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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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March 28, 2018

On Announcement of Revisions to U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the administration announced revisions to the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, commented:

“Despite the touted 10,000 tariff cuts and promises of more exports, more jobs, our deficit almost doubled in the FTA’s first five years as U.S. agricultural exports declined and a flood of Korean cars were shipped here.

“It’s unclear how the proposed changes to the pact itself would reverse the doubling of our Korea trade deficit under KORUS, but the new currency agreement could make a difference if it has teeth, delaying the U.S. tariff cuts on Korean trucks could stop the big imbalance from getting even worse, and the parallel steel agreement is significant.

“The limited revisions to KORUS do not the promised new American trade agreement model make, which puts added pressure on NAFTA renegotiations to deliver a deal that eliminates the job outsourcing incentives in our past trade deals and adds strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement.  

“Success on many key issues that were not addressed at all in this deal – such as the elimination of job outsourcing incentives and the controversial ISDS tribunals, the tightening of automobile rules of origin, and the addition of strictly enforced labor and environmental standards – will determine if a renegotiated NAFTA can get the bipartisan support necessary to get it passed.”

KORUS Outcomes: First Five Years

Despite the Korea FTA including more than 10,000 tariff cuts, 80 percent of which began on Day One:

U.S. exports to Korea declined 7.8 percent ($3.7 billion), and imports from Korea increased 13.1 percent ($8.1 billion) by the end of KORUS’ fifth year.

  • Since the FTA took effect, S. average monthly exports to Korea have fallen in nine of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, relative to the year before the FTA.
  • U.S. exports to Korea of agricultural goods have fallen 5.4 percent in the first five years of the Korea FTA, despite almost two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports by value obtaining immediate duty-free entry to Korea under the pact. U.S. agricultural imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown 45.4 percent under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Korea has declined 8.1 percent, or $554 million, since the FTA’s implementation. The Obama administration promised that U.S. exports of meat would rise particularly swiftly, thanks to the deal’s tariff reductions on these products. However, despite U.S. officials’ promises that the pact would enhance cooperation between the U.S. and Korean governments to resolve food safety and animal health issues that affect trade, South Korea has imposed temporary bans on imports of American poultry in each of the last three years, including 2017. Comparing the fifth year of the FTA to the year before it went into effect, U.S. poultry producers have faced a 78 percent collapse of exports to Korea – a loss of 82,000 metric tons of poultry exports to Korea. U.S. pork exports have also dropped 1 percent.
  • The 85 percent trade deficit increase with Korea under the pact – from $14 billion in the 12 months before the pact went into effect on March 15, 2012, to $26 billion in its fifth year – came in the context of the overall U.S. trade deficit with the world decreasing by 5 percent. While U.S. goods imports from the world decreased by 7.1 percent, goods imports from Korea increased by 13.1 percent.
  • During that period Korea’s GDP rose 15 percent, and the unemployment rate has averaged 3.4 percent, belying the claims from KORUS defenders that the growing deficit was fueled by weak growth and thus weak demand in Korea.  
  • The U.S. service sector trade surplus with Korea grew much slower since the FTA. In KORUS’ first five years, it increased by only $2 billion from 2011 to 2015, a growth rate of 29 percent, which is notably 64 percent slower than our services surplus growth over the five years before the FTA went into effect.
  • Record-breaking U.S. trade deficits with Korea have become the new normal under the FTA – in 59 of the 60 months of KORUS’ first five years, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly trade deficit in the five years before the deal.
  • The auto sector was among the hardest hit: The U.S. trade deficit with Korea in motor vehicles grew 55.7 percent in the pact’s first five years. S. imports of motor vehicles from Korea have increased by 64.2 percent, or $6.4 billion by the fifth year of the Korea FTA.
  • Exports of machinery and computer/electronic products, collectively comprising 27 percent of U.S. exports to Korea, have fallen 17.1 and 18.8 percent, respectively.

March 22, 2018

Public Citizen Report: ‘Follow the Money: Did Administration Officials’ Financial Entanglements With China Delay Trump’s Promised Tough-on-China Trade Policy?’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the administration is poised to announce long-awaited action on a China trade investigation launched last summer, Public Citizen released a report revealing Trump administration Cabinet members’ and top advisors’ longstanding personal financial entanglements with the Chinese government and government-connected firms. The report raises the question of whether the lack of action during President Donald Trump’s first year in office despite China being candidate Trump’s top target of trade wrath is better explained by the current or past Chinese financial entanglements of numerous top administration officials rather than an ideological battle over trade in the White House.

The report reveals the widespread business connections – some ongoing – between Trump Cabinet officials and other senior staff and Chinese government-run or connected firms that may have affected administration trade policies on China. For instance, despite pledging to divest from two Chinese shipping firms in which he was invested, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ financial transaction reports do not include the sale of an estimated $125 million stake in Navigator Holdings, which operates a fleet of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker ships that could benefit from several gas-related investment deals with Chinese government-linked firms that Ross announced since becoming Commerce secretary.

“The exits of White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will significantly diminish the top staff with past or current significant financial stakes in China and with Chinese government entities, although Ross remains,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Will changes in personnel lead to changes in policy with the recent trade enforcement actions paving the way to creation of the comprehensive new China trade policy that is decades overdue?”

Only on China trade were administration trade actions during Trump’s first year opposite of Trump’s campaign pledges and rhetoric. Even Trump’s bellicose China trade rhetoric from the campaign was replaced by an uncharacteristically subdued tone. Rumors have raged since Thanksgiving that the administration would impose punitive measures against Chinese technology theft via a Section 301 investigation that the administration initiated in August. But time and again, action was delayed.

During Trump’s China state visit, Ross gleefully touted Goldman Sachs’ new $5 billion joint fund with the Chinese government’s main investment arm and plans by other state-owned and state-linked firms to buy assets in sensitive U.S. infrastructure, energy and food sectors. Such investments may facilitate the Chinese government “Made in China 2025” plan to dominate the global economy but would seem antithetical to Trump’s promised “tough on China” agenda.

A review of the top-level staff of the Trump administration shows stark conflicts of interests not just relating to business in or with China, but with the Chinese government. These ties and conflicts include:

  • Previous or current ownership of shares in companies profiting from Chinese state-owned investment in the United States (Ross, Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump Senior Adviser Jared Kushner);
  • Investments in companies doing business in China that may not have been divested at the time an official was engaged in policymaking that could impact his investments (Ross);
  • Co-investments with Chinese state-owned investors that may not have been divested at the time an official was engaged in policymaking that could impact his investments (Ross);
  • Previous direct ownership of stakes in Chinese state-owned companies (Cohn and Tillerson);
  • Ownership of businesses awaiting approvals for pending trademark applications in China (Ivanka Trump); and more.

The new report provides a compilation of information that is available about these links; many investments might not be disclosed as they may be held in investment vehicles in which the underlying assets are not known.

March 08, 2018

TPP-11 Countries Sign a Deal — While We Dodged a Bullet on ISDS Expansion Here, Our International Allies Face a Major Fight

Thanks to years of organizing, we in the United States saved ourselves from the corporate-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by ensuring that the controversial deal was universally reviled across party lines and could never gain a majority in Congress.

But it is deeply unfortunate for our international partners that this week the remaining 11 TPP countries — including Canada and Mexico — signed the deeply flawed TPP model for their countries in a cynically renamed “Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.” We know from our years-long, internationally-coordinated TPP campaign that our sisters and brothers in those nations fought against the corporate-rigged TPP model as hard as we did. We stand in solidarity with them as they continue to mobilize to block the ratification and implementation of this TPP-11 deal in their countries.

While some of the most egregious provisions pushed by Big Pharma that would have further threatened access to life-saving medicines were fortunately set aside (for now) in the revised TPP-11 deal, most of the TPP’s dangerous rules remain intact. It is shocking, for instance, that Canada, Mexico and others agreed to maintain the infamous investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system (with only some minor tweaks), that empowers multinational corporations to attack public interest laws before panels of three corporate lawyers.

We dodged a bullet here in the United States — the TPP would have doubled U.S. exposure to investor-state attacks against U.S. policies by newly empowering more than 1,000 additional corporations in TPP countries, which own more than 9,200 additional subsidiaries in the United States, to launch investor-state cases against the U.S. government.

But, it is beyond perplexing that Canada and Mexico would agree to expand their liability to these ISDS attacks on their laws in the TPP-11. In the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations, the United States has proposed to radically roll back ISDS, which should be good news for Canada and Mexico, since Canadian and Mexican taxpayers have paid $392 million to mostly U.S. corporations who won ISDS attacks against their public interest laws using NAFTA.

The corporate lobby, which has been doing all it can to block the positive NAFTA proposal to roll back ISDS, is undoubtedly rejoicing that the TPP-11 countries have signaled their willingness to accept expansion of the controversial ISDS system.

But the diverse consensus to end ISDS in NAFTA and elsewhere spans the political spectrum, with stark criticism coming from voices as disparate as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John RobertsReagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein, the pro-free-trade libertarian Cato Institutethink tank, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitzunions and environmental groups.

We will continue to push to remove ISDS from NAFTA and support our allies in Canada, Mexico and in the other TPP-11 nations as they fight ISDS expansion.

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