example, the WTO’s Appellate Body released its latest ruling, upholding most of a set of legal challenges to China’s use of export restrictions on “rare earth” materials, a set of intermediate inputs important for green technologies such as wind turbines, batteries for gas-electric hybrid cars, etc. Other recent examples of formal WTO litigation in the news include the EU’s challenge to Russia’s import restrictions on vans, the US’s challenge to Chinese barriers to autos, and Canada’s and Norway’s challenges to an EU ban on trade in seal products.
Using gross figures of exports and imports to approach the contribution of trade to economic growth and a country’s resource allocation may be misleading. Products often cross borders more than once while being processed until their final use and may thus be counted multiple times. Furthermore, given the increased use of imported intermediate goods and services associated with rising global trade flows in the last decades, not only exports of goods and services carry some content of imported inputs classified in other sectors, but also some exports of intermediate products may return embedded in imported final products. Therefore, in order to gauge appropriately where and how much is the value added by a country’s employed labor and other factors of production, one has to do due accounting of those intra- and cross-sector trade in order to measure trade in value-added terms – see a thorough analysis in Mattoo et al (2013).
Food prices in international markets have spiked three times in the past five years: in mid-2008, early 2011 and mid-2012 (Figure 1). The first of those spikes – when rice prices more than doubled – prompted urban riots in dozens of developing countries. It may have contributed even to the unrest that led to the Arab Spring. The most common government response was to alter trade restrictions so as to insulate the domestic market from the international price rise. And the most common justification for that action (tighter export restrictions or lower import barriers on food staples) was that it would reduce the number of people who would fall into poverty. Not only are food prices politically sensitive, but many poor people are vulnerable to higher food prices, because the poorest people spend a large fraction of their incomes on food.
Mention China at your next dinner party, and chances are you will be met with references about future superpowers, exchange rates, and the joys of traveling through gleaming new airports. And while the conversation may touch on the dining scene along the Bund or outstanding new restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing, the impact of food standards on global consumers will almost certainly not be the center of discussion.
The fact is, however, that trade in agriculture is one of the most important ways the world connects with China. China’s exports of food products increased from US$ 9.7 billion to US$ 56.3 billion between 1992 and 2012. The United States alone imported US$ 6.5 billion worth of Chinese fish, seafood, juice, vegetables, fruit, and other food products in 2012—making China the third largest source of US food imports.
The Great Recession has brought renewed interest to the question of how trade policy responds to economic shocks, especially in the face of trade agreements like the WTO. New research that examines new import restrictions through the lens of a particularly important class of trade policies – the temporary trade barriers (TTBs) of antidumping, safeguards, and countervailing duties - finds that emerging-economy trade policy has become more responsive to economic shocks under the WTO. The integration of emerging economies into the multilateral trading system since the 1980s – resulting in lower applied border tariffs and some binding WTO tariff commitments – has resulted in a heightened responsiveness of these other trade policies to economic shocks. In a number of ways, business cycles and real exchange rate movements, for example, affect application of new import restrictions by emerging economies much like they do for high-income economies.
This post was originally published in Voxeu.org.
Services have long been the main source of growth in rich countries. We argue that services are now the main source of growth in poor countries as well. We present evidence that services may provide the easiest and fastest route out of poverty for many poor countries.
For more than 200 years, it was argued that economic development and growth was associated with growth of the labour-intensive manufacturing sector (Baumol 1967, Kaldor 1966, UNIDO 2009). Services were considered as menial, low-skilled, and low-innovation (McCredie and Bubner 2010). But today, services can be among the most dynamic sectors in an economy. The policy question is whether this is true even in poor countries.
Some of the fastest-growing countries in Asia and the oil-rich Gulf states have the most restrictive policies in the services trade, while some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Rwanda and Senegal, are remarkably open in the area. These patterns emerge from a new Services Trade Restrictions Database created by staff in the Trade and International Integration Team of the Development Economics Research Group.
Across sectors, transportation and professional services, such as accounting and law, are among the most protected in developed and developing countries alike. Meanwhile, retail, telecommunications and finance, such as banking and insurance, tend to be more open.
The ongoing turmoil in Europe with the euro and sluggish global economic recovery has important implications for growth and trade in developing countries. A World Bank report released recently suggests that as a result of instability in advanced economies, developing country growth will slow to a relatively weak 5.3 percent in 2012. In a speech recently, WTO Secretary General Pascal Lamy described the rise in trade protection as alarming. Restrictive measures put in place since the global economic crisis in 2008 amounts to 3% of world merchandise trade, and almost 4% of G-20 trade. They have remained unabated over the past seven months.
Given economic slowdown in developing countries and an increase in restrictions on trade, what policy steps can the global community take to ensure trade remains a source of jobs and growth?
Many feared a return of 1930s-style protectionism when recession hit the global economy. But many countries avoided this. In a blog post, co-authored with Meredith Crowley, I focus on US and EU trade policy and discuss how this policy withstood the ‘Great Recession.’ The following is an excerpt from the post which appeared on Vox.
“During the Great Recession, import protection increased around the world (Evenett, 2011). Popular policies included antidumping tariffs, safeguards, and other temporary trade barriers (Bown 2011a,b). Despite this, for high-income economies such as the US and EU, such trade barriers increased much less than initially feared. In this column, we ask how and why.
Ideas often come from unexpected quarters. Last week, Ricardo Hausmann came to the World Bank to talk about his work on economic complexity. I missed the seminar, but afterwards read his Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity. (I had actually already looked at the stunning – but rather confusing charts – of his coauthor Cesar Hidalgo after reading Tim Harford’s great new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.)
On the face of it, the Atlas of Economic Complexity doesn’t have a lot to do with the topic of this blog post – whether World Bank staff are under-specialized. But bear with me, and I hope I’ll convince you otherwise.