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Energy & Economics
USA and China trade war concept. suitable also as South China Sea conflict

Are tariffs, of all things, the salvation of free trade?

by Dr. Jan Cernicky

We can talk about selective tariffs - but not about protective tariffs - Concerns about the effects of economic dependencies are increasingly overshadowing the benefits of open global trade. - In the current geopolitically charged situation, there may be situations in which trade policy dependencies - for example in the case of rare earths - can be mitigated by state intervention. - In such cases, selective tariffs are the best choice. Subsidies to build up own production capacities are significantly less efficient, more expensive and undermine the market principle. - Protective tariffs for industries whose products are sufficiently available on the global market, such as the automotive and steel industries, should be rejected. - The fundamental goal should be the preservation of rule-based world trade in accordance with WTO rules. Any kind of state intervention must be justified on the basis of solid data. Background During Chinese party leader Xi Jinping's visit to Europe in May, there was once again a lot of talk about economic dependencies. They are seen as a threat to the "economic security" of Germany and Europe. What often seems to fade into the background is that the arguments for a global division of labor remain valid: it enables general prosperity precisely because certain countries and regions concentrate on the production of individual goods and consequently do not produce others themselves. On the other hand, it is also true that the economic damage more than compensates for these advantages if a state such as China uses economic dependencies as political leverage and, in the worst case, stops supplying goods for which it has a monopoly. In principle, China has achieved such a monopoly for refined rare earths and some other smelted metals.1 However, this clearly does not apply to electric cars, steel or solar cells. The reason for such quasi-monopolies is simple: Chinese companies export the products in question so cheaply that production elsewhere in the world is not worthwhile. If this were solely due to the fact that Chinese companies produce better, the only correct response would be to roll up our sleeves and become better ourselves. In the case of rare earths from China, however, the advantage of Chinese manufacturers is largely due to direct and indirect subsidies. In such an environment, in which Chinese producers have massive cost advantages due to politically granted benefits, it is not worthwhile for private companies outside China to build up their own capacities for the production of rare earths, for example. Even if prices were to rise and economic production were possible, this would not be rational; state-supported Chinese companies can easily survive periods of low prices. The usual market mechanism, whereby companies with the most competitive solutions survive, does not apply here. Even technologically superior production methods do not prevail due to Chinese subsidies. Possible reactions The best economic solution is undoubtedly for the state not to react at all and to see the availability of very cheap products that are available for domestic consumption or for further processing as an advantage. The fact that the products in question have been made cheaper by Chinese taxpayers' money can be gratefully accepted. It would be a genuine and courageous system competition not to respond with the same instruments, but to maintain a market economy system and thus exploit the weaknesses of the counter-design. Shaping the economic framework conditions politically in such a way that innovations that provide alternatives to the use of the raw materials in question can be developed more easily would be a reaction that is still justifiable within the framework of the social market economy. This would be, for example, favorable recycling processes. In most cases, such innovations are possible. However, their introduction and application is significantly more expensive than importing standard products from China. If dependence on China is really not justifiable in individual cases,2 there are two possibilities for state intervention in the form of subsidies or tariffs, which may be justifiable in rare individual cases, but are not provided for within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Important indicators for the assessment of dependencies are, for example, the lack of substitutability of the imported good, the degree of concentration of supply in a country and the relevance of the good in question for the domestic economy. However, state intervention to protect domestic production sites, such as is being discussed for electric cars or steel, appears to be explicitly unjustifiable. There is a sufficiently diversified supply of such products on the global market and there is no dependency on just one country. Economic effects of tariffs and subsidies Tariffs and subsidies both aim to compensate for the price difference to cheaper foreign competitors. Tariffs make imports more expensive, while subsidies make domestic production cheaper through state subsidies. Both have a negative welfare effect, but the correlation is more harmful in the case of subsidies. Figure 1 uses a schematic example, which is not based on empirical data, to illustrate the effect if the costs of producing rare earths in Germany were reduced to the level of the import price from China (country 1) through subsidies.   With the subsidies, it is now economically viable for the subsidized companies to produce the rare earths from ore in Germany. The actually cheaper ways of importing rare earths from alternative countries or using other technical solutions remain more expensive and would hardly be used. The goal of reducing dependencies would therefore be achieved in a very expensive way. Large sums of taxpayers' money would be spent on this. In this example, the most expensive possible route is discussed in order to clearly demonstrate the negative consequences. In reality, however, it is very unlikely that the cheapest route in economic terms will be subsidized. This is because there are always many different providers and technical solutions, which means that all the options are often not even known or can only develop in the long term. It is therefore very unlikely that the optimal subsidy recipients will be selected. A benefit is created for a specific, relatively arbitrarily selected application, but not for others. The effectiveness of the market is thus distorted and the competitiveness of the location decreases as a result. As the subsidies compensate for a competitive disadvantage, it is unlikely that high additional tax revenues will be generated. The funds spent are no longer available for other state investments. The result is a loss of welfare on this scale. Only the subsidized companies benefit from this. The price at which rare earths can be purchased in Germany does not change. It is also possible to subsidize production abroad in order to reduce dependence on one country. Such models are being attempted via "raw material partnerships", for example. Such an approach can be significantly cheaper than subsidizing domestic production. In the example (Figure 1), only the significantly lower import price from country 2 would have to be subsidized. However, the other disadvantages of subsidies listed above also apply in this case. In particular, it is even more difficult to obtain all the necessary information for projects abroad and therefore even less likely to choose the most cost-effective option. The targeted tariffs discussed here are intended to respond to dependencies on supplies from a specific country. They are therefore only imposed on imports from this country. Other imports are not affected. To stay with the example, the importer pays a surcharge on the imported rare earths. This makes his product, for which he processes rare earths, more expensive domestically. Manufacturers abroad who are not affected by the duty become more competitive in comparison.    If the tariff rate were set in the same way as above so that the competitive disadvantage for the most expensive option - metal processing in Germany - is compensated for in terms of price, the tariff rate on imports from China would be very high. However, consumers of rare earths in Germany would still have access to the significantly cheaper other options. Metal processing in Germany would therefore remain unprofitable, while imports - now no longer from China, but from country 2 - would continue to be significantly cheaper. However, the price difference to the cheapest processing variant in Germany, in the example (Figure 2) recycling, would no longer be so great, so that this variant would be easier to make economically viable by scaling up or using innovative technical solutions. In reality, the introduction of customs duties would not divert all procurement to a single country; there is no capacity for this anywhere. The result would be a mix of different suppliers, which would make it more worthwhile to drive innovation in Germany. Changes in the price structure between the different providers and processes over time can be tracked by customers in this model - the best process (or the second best, if the best is used in China) then prevails on the market. The welfare loss here arises from the fact that consumption or further processing of the imported products becomes more expensive by at least the difference to the second cheapest source of supply. However, the volume of the welfare loss is significantly lower than in the case of subsidies. It can be argued that tariffs make the prices of downstream products in the supply chain more expensive, whereas subsidies do not. While this is true, it overlooks the fact that the much larger group of companies and consumers who are not directly affected do not suffer any direct additional costs in the case of tariffs, but bear the costs of subsidies through their taxes. Political effects of tariffs and subsidies In terms of their political and structural consequences, subsidies are more harmful than targeted tariffs. This is simply due to the procedure at the end of which individual companies receive a subsidy decision. An "objective" allocation is hardly possible here. On the contrary: the procedure is susceptible to personal relationships, political influence and direct corruption. Furthermore, subsidies that are only granted in one country of the European Union jeopardize the integrity of the European Single Market. Similar problems can arise with customs duties. This happens when they are used to protect certain domestic industries. In the case of targeted, selective tariffs, which are based on clearly defined, objective categories, such as the degree of dependence on a product from a country, there is little scope for political influence once the criteria have been established. Tariffs cannot harm the European single market either, as they can only be imposed at European level anyway. WTO conformity The reduction of tariffs and subsidies within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the predecessor agreement GATT are a central reason for the reduction of global poverty in recent decades and one of the cornerstones of Germany's prosperity. It is therefore self-evident that tariffs and subsidies not only contradict the idea of the WTO. They also contradict its two basic principles: Subsidies for domestic production contradict the non-discrimination principle3, tariffs against individual countries violate the Most Favorite Nation Clause4. There are exceptions for both in the WTO rules. For example, WTO members must notify subsidies so that they can be examined and other countries can object to them if necessary. In principle, subsidies are only intended - and within a narrow framework - for developing countries, which still includes China. However, the notification of subsidies to the WTO hardly works any more. For example, 64 countries (around a third of members) have not even notified their subsidies for 20175. Nevertheless, some of China's subsidies may indeed be legal according to the letter of the WTO rules. But they are certainly not legitimate, as the aim of the WTO is to liberalize world trade and not to cement the opposite. And even if subsidies are known, the WTO cannot take legally binding action against them due to the dispute settlement mechanism blocked by the USA. Consequently, the USA has not reacted to the unresolved problem of China's subsidies within the WTO framework. Although tariffs have been imposed on some Chinese imports, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a huge subsidy program. If the dispute settlement mechanism were to work, the IRA would almost certainly have to be declared WTO-incompatible. However, as this path is blocked, many countries and regions of the world - including Germany and the EU at the forefront - are reacting with their own openly WTO-incompatible subsidy programs. The current subsidy race is constantly creating new reasons to impose subsidies in response to the subsidies of others. This will further damage the multilateral trading system, which has been very successful for Germany in particular. Targeted tariffs, on the other hand, which can be used to eliminate competitive disadvantages caused by subsidies and which are therefore only levied on goods from the subsidizing country, are in principle in line with the basic idea of the WTO. This is because it balances out a distortion of the world market created by subsidies. Therefore, tariffs are generally permitted as a reaction to dumping and subsidies6. A reaction to subsidies via tariffs within the strict WTO framework is currently hardly possible for the reasons mentioned above. In this situation, it should be actively communicated that in an unsatisfactory legal situation, the path of the least evil will be taken with tariffs. At the same time, serious efforts should be made to reform the WTO. Conclusion The argument: "We want to have the production of certain things in Germany because we believe that we would no longer be supplied with them in crisis situations" is not an economic argument. Production for strategic reasons is always a financially subsidized business. Because if there was money to be made, the private sector would do it. Politically, this line of argument is perfectly legitimate - as is the attempt to steer the economy directly in a politically acceptable direction through subsidies. However, this has nothing to do with a social market economy, but rather the opposite. However, if Germany and Europe are to remain committed to the social market economy and open multilateral trade, the only economically sensible response to problematic dependencies from abroad (if one has to respond at all) is to impose targeted, selective tariffs - but certainly not protective tariffs for domestic production sites. The German government should work within the EU to set a clear framework for this and at the same time work on a reform at WTO level to finally reduce the rampant subsidies. Because these - and not tariffs - are currently the biggest threat to the open global trading system that is so important to us. References 1 Vgl. etwa die Darstellung der Abhängigkeiten von für die Energiewende nötigen Metallen in Cernicky (2022): https://www.kas.de/documents/252038/16166715/Energiewende+und+Protektionismus+-+Wie+gehen+wir+pragmatisch+mit+China+um.pdf/442ba770-d504-43cc-25f1-eaf7d970dfc1, genaue Zahlen vgl. etwa die Auflistung des BDI: https://bdi.eu/publikation/news/analyse-bestehender-abhaengigkeiten-und-handlungsempfehlungen/ 2 Zum Versuch einer entsprechenden Bewertung vgl. etwa die von der KAS und dem Ifo-Institut durchgeführte Studie zu Abhängigkeiten in Lieferketten, Flach et al (2021): https://www.kas.de/de/analysen-und-argumente/detail/-/content/globale-wertschoepfungsketten 3 Art. III GATT 4 Art. I GATT/ WTO 5 WTO | 2023 News items - Members reiterate concerns on lack of transparency with subsidy notifications: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news23_e/scm_02may23_e.htm 6 GATT Art VI, Dumping und Ausgleichzölle Publisher: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., 2024, Berlin Design: yellow too, Pasiek Horntrich GbR Produced with the financial support of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V. is for information purposes only. It may not be used by political parties or election campaigners or helpers for the purpose of election advertising. This applies to federal, state and local elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. The text of this work is licensed under the terms of "Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international", CC BY-SA 4.0 (available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.de).

Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Energy & Economics
SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2019: ZTE room at the High-Tech Fair China 2019 at Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center.

What should Europeans do about the U.S.-China Rivalry in key strategic technologies?

by Roberta Haar , Hengyi Yang

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском In October 2023, the EU Commission identified four technology fields as critical: advanced semiconductors; artificial intelligence (AI); quantum, and; biotechnologies.[1] All four areas are greatly impacted by the U.S.-China rivalry in technology, making it essential for Europeans to understand the Sino-American competition. This article examines this rivalry from the Chinese and U.S. perspectives. It recounts their prevailing attitudes, which are shaped by recent events, and that, in turn, mold Chinese and American strategic approaches. From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, its geo-technological competition with the U.S. is novel and passively learned. During Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese government still positioned technology under the economic-oriented strategy of innovation-driven development. This stance followed the idea that ‘science and technology constitute a primary productive force’ and the ‘peaceful development’ principles set during Deng Xiaoping’s era. However, around 2018, two sanctions incidents that targeted Chinese telecommunications giants shifted Chinese leaders’ understanding of tech strategy into the geopolitical context. The first sanction incident involved ZTE, China’s second-largest communications equipment manufacturer. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration accused ZTE of selling telecom equipment containing American chip technology to Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $1.2 billion. However, in 2018, Trump’s government stated that ZTE did not comply with the settlement agreement, coupling previous sanctions with export controls on ZTE in April 2018. The second incident involved Meng Wanzhou, then Vice-Chairwoman and CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, during a layover in December 2018. Her detention was at the extradition request of the Trump administration, which levied charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These included bank and wire fraud and outright violations of U.S. sanctions via a subsidiary called Skycom Tech, which allegedly concealed Huawei’s activities in Iran. The necessity of a strategic adjustment These two incidents caused an uproar in the Chinese media, followed by a surge in public patriotic sentiment. However, for the Chinese government, the impact and significance of the two cases were quite different. The essence of the ZTE case was commercial sanctions, which meant that ZTE violated business norms and deserved economic punishment. The official Chinese government stance was that ‘this is just an individual case of corporate violation.’ Despite this position, the fact that the government was actively involved nonetheless politicized the incident within China. It was Xi Jinping himself who negotiated with Trump to save ZTE from bankruptcy after which ZTE became a state-owned enterprise with absolute state control—a move that ultimately resulted in ZTE gaining a greater domestic market share than Huawei. At the international level, the top-level nature of negotiations prevented the ZTE incident from overly politicizing then-ongoing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. While the ZTE episode was resolved with little rancor, Chinese senior officials became concerned about the impact that the U.S. might have on China’s strategic technology companies.[2] In November 2018, Tan Tieniu, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported to China’s top leaders that they should learn from the ZTE incident. They should avoid overreliance on imports of core electronic components and chips, and they should not repeat mistakes made by ZTE. In the same month, Xi Jinping mentioned in a speech that ‘internationally, advanced technology and key technology is more and more difficult to obtain… forcing us to travel the road of self-reliance.’ Terms like technological security, technology ‘chokepoints’ (卡脖子), and core technologies in key fields (关键核心技术) began to appear frequently in Chinese official discourse. These reflected Chinese leadership’s views about the ZTE incident that were in turn shaping strategic thoughts on the geopolitical technology competition with the United States. It was the Meng Wanzhou incident at the end of 2018 that for Chinese leaders confirmed the necessity of a strategic adjustment. As in the ZTE case, Huawei was involved in a business violation that from the Chinese perspective should have resulted in corporate punishment. Instead, a personal arrest warrant was issued for Meng, thereby escalating a commercial sanction into a political and diplomatic incident. Le Yucheng, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urgently summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to China and issued a stern protest. The Chinese government also arrested two Canadian citizens in China, sentencing one to 11 years in prison. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada wrote that the Meng Wanzhou case was a ‘premeditated political act in which the United States wields its regime power to hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.’ Chinese Defensive Deterrence These two episodes shaped and reinforced Chinese leaders’ strategic thinking about its geopolitical technology competition with the U.S. The 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the CCP in 2020 proposed ‘making technological self-reliance’ a strategic goal. Soon all official documents established a new tone for China’s technology strategy based on self-reliance. Previously, China pursued a reassurance strategy, a strategy that showed goodwill towards the U.S. and the system it led. Thus, in theory, China had two strategic options: reassurance and/or deterrence. The former strategy involves showing friendliness towards the U.S. and its allies, thereby releasing tension, and maybe re-joining the U.S.-led system. A reassurance strategy allowed China more time for stable development—the logic of ‘keeping a low profile’ of the Deng Xiaoping era. The Xi Jinping government picked the second option, deterrence, which is to show strength or use countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of further U.S. trade or coercive action. To make a deterrence strategy work, however, Xi further believed China needed to gain strong capacity in key tech fields. Therefore, Xi first mobilized domestic R&D resources and tried to acquire advanced technologies before using diplomatic countermeasures. The core logic underlying this geopolitical technology strategy is one of ‘defensive deterrence.’ A typical example of this strategy in play concerns the semiconductor industry. Facing export controls on semiconductor equipment from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, the Chinese government first increased R&D investment in the sector, trying to overcome ‘chokepoint’ technologies. As a result, China’s investment in semiconductor R&D grew from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2022, an increase of 150%. At the same time, the Chinese government increased investment in the production of key raw materials (silicon, gallium nitride, etc.) and semiconductor production bases. It also guided industries upstream while also pushing for downstream integration through policies to improve and strengthen supply-chain security. Chinese policy also moved to increase international supply-chain dependence on China through its comparative advantages in the semiconductor industry (and even other industries) in a hedging move against the U.S. and its allies. For example, in the automotive chip sector, in the supply of vital raw materials, and in the semiconductor equipment markets, China sought to utilize its significant comparative advantages. In August 2023, the Chinese government announced export controls on gallium and germanium, two key materials for manufacturing semiconductors. China Seeking More Regulatory Power But in addition to responding to what was perceived as U.S. containment policies in the area of technology, China’s strategic use of technology followed another approach, one led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). This third approach sought more regulatory power, for example, in the areas of civilian AI where China has huge potential.[3] Starting in 2018, the Chinese government showed a strong determination to introduce and study AI ethics and technical standards.[4] Based on these domestic framework policies, various diplomatic initiatives, and standards proposals, the MFA and MIIT expanded China’s regulatory influence in the field of AI. For example, the MFA proposed the ‘Global Data Security Initiative’ in 2020 and the ‘Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative’ in 2023. Minister Wang Yi explicitly stated ‘We hope to provide a blueprint for related international discussions and rule-making.’ The China Electronics Standardization Institute, affiliated with the MIIT, also actively participates in the formulation of international new technology standards. Selectively decoupling: U.S. Attitudes and Strategies When it comes to strategic technologies, the Joe Biden administration has generally maintained a stance toward China that aligns closely with the previous administration led by Donald J. Trump. This is especially the case concerning competitive technologies such as 5G/6G, the specialized processors designed to handle the computational demands of AI, quantum computing, and electric vehicles (EVs). Taking a page from U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War playbook of outspending the Soviet Union, president Biden initiated a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan. This plan, not unlike China’s policy to increase domestic innovation and strength, allocated funds for sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy, clean water, and high-speed broadband for both wired and wireless technologies. The justification for these investments, part of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) policy and later incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, was that they were a response to Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals of doubling China’s economy by 2035, intending to establish China as a global leader in biotechnology, green energy, and AI. In addition to a spending strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness in strategic technologies, the Biden administration continued with some of Trump’s punitive measures. For example, Biden maintained tariffs amounting to approximately $300 billion. He also continued action against Huawei, which has the potential to outcompete in 5G/6G mobile network technology. The Trump administration used the Bureau of Industry and Security to exclude Huawei from global semiconductor supply chains and it placed the company on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, thus requiring U.S. companies to obtain a license before exporting to Huawei. As discussed above, Trump’s executive branch also brought fraud allegations against Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng. While Biden kept in place Trump-era prohibitions on sales of U.S. goods to companies like Huawei, as well as maintaining restrictions on exports of U.S. critical technology, he did quickly resolve the dispute over Meng. Within hours of the deal for her release, the two men caught up in the game of hostage diplomacy left China on a flight back to Canada. Highlighting the political nature of the incident, when Meng returned to China, senior local officials at the airport met her. Encourage Multilateralism to meet Global Challenges Along with strident measures, the Biden administration also sought a more nuanced stance. Indications that suggest a less hawkish approach to China include emphasizing a collaborative approach toward global challenges like climate change and future pandemics. Biden further pushed for engagement in high-level meetings with, for example, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held talks with their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021. These talks were frostier than U.S. officials would have preferred but they got the two sides to engage in some dialogue. Similarly, Biden sought to engage with China in multilateral forums and organizations where both countries are members, such as the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Biden hosted in November 2023. Even the choice of San Francisco as the venue was designed to be conciliatory as it has historic ties to Asia as well as a central role in global technology as the home of Silicon Valley. Still, one must keep in mind that in deciding on a strategy towards China, Biden must also contend with a Congress and public opinion that are growing increasingly skeptical of doing business with China, which they believe steals good jobs and sends balloons over American territory to spy on U.S. critical infrastructure. One primary shaper of U.S. attitudes towards China are the leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lead one of the last bastions of functioning bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. With their many investigations, subpoenas, and policy recommendations, the House China Committee has become the ‘beating heart’ of U.S. Congressional policy, which, with regards to technology, argues for selectively decoupling from China for national security reasons.[5] A way forward Faced with the U.S.’ decoupling or blunting strategies and China’s defensive deterrence strategy, what steps might European nations take to navigate through the choppy, contentious waters of strategic technologies? Are there also steps that Europeans can take to mitigate the impact on their own strategic technology vulnerability? First, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in the rapidly digitizing global economy, Europeans need to stress that it is in the collective interest of everyone to establish institutions, norms, and policies for effective global governance. Rather than engaging in reactive geopolitical maneuvers resembling a chess game, these institutions could concentrate on constructing a more cooperative foundation for crucial technology sectors. Second, along with this recognition, efforts could be directed toward the development of future institutions, policies, and norms that set standards for next-generation and sensitive technologies. Such efforts should take into account initiatives already made by the Chinese and the Americans. Such efforts could also coincide with a third approach of encouraging the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive multilateral approach. The U.S. needs to push for collaboration beyond issues such as climate change and economic inequality to encompass the intensely competitive areas in technology like those discussed in this article. For one, Europeans could point out that U.S. blunting strategies are simply not working and may even be backfiring by accelerating Chinese technological advances. In September 2023, Huawei released the Mate 60 Pro smartphone equipped with a 7nm domestic chip, revealing that China has overcome some hurdles that U.S. bans were designed to stymie.[6] Since no one knows how long China’s defensive deterrence strategy will hold (and shift to what Chinese leaders believe is a more offensive deterrence), nor whether Trump or someone as equally anti-multilateral as Trump will be (re)elected, Europeans have many incentives to encourage a softer engagement between China and the U.S. Changing the narrative is a fourth important recommendation. It is essential to recognize that the essence of the Sino-American technology competition is more about narrative construction than a description of the current situation. One indication of this is that both sides believe that the other side started what has been described as the ‘new Cold War.’[7] It does not help that both sides have engaged in behavior that supports the other side’s narrative with some hawkish actors employing similar bash-the-other tactics to gain political advantage.[8] Typically, the factual basis for technological competition is grounded in industrial competition, corporate rivalry, or intellectual property disputes. However, the high-tech relationship between China and the United States has been one of complementarity as well as rivalry. Both China and the United States, as well as European stakeholders, need to be careful of the narratives they espouse, lest they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This work has been funded by the REMIT project, funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101094228 Footnotes [1] EU Commission Recommendation of 3.10.2023 on critical technology areas for the EU’s economic security for further risk assessment with Member States. [2] Gregory C. Allen. 2023. ‘China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War.’ csis.org, May 3. [3] Jing Cheng and Jinghan Zeng. 2023. ‘Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance.’ Journal of Contemporary China 32(143): 794-810. [4] See White Paper on AI Standardization, a Guide to the Building of a National Standard Framework for New Generation AI, a report on Ethical Norms for New Generation AI, a White Paper on Trustworthy AI as well as other regulatory documents. [5] Robbie Gramer. 2023. ‘The Masterminds: Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.’ foreignpolicy.com, November 27. [6] Weiwen Wang. (2023). ‘China Breaks Through 7nm Chip Technology, Has the China-U.S. Tech War Entered Phase 2.0?’ (中国突破7纳米芯片技术 中美科技战进入2.0阶段?). Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), September 17. Retrieved from https://www.zaobao.com.sg/news/china/story20230917-1433739 [7] Patricia M. Kim, Matthew Turpin, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Jessica Chen Weiss, Eun A Jo, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball. 2023. ‘Should the US pursue a new Cold War with China?’ Brookings.edu, September 1. [8] Roberta N. Haar. 2020. ‘Will China replace the U.S. as the world’s predominant power?’ Atlantisch Perspectief 44(3):9-13.

Energy & Economics
Curitiba, Paraná, Brasilien, Bolsonaro gadgets in Independent Day in Curitiba, 09.07.2022

The Bolsonarism could return to power

by Valerio Arcary

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Political loyalty to PT-led governments has garnered support among the poorest. However, the Brazilian center-left has lost its hegemony over its social base. Can Bolsonaro return to power in 2026? Yes, he could. We must consider the existence of powerful objective and subjective factors to explain the resilience of the far right, even after the defeat of the semi-insurrection in January 2023. But, first of all, it is wise to recognize the international context of the phenomenon, in which the far right plays an instrumental role: (a) the turbulence in the system of states with the strengthening of China and the strategy of U.S. imperialism to preserve the supremacy of the Troika, for which a tougher protectionist orientation is useful; (b) the disputes caused by the emergence of the environmental crisis and the energy transition, which temporarily disadvantage those who decarbonize more quickly; (c) the shift of bourgeois factions towards the defense of authoritarian regimes that face popular protest and embrace a national-imperialist line; (d) the trend towards economic stagnation and the impoverishment and rightward shift of the middle classes; (e) the faltering crisis of the left, among others. But there are Brazilian peculiarities in the political fragmentation of the country. These are essentially five: (i) the hegemony among the military and the police; (ii) the gravitation of the vast majority of Pentecostal evangelicals towards the far right; (iii) the weight of the Bolsonarism in the most developed regions, the Southeast and South of the country, especially among the new middle-class property owners, or those with very high levels of education who hold executive positions in the private and public sectors; (iv) the leadership of the neo-fascist current within the far right; (v) the support base of the far right among the salaried middle classes with wages between three and five or even up to seven minimum wages. The first four peculiarities have been widely researched, but the last one less so. Studying it is strategic because it may be the only one possible to reverse in the context of a very unfavorable situation of still reactionary social power relations. There are objective factors that explain the distancing, division, or political separation between parts of the working class and the poorest, such as the inflation of private education and health plans, and the increase in income tax, which are threats to a model of consumption and living standard, and subjective factors, such as social resentment and moral-ideological rancor. Both are intertwined and may even be indivisible. But that was not the case when the final phase of the struggle against the dictatorship began, forty-five years ago. The PT was born, supported by metalworkers, public school teachers, oil workers, bankers, and other categories who, compared to the reality of the masses, had more education and better salaries. Lulism, or political loyalty to the experience of PT-led governments, allowed for support among the poorest. However, the left, although it maintains its positions, has lost hegemony over its original mass social base. This tragic reality, due to the fracture of the working class, requires that we analyze it from a historical perspective. The post-war period (1945-1981) of intense growth, during which GDP doubled every decade, and which favored absolute social mobility in Brazil, accompanying accelerated urbanization, seems to have irretrievably passed. Full employment and increased schooling, in a country where half of the active population was illiterate, were the two key factors in improving the lives of this layer of workers. But they no longer exert the same pressure as in the past. It is clear that in the last decade, Brazilian capitalism has lost momentum. It lost 7% of its GDP between 2015/17 and, after the Covid pandemic in 2020/21, it took three years to return to the 2019 levels. Despite all the anti-social counter-reforms - labor, social security - aimed at reducing production costs, the investment rate did not exceed 18% of GDP in 2023, despite the authorization of the Transitional Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) to breach the Public Spending Ceiling. Brazil, the largest industrial park, and consumer market for durable goods in the periphery, has become a nation of slow growth. The increase in schooling has ceased to be such a powerful driving factor. Improving life has become much more difficult. The Brazil of 2024 is a less poor country than in the 20th century, but not less unjust. Of course, there is still a lot of poverty: tens of millions or even more continue suffering from food insecurity, despite the ‘Bolsa Familia’, depending on the economic cycle. But there has been a reduction in extreme poverty without a qualitative reduction in social inequality. The functional distribution of income between capital and labor has experienced variations in the margin. The personal income distribution improved between 2003 and 2014, but it has increased again since 2015/16, following the institutional coup against Dilma Rousseff's government. Extreme poverty has decreased, but half of the economically active population earns no more than two minimum wages. A third of wage earners earn between three and five minimum wages. Inequality has remained almost intact because, among other reasons, the position of middle-income wage earners with higher levels of education has stagnated with a downward bias. Numerous studies confirm that the increase in average schooling is not related to employability, and IBGE surveys paradoxically confirm that unemployment is higher as schooling increases. Most of the millions of jobs created since the end of the pandemic have been for people earning up to two minimum wages, with very low educational requirements. To assess the greater or lesser social cohesion of a country, two mobility rates are considered: absolute and relative. The absolute rate compares the occupation of the parent and the child, or the first activity of each one with their last job. The relative mobility rate checks to what extent the obstacles to accessing jobs - or opportunities for study - that favor social advancement could or could not be overcome by those in a lower social position. In Brazil, both the absolute and relative mobility rates were positive until the 1980s, but the former was more intense than the latter. In other words, we experienced intense social mobility in the post-war period due to the pressure of urbanization and internal migration, from the Northeast to the Southeast, and from the South to the Midwest. But this is no longer the case. This historical stage ended in the 1990s when the flow from the agrarian world was exhausted. Since then, poverty has decreased, but middle-class workers have experienced a more hostile reality. What explains this process is that the social mobility trajectories of the last twenty years have benefited millions of people who lived in extreme poverty, but very few have ascended significantly. Many have improved their lives, but they have only ascended to the step immediately above to the one occupied by their parents. Relative social mobility has remained very low because the material incentives to increase schooling have been lower in the last forty years than they were for the generation that reached adulthood in the fifties or sixties. The rewards that families receive for keeping their children out of work for at least twelve years until they finish high school have decreased compared to the previous generation, despite the greater ease of access. A country may start from a situation of great social inequality, but if social mobility is intense, social inequality should decrease, increasing social cohesion, as happened in post-war Italy. Conversely, a country that had low social inequality compared to its neighbors occupying a similar position in the world may see its situation deteriorate if social mobility becomes regressive, as is evident in present-day France. In Brazil, contrary to what is commonly thought, most of the new jobs in the last ten years have not benefited the most educated sector of the population. Studying more has not reduced the risk of unemployment. In the forty-five years since 1979, average schooling has increased from three to over eight years. But two transformations have occurred that have had a lasting impact on the consciousness of the working youth. The first is that Brazilian capitalism is no longer a society of full employment, as it had been for half a century. The second is that, even with the sacrifices made by families to keep their children studying and delaying their entry into the labor market, employability has concentrated in activities that require little schooling and offer low wages. For the first time in history, children have lost hope of living better than their parents. Unemployment among those with higher education is proportionally higher than among those with lower education, and if the inequality of personal incomes has decreased in the last fifteen years, it is because the average salary of those with middle and higher education has been decreasing. The dizzying expansion of uberization is not surprising. The monthly employment surveys by IBGE in the São Paulo metropolitan region indicate a very slow evolution that, at best, only approximates the recovery of inflation. Nearly forty years after the end of the military dictatorship, the economic and social balance of the liberal democracy regime is discouraging. The reforms carried out by the regime, such as expanding access to public education, implementing the SUS (Unified Health System), the ‘Bolsa Familia’ for the extremely poor, among others, were progressive but insufficient to reduce social inequality. The hypothesis that a more educated population would gradually change the political reality of the country, driving a sustainable cycle of economic growth and income distribution, has not been confirmed. One form of gradualist illusion in the perspective of social justice within the limits of capitalism was the hope that a more educated population would gradually change the social reality of the country. This brings us to the limits of the coalition governments led by the PT, which bet on conciliation with the ruling class to regulate “wild" capitalism. Although there are long-term correlations between schooling and economic growth, no direct effects that are incontrovertible have been identified, even less so if we include the variable of reducing social inequality, as confirmed by South Korea What is incontrovertible is that the Brazilian bourgeoisie was united in 2016 to overthrow the government of Dilma Rousseff, despite the moderation of the reforms carried out. It should not surprise us that the ruling class had no qualms about going to the extreme of manipulating the impeachment, subverting the rules of the regime to take power for their direct representatives, such as Michel Temer. The challenge is to explain why the working class was not willing to fight to defend it. At the beginning of the 1990s, wages represented more than half of the national wealth, and in the last thirty years, they fell to just over 40% in 1999. Despite the recovery between 2004 and 2010, they still remain below the 50% level of 2014. This variable is significant for an assessment of the evolution of social inequality because Brazil in 2024 is a society that has already completed the historical transition from rural to urban (86% of the population lives in cities), and the majority of those under contract, 38 million with labor contracts and 13 million civil servants, receive salaries. Another ten million have an employer but no contract. It is true that there are still 25 million Brazilians who live off self-employment, but they proportionally fewer than in the past [ii]. In summary, the functional distribution of income between capital and labor has not improved. The bourgeoisie has no reason to complain about the liberal regime. Nevertheless, a fraction of the bourgeoisie, such as agroindustry and others, supports neo-fascism and its authoritarian strategy. The data indicating that social inequality has decreased among wage earners is convincing. But not because injustice has decreased, although misery has. This process has occurred because there have been two opposing trends in the labor market. One is relatively new, and the other is older. The first was the rise in wage floors for less skilled and less organized sectors. The minimum wage has been increasing above devaluation slowly but steadily since 1994 with the introduction of the real, accelerating during the years of the Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments. This is a new phenomenon, as the opposite had occurred in the previous fifteen years. The minimum wage is a key economic variable because it is the floor for INSS pensions, which is why the bourgeoisie demands it to be delinked. The economic recovery favored by the global cycle of increased demand for commodities allowed unemployment to fall from the second half of 2005, culminating in 2014 in a situation of almost full employment. The widespread distribution of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ also appears to have exerted pressure on the remuneration of manual labor, especially in less industrialized regions. The second trend was the continued decline in the remuneration of jobs that require middle and higher education, a process that had been occurring since the 1980s. In conclusion, the available data suggest that increasing schooling is no longer a significant factor in social upward mobility, as it was in the past. The political loyalty of the popular masses to Lulism is an expression of the first phenomenon. The lives of the poorest improved during the years of PT governments. The division among wage earners earning more than two minimum wages expresses a social resentment that has been manipulated by Bolsonarism. If the left does not regain confidence in this sector of the workforce, the danger for 2026 is significant. Jacobinlat The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

Energy & Economics
Chinese Yuan on the map of South America. Trade between China and Latin American countries, economy and investment

Ahead of the curve: Why the EU and US risk falling behind China in Latin America

by Ángel Melguizo , Margaret Myers

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском As Beijing’s investment approach to Latin America focuses on industries of strategic importance, the EU and US will need to contend with growing Chinese competition China is pouring less foreign direct investment (FDI) into Latin America. But while this may seem like a sign of Beijing’s disinterest in the region, data suggests that Chinese companies are simply recalibrating, not retreating. In doing so, they are becoming important players in sectors key to Western interests: critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy. While the European Union and the United States have long been top investors in Latin America, increased competition with Chinese investment now jeopardises their interests in the Latin American industries that will become most crucial to the digital and green transitions. The number of Chinese projects in Latin America grew by 33 per cent from 2018-2023, compared with the previous five-year period of 2013-2017, even as the total value declined. In other words, Chinese companies are making more investments in the region but are pursuing smaller-scale projects on average. These investments are also more focused on what China calls “new infrastructure“ (新基建), a term which encompasses telecommunications, fintech, renewable energy, and other innovation-related industries. In 2022, 60 per cent of China’s investments were in these frontier sectors, a key economic priority for the country. Beijing also views smaller projects in these industries as incurring less operational and reputational risk, especially compared to some of the large-scale infrastructure investment projects often associated with the Belt and Road initiative. Like China, the investment priorities of the G7 grouping – particularly the US and the EU – are centring on critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy as they aim to grow and reinforce existing economic and political partnerships in Latin America. However, both the US and the EU risk falling short of China’s investment strategy in the region. The US has signalled want for greater economic engagement with the region, especially in sectors of strategic interest. However, to date, US efforts to compete with China remain largely focused on building US domestic capacity in these strategic sectors, even as some US companies, such as Intel, are increasingly focused on including regional partners in their supply chains. Some see opportunity for Latin America in Joe Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is aimed at incentivising the energy transition while also de-risking critical supply chains. For example, certain countries in the region may benefit from preferential market access for their lithium or other key inputs to new energy and technology supply chains. However, the reach of the IRA – which remains a largely domestic policy – does not stretch as far as China’s current investment reshuffle. The Americas Act, announced by members of Congress in March could generate promising new investment opportunities for the region, as it encourages US companies and others to move their operations out of China, to which Latin America stands as a promising replacement. But Americas Act reshoring would primarily incentivise textiles and potentially medical equipment manufacturing, with less overall focus on the range of “new infrastructure” industries that China is prioritising. Chinese interests in information and communication technologies reveal a similar story. While the US has focused its policy on 5G equipment sales, China is undertaking a process of vertical integration in Latin American tech sectors that will dramatically boost its competitiveness. For instance, Chinese company Huawei is rapidly expanding its focus to include data centres, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and other services, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. (Computing accounted for a sizable 41 per cent of total Chinese information technology investment in the region between 2018 and the first half of 2023.) At the same time, Global Gateway, the EU’s proposal for a global investment initiative is yet to reach its potential in the region. Brussels is looking to be Latin America’s partner of choice by building local capacity for making batteries and final products like electric vehicles, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted last year. Yet even as the EU signals renewed commitment, China is becoming increasingly dominant in the electric vehicle market in Latin America and other regions. China surpassed the US in electric vehicle sales in 2023, with Chinese companies accounting for 45 per cent of total global sales and three times that of Germany’s. What is more, China has invested $11 billion in lithium extraction in the region since 2018, as part of a bid to control a third of global lithium-mine production capacity. Meanwhile the EU has secured some access to lithium as part of trade deals with Chile, alongside other nations, but this pales in comparison to what will be required to fuel the future of EU battery production. Latin America as a whole accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Based on its current levels of engagement in the region, the EU risks falling short of lithium, stalling its battery production and subsequently, its electric vehicle sales, just as China advances in this field. The window is closing for the EU, the US, and other partners looking to both maintain market share and compete with China in these Latin American industries, despite still-high rates of US and EU investment in and trade with the region. Indeed, US automakers increasingly see Chinese competition across the globe as an “extinction-level event.” Ensuring competitiveness in “new infrastructure” and related sectors will require a continuous commitment by partners to building and supporting project pipelines, and to delivering products and services at price points that can compete with China’s subsidised offerings. Both the EU and the US remain critical economic partners for Latin America and are contributing in ways that China is not. Still, complacency risks allowing China to take the lead in emerging industries in the region, some of which weigh heavily in the EU’s green and digital transformation. To protect their own future industries, the EU and the US need to first take a longer look at Latin America’s – especially as China vies for a dominant position.

Energy & Economics
Export in Chains

Export bans and inter-state tensions: The need for a revised WTO export bans framework to address worrying state behaviour at the peak of the pandemic

by Dr. Seebal Aboudounya

Please note that this article is only available in English. Abstract: During the peak of the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, some states imposed export bans on medical goods to prevent their exportation during the emergency situation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the manner in which this policy was applied caused much discontent especially between neighbouring countries and allies, particularly due to the confiscation of pre-ordered goods destined for countries also experiencing a crisis situation. This paper analyses the rise of inter-state tensions due to export bans at the peak of the pandemic and calls for the need to revise the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) export bans framework which currently contains a number of gaps exacerbating the problem and leaving a legal gap. The paper discusses those gaps in the WTO’s legal framework and highlights the areas in need of revision to avoid repeating the troubles of the past pandemic. Introduction Faced with political pressure and an extraordinary situation during the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, some countries resorted to the use of export bans as a tool to ensure that they have enough medical supplies for their population. However, their use of export bans also involved the confiscation of medical goods destined for delivery to their neighbours and allies. Such behaviour provoked discontent among those states expecting the delivery of their ordered medical supplies which were urgently needed as the death-toll from Covid-19 was sharply rising. This article starts by explaining the instances where confiscations using export bans occurred, namely between the United States and Germany, the US and Barbados as well as France and the United Kingdom. The paper also discusses the ‘near misses’ involving some European states where the export bans were initially used to confiscate the goods of other European countries, but then those goods were ultimately allowed to be delivered abroad to their delivery location. The discussion then shifts to the international legal framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) governing the use of export bans and then shows how this legal framework is flawed in certain areas as it contains some gaps that may be exploited for conducting unconstrained confiscation operations. An overview of existing studies on export bans then reveals that this policy is already harmful in several ways (Evenett 2020a; Bown 2020; Barichello 2020). The article then ends with a concluding discussion emphasising how export bans are particularly harmful when used in relation to pre-ordered goods and reiterating the need for a revised WTO legal framework on export bans. Incidents of confiscations using export bans The three incidents below all occurred during the peak of the covid pandemic in 2020 when countries faced life and death situations. The three cases also involved the use of export bans to justify the confiscation of medical goods pre-ordered by other states. US vs Germany This incident occurred on 3rd April 2020 involving the United States and Germany (Crump 2020). This particular event captured a lot of media attention and included the release of high-level statements from both sides, with accusations of “modern piracy” being directed towards the US (BBC 2020a). The main issue here was that approximately 200,000 N95 masks that Germany had ordered for its police force were diverted to the United States (Selinger 2020). The masks shipment dispatched from China from an American company was diverted to the US during a transfer between planes in Thailand (Selinger 2020). Germany stated that the masks were confiscated in Bangkok by American officials and that those masks were ordered from a US producer (Crump 2020; DW 2020). The next day, the US company 3M denied Germany’s claims and told a German news agency that it did not have any paperwork regarding a shipment for Germany (DW 2020). However, Germany had made it clear on 3rd April that it had ordered and paid for those urgently needed masks from a US company (Berlin 2020). In fact, Germany referred to earlier accusations made by French officials against the US for buying France’s masks in China and added that “the U.S. administration has obliged the American conglomerate 3M by law to supply the U.S. with as many N95 respiratory masks as possible, such as those used in hospitals” and that “the group also manufactures in China” (Berlin 2020a). Significantly, the media was already reporting how the American company 3M “has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump” (BBC 2020a). The BBC (2020a) added that “on Friday [3rd April], Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act (DPA) to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand”. Zooming in on Trump’s official statements during the Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing reveals significant information when he stated that:  I’m also signing a directive invoking the Defense Production Act to prohibit export of scarce health and medical supplies by unscrupulous actors and profiteers. The security and Secretary — the Secretary of Homeland Security will work with FEMA to prevent the export of N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment. We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them. […] We’ve already leveraged the DPA to stop the hoarding and price gouging of crucial supplies. Under that authority, this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, working with the Department of Justice, took custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 600,000 gloves, as well as bottles — many, many, many bottles — and disinfectant sprays that were being hoarded (Whitehouse 2020, emphasis added).  Trump’s statements are important because they include the significant number of 200,000. Although Trump did not specify where those 200,000 N95 were confiscated from, the number remains important (BBC 2020a); it is the same number of masks that Germany reported. More importantly, the official statement also supports the fact that the DPA was used as a tool for confiscating goods. Trump’s statements describe these good as being ‘hoarded’ prior to their confiscation, however, the statements from Germany’s side indicate that those masks were intended for the German people. As significant as Trump’s statements were the ones made by Berlin’s Interior Senator who blamed the US for the confiscation of the N95 masks (DW 2020). In fact, he stated that:  We consider this an act of modern piracy. This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild west methods. I urge the federal government to urge the United States to comply with international rules (Berlin 2020b; BBC 2020a).  As such, this incident saw direct statements from the German side, indicating that Germany saw the US’ behavior as deviating from international rules. Yet despite Trump’s statements in the press briefing, he directly addressed the German incident, denying the claims by saying that “there has been no act of piracy” (Crump 2020). Similarly, the spokeswoman for the American embassy in Bangkok denied that the US had knowledge of the mask shipment bound for Germany (Tanakasempipat 2020). Despite the US’ constant denial of state involvement, it remains a fact that an order of 200,000 masks destined for Germany was never delivered. Moreover, at no point did the developments mention non-state entities, but rather, the discourse had remained solely at the inter-state level and the main issue for discussion was the US’ use of the Defence Production Act to secure vital medical goods. US vs Barbados On the 5th of April, Barbados was brought into the picture when 20 ventilators donated to Barbados by a Philanthropist where “barred from exportation” by the US government (Barbados Today 2020). Moreover, as stated by the Barbadian Health and Wellness minister, these ventilators were already “paid for” (Barbados Today 2020). In explaining this incident, the Health minister clarified that “it has to do with export restrictions being placed on certain items” (Connell 2020). Thus, the Barbados incident was another instance where export bans were used as the justification for confiscating important medical supplies that were destined for another country. As for the US’ response to this incident, The Miami Herald wrote that a State department spokesperson’s email response “seemed to suggest that some previous media reports about seized medical exports may not be accurate” (Charles 2020). However, given that this is an incident relating to a Caribbean Island whose relations with the US are far from hostile, it is unlikely that this confiscation incident was characterised by significant inaccuracies. France vs UK Another instance of confiscation via export bans was reported during the pandemic, but this time, the location was Europe. The incident happened in March 2020 and had the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as the victim and France as the accused. France’s actions were reported by Euronews when it stated that:  France has forced a face mask manufacturer to cancel a major UK order as the coronavirus-inspired scramble for protective gear intensifies. The National Health Service ordered millions of masks from Valmy SAS near Lyon earlier this year as COVID-19 threatened. But amid a global shortage, France earlier this week ordered the requisition of all protective masks made in the country (Euronews 2020). France’s export ban placed the company in an uncomfortable situation as it was prohibited from fulfilling the NHS’ order. Indeed, the company director commented that "the requisition does not allow any wiggle room for us to deliver to the NHS, but it is complicated because the NHS was the first client to order and uses our masks all year long” (Euronews 2020). It is important to note that four months later, the Guardian revealed that Valmy had a contract with the NHS that was signed in 2017 where this company “was required to deliver almost 7m FFP3 respirator masks to the UK at 17p per mask in a pandemic situation as soon as the order was activated” (Davies and Garside 2020). The NHS did indeed activate the contract in early February, however, the French “sweeping requisition decree” ultimately meant that France seized the masks within its borders (Davies and Garside 2020). Near misses: tensions in Europe The incidents below can be described as “near misses" as the accused states initially confiscated other state’s products, but eventually gave them back to their neighbours. The cases here are particularly useful for showing how the misuse of export bans has the potential to harm diplomatic relations between neighbouring states and allies, especially when the ban is placed over other states’ pre-ordered goods. Germany vs neighbours One of such instances occurred between Germany and Switzerland, but this time Germany was the accused. The incident was reported on the 9th of March 2020 and caused a strain in Germany’s relationship with Switzerland during the pandemic. The “diplomatic spat” started a week after the German government banned exports on most protective medical goods (Dahinten and Wabl 2020). Switzerland was particularly angered when 240,000 masks travelling to it were blocked from crossing the German border to enter Switzerland (Dahinten and Wabl 2020). Switzerland then called the German ambassador for “an emergency meeting” regarding this issue amid a very tense situation, especially when it hardly manufactures protective equipment itself (The Local 2020). Eventually after a call was scheduled between the leaders of both countries, Germany modified the ban on the 12th of March, adding exemptions and then removed it completely the following week (Hall et al. 2020). Germany’s diplomatic relations were equally weakening with another neighbour, but this time, the neighbour was a European Union (EU) member. The point of conflict was of course the export ban on protective equipment. The Austrian Economy minister commented on this ban by stating that:  It can’t be that Germany is holding back products for Austria just because they happen to be stored in a German location […] these products are for the Austrian market, and unilateral moves by Germany are just causing problems in other countries (Dahinten and Wabl 2020).  Such statements indicate that placing export bans on other states’ goods seriously angers the importing states as such bans make them feel that their interests are being completely ignored by their counterparts. France vs neighbours France also got a share of the criticism in March when it seized the supplies of the Swedish company Mölnlycke located in France after announcing an export ban on masks and other medical goods (AP 2020; Marlowe 2020). The conflict erupted between France and Sweden when the French ban was placed over Mölnlycke’s Lyon Warehouse that is responsible for distributing personal protective equipment to Southern Europe as well as Belgium and the Netherlands (Marlowe 2020). Significantly, the seized stock was composed of 6 million masks, all of which “had been contracted for”, including a million masks each to Italy and Spain (Marlowe 2020). Eventually, France allowed the shipments to go to Italy and Spain despite initial reluctance to do so (AP 2020). However, the easing of the situation was mainly due to the “crucial efforts” of Sweden’s prime minister who was thanked by Mölnlycke on the 4th of April for his role in the removal of the French export ban on the Lyon Warehouse (Mölnlycke 2020). It is important to note that this instance also made its way to the European Parliament on the 3rd of April where the French export ban was questioned and criticised as “yet another demonstration of the lack of European solidarity” (EP 2020). Thus, this specific incident resonated across the whole of Europe, and not in a positive way. Export bans: the GATT framework The international law on export bans falls under the competence of the WTO, particularly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 which itself is mainly composed of the 1947 GATT agreement (GATT 1994). Significantly, article XI of the agreement titled ‘General Elimination of Quantitative Restrictions’ prohibits the use of export bans when it states that:  No prohibitions or restrictions other than duties, taxes or other charges, whether made effective through quotas, import or export licences or other measures, shall be instituted or maintained by any contracting party on the importation of any product of the territory of any other contracting party or on the exportation or sale for export of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party (GATT 1994).  However, the agreement leaves out certain exemptions where this prohibition does not apply, the relevant one here being “export prohibitions or restrictions temporarily applied to prevent or relieve critical shortages of foodstuffs or other products essential to the exporting contracting party” where the GATT clearly states that “the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article shall not extent to” it (GATT 1994, XI, 2(a)). The emphasis on the temporary application of such measures is important and is further clarified in the WTO’s timely report on “export prohibition and restrictions” issued at the peak of the Covid pandemic where it explained that:  The reference to a measure that is "temporarily applied" indicates that the carve-out applies to measures applied for a limited time, taken to bridge a "passing need". In turn, "critical shortage" refers to deficiencies in quantity that are crucial, that amount to a situation of decisive importance, or that reach a vitally important or decisive stage, or a turning point (WTO 2020, annex 1).  Of relevance to the export bans legal framework is also Article XX of the GATT (1994) titled “General Exceptions” that states how:  Subject to the requirement that such measures are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any contracting party of measures […] (b) necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health.  Thus, here the GATT agreement allows countries to use export bans when it is necessary to protect lives. The WTO’s report confirms the relevance of this exception to the Covid-19 situation when it explains that:  In the context of COVID-19, Article XX(b) of the GATT 1994 could be used to justify a ban or quantitative restriction on the exportation of goods, so long as such a measure would be necessary and effective in contributing to protecting the health of that country's citizens (WTO 2020, Annex 1).  Thus, in terms of international law, countries are allowed to make use of export bans when faced with exceptional circumstances. During the Covid pandemic, the WTO member states did indeed make use of the exceptions and exemptions codified in the GATT agreement while informing the WTO of their new policies (Pauwelyn 2020, 107). However, when life is back to normal, their use remains illegal. Thus, overall, the export bans legal situation can be described as residing in a ‘legal grey zone’ whereby their use, though normally prohibited, can be justified and permitted in serious situations requiring them (Pelc 2020, 349). Nonetheless, it is important to note that the international legal framework here does not provide clarification for situations where the export ban exemption is placed on pre-ordered or pre-paid-for goods supposed to go to other countries. Indeed, the current legal framework suffers from a number of ambiguities as explained below. The first ambiguity relates to the term “destined goods.” When prohibiting export bans, article XI speaks of “export of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party”. Thus, clearly, countries cannot put their hands on goods going to other countries for this would be illegal. However, the carve-out intended to “prevent or relieve critical shortages” is not detailed enough as to clarify if this also applies to goods “destined” for other countries (GATT, article XI, 2(a)). Even if the “destined” statement is applied to the exemption, the ambiguity remains. Much of the ambiguity rests on how to interpret the term “destined” from the export prohibition paragraph: is the term “destined” applied here generally whereby a company in Country X is an exporter and thus it’s goods will naturally be “destined” for other countries, or does the term imply goods that are ready-to-travel to other countries who have already placed an order or paid for goods? Clearly, it’s the second interpretation when applied as an exemption that has been the cause of conflict between the states in the previous section. However, regardless of which interpretation is intended in the GATT, instances where countries confiscate orders destined for other countries is seen as politically and morally unacceptable by the latter; “modern piracy” was how Germany described it. Thus, whatever the world leaders had in mind when they agreed to this exemption, clearly it now needs a lot of clarification. Secondly, there is ambiguity over the situation regarding donated goods. This is an important question especially given the Barbados case. Here the goods sold in country X were already bought in Country X (from a philanthropist in Country X) to be sent to country Y. Thus, a transaction had already taken place and the goods now belong to the philanthropist who is kindly giving this order to Country Y. Does an export ban apply to this situation? Logically, there is little to no justification for its application in this scenario, but the GATT agreement still needs to confirm this. Thirdly, there is ambiguity over the situation of “guest” companies. Given the globalised world we live in, does this exemption apply to international companies geographically located in country X? This was the main cause of tension between Sweden and France when France imposed the export ban over the Swedish company’s Warehouse. A logical consideration of this situation would lead to a ‘no’ answer to this question, but it is also acknowledged that the company may be subject to the geographical jurisdiction and the laws of the country that it is located in. Thus, it is important that the relationship between the host country and the foreign company is clarified when it comes to export prohibitions. Fourthly, there is ambiguity over the timeline of enforcing an export ban policy. The Covid crisis saw quick decisions being taken and implemented. This was particularly the case with export bans and was to the detriment of the importing states. In the case of the US-Germany incident, the confiscation of the masks on their way to Germany occurred hours before the US president announced invoking the defence production Act. In fact, the US policy on export restrictions became official on the 7th of April after the Federal Emergency Management Agency published it (Bown 2020). Significantly, FEMA stated that “this rule is effective from April 7, 2020 until August 10, 2020” (FEMA 2020). Thus, the obvious question arises: on what basis were the masks going to Germany confiscated? Similarly, on what basis were the ventilators destined for Barbados blocked by the US on the 5th of April? If the WTO steps in to advise on the implementation of such export bans, the situation would be greatly improved. Finally, there is ambiguity over the extent to which one country may enforce its policy, particularly in other countries. The US-Germany case was sensationalised by an “international hunt” for masks in Bangkok; thus, here the US officials imposed the export ban on an American company in a foreign country outside their national jurisdiction. However, the question remains, is this permissible under the GATT? The GATT articles did not go that far, but it is important that the international legal framework answers this question. Overall, several unanswered questions resulting from the brevity of the GATT’s article on export bans require answers. Filling in those gaps in the GATT would greatly improve the legal framework on export bans and ease tensions between member states. The next section takes a closer look at export bans, particularly their discussion in the literature and their unwelcome effects. The effects of export bans The academic literature on export bans mainly focuses on their effects, either on several states or on specific case-studies. Prior to Covid-19, a number of studies were mainly concerned with the effects of export bans following the food price crisis in 2007-2008 when countries made use of export restrictions on agricultural commodities in an attempt to stabilise domestic markets (e.g. Liefert, Westcott, and Wainio 2012; Dorosh and Rashid 2013; Timmer 2010). However, following the coronavirus pandemic, some studies have focused on their use on medical goods and agricultural goods as well as on their effects (Koppenberg et al. 2020; Pelc 2020; Evenett 2020b). Nevertheless, what unites almost all the studies on export restrictions is that they mainly agree that such bans do more harm than good. The recent studies on export bans are important because they demonstrate how this policy results in negative effects. For example, Simon Evenett (2020a, 831) in his recent work argues that “export bans on masks, for example, erode the capability of trading partners to cope with the spread of COVID-19. Rather than beggar-thy-neighbour, export bans on medical supplies effectively sicken-thy-neighbour”. He further analyses the effect of the export ban from the perspective of the developing countries cut-off from receiving advanced medical equipment such as ventilators, and explains that whenever this policy is implemented, “a significant share of the world’s population” is prevented from accessing this vital equipment (Evenett 2020a, 832). Evenett (2020a, 833) therefore recommends that governments consider other alternatives to export bans that “do not impede foreign purchases”. Significantly, Evenett also discusses the effect of the export curbs on the exporting country itself and argues that this policy is counter-productive:  Whatever temporary gain there is in limiting shipments abroad, the loss of future export sales will discourage local firms from ramping up production and investing in new capacity, which is exactly what the WHO has called for. In practical terms, during a pandemic this mean that an export ban “secures” certain, currently available medical supplies at the expense of more locally produced supplies in the future (Evenett 2020a, 832).  Internationally, export bans have also been shown to have severe effects on several countries at once. Chad Bown’s (2020, 43) work on the Covid pandemic demonstrates how “taking supplies off the global market can lead to higher world prices and reduced quantities, harming hospital workers in need in other countries”. He also cautions that their use during the pandemic may invoke a “multiplier effect”, similar to the one observed during the sharp price increases of agricultural goods in the 2000s when “one country’s export restriction led to additional global shortages, further increasing world prices, putting pressure on other countries to impose even more export restrictions” (Bown, 2020, 44). Richard Barichello’s (2020, 223) study on Covid-19 and the agricultural sector also highlights the negative effect of export bans while observing how some countries have already imposed export restrictions on staple goods such as rice and cereal products during the pandemic. Barichello acknowledges that such export bans could have a positive effect on countries such as Canada if a consequence of such a ban increases the price of a commodity that it exports. However, he also explains the gravity of the adoption of export bans during current times when he writes that:  The distributional effects of adding export restrictions will, like the COVID-19 crisis itself, fall most heavily on the poor in importing countries by reducing trade, raising food prices, and reducing food security in all but the export countries of that commodity (Barichello 2020, 223). Export bans have also been shown to have “intangible” negative effects that are also significant. Hoekman, Firoini and Yildirim’s (2020) study focuses on export bans from an “international cooperation” perspective and emphasises the foreign policy damages resulting from export bans. The authors write that “in the case of the EU, the immediate policy responses of some member states may have damaged the European project by eroding trust among European partners” (Hoekman, Firoini and Yildirim 2020, 78). Simon Evenett (2020b, 54) adds that export restrictions are a “gift to those economic nationalists abroad that want to unwind or shorten international supply chains”; such nationalists can then claim that relying on the foreign market is unreliable. It is significant that the WTO itself discusses a similar point in its Covid-19 report on export restrictions when it lists the following as part of the “other possible consequences” of export bans:  An erosion of confidence in the multilateral trading system, in particular if restrictions negatively impact the most vulnerable, especially least-developed countries, whose healthcare systems are already strained. It would be difficult for importing members to trust a system that fails to produce tangible benefits in times of crisis and may lead to general calls to ensure that production of medical and other products only take place at the national level (WTO 2020, 9).  The WTO (2020, 9) also highlights how from a health-perspective, export bans may ultimately weaken the fight against the coronavirus when it states how: “given its global nature, if some countries are not able to combat the disease, this coronavirus, or mutated strains of it, will inevitably recirculate and contaminate the populations of all countries, including those imposing the export restrictions”. Thus, an export ban on medical goods is not the soundest policy to implemented during a pandemic. Effects of export ban confiscations & concluding thoughts It is important to consider the consequences of using export bans specifically as a confiscation technique. The points raised above are still of high relevance. However, there are three main disadvantages that are particularly prominent when countries place export bans on other states’ goods. Firstly, enforcing this policy on the goods of other states creates severe tensions between countries at different levels. The first one is at the diplomatic level whereby the officials of country Y express their discontent to officials of country X. Such tensions then easily transmit to other places. Indeed, at the citizenry level, these tensions take the foreground as the citizens in country Y read the news and frown at what their neighbouring states are doing to them in times of need. Thus, the misuse of export bans can be seen as a threat to diplomacy, international trade, and to the principles of establishing friendly relations between states and peoples. Secondly, shortages and stress are another effect of this policy when enforced on other states’ goods. When countries place orders, it is usually because they have a need for those orders. When those orders are then confiscated, those expecting the orders are left empty-handed and in a stressful situation. The stress is generated after the realisation that their plans for fighting the virus have been compromised; orders placed months or weeks ago will now not reach their borders despite those orders being just hours away from arrival. In the above cases, the German police and the NHS had to deal with the unpleasant news that their mask orders will not arrive. Such export bans create a difficult situation for the importing nations and for their institutions, as they then try to seek alternative suppliers at a very short notice. Finally, the implementation of this policy on other states’ orders sends worrying empirical signals. Scholars of IR when they first learn about international politics naturally ask whether the world we live in is a very “realist” world characterised by “survival of the fittest” instinct, or whether it is a world that accommodates international law and inter-state cooperation, despite anarchy. This is the essence of the classical debate between Realists and neo-Liberal Institutionalists (Mearsheimer 1994; Walt, 1997; Ikenberry 2011; Martin 1992). It is reassuring that in the previous discussion, the WTO still had a role to play. The European Commission also tried to solve the disputes arising between its members over the export bans (EC 2020). However, despite those interventions, it was clear that the cause of the problem was the unilateral export ban policy that was quickly being implemented at the discretion of the member states over what was destined for other states. As such, there is an urgent need for the WTO to revise its export ban legal framework to prevent the above scenarios from ever repeating in the future. 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Energy & Economics
Concept of the trade war between the USA and China.

How to better equip the U.S. DFC to compete with China

by Andrew Herscowitz

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français When U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi met in November 2023, Biden remarked that the countries must “ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.” A recent ODI report Hedging belts, de-risking roads: Sinosure’s role in China’s overseas finance illustrates the scale of the competition and reveals how one of China’s less-known institutions – Sinosure – has been giving China the edge. This blog offers some thoughts about how the U.S., through its U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) can better compete. Competing requires resources, but really not as much as you think Competing credibly requires money, dedicated staff, and creativity. It requires studying the competition. Infrastructure development requires low-cost financing, capacity-building, and getting everyone aligned. As Sinosure has demonstrated again and again, deploying guarantees and insurance – particularly from official financing – can de-risk overseas investment, reducing costs of finance and mobilising commercial investment from the private sector. When it comes to infrastructure, China has a far more robust, albeit imperfect, track record when compared to others. The U.S. and its G7 partners have not been much of a match for China in financing infrastructure worldwide. The G7 could successfully compete with China, and doing so does not have to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. Congress, despite its strong desire to counter BRI, has yet to appropriate the resources necessary to compete credibly in a battle of influence against China in developing countries. There’s been plenty of rhetoric, repurposing of existing programs and resources into initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and the Global Gateway. Each time the U.S. launches a new overseas economic development initiative, however, it rarely dedicates sufficient resources to help it scale – examples include the Partnership for Growth, Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and PGII. When it was fully funded, Power Africa, which coordinated the efforts of 12 U.S. government agencies, helped 120 power projects in Africa get across the finish line in just a few years, building a strong brand for the U.S. in Africa for economic development for the first time in decades. Then the U.S. cut Power Africa’s budget by 75% because of political shifts. The initiative stalled in its progress on new infrastructure, while still helping 200 million Africans get access to more reliable electricity. PGII, which has no dedicated budget, involves a handful of smart people working hard to deliver on a G7 promise of $600 billion in global infrastructure by 2025. Other than the Lobito Corridor project, it has not been clear to date what PGII is able to deliver at scale in Africa without additional resources. That could be about to change, though. The State Department just requested another $4 billion from Congress to up its game against China, which should help tremendously if that funding is secured to support PGII. Why Sinosure has been such an effective tool for China, despite its low margins BRI has not been particularly innovative, but it’s been steady. Sinosure, along with other Chinese export credit agencies, offers highly favorable terms and longer-term finance – this approach has well suited Global South governments in advancing their development and political objectives. While some projects have been problematic, Chinese creditors have provided the low-cost, patient capital at scale that many countries need for long-term productive infrastructure investment. But as the report shows, this approach has challenged established regimes governing the use of public money (link to blog 2). Sinosure insurance covers non-payment up to 95% of the insured equity or debt for up to 20 years, but most OECD Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) only provide 85% coverage for up to 10 years – though this policy soon will soon change [link to blog 2] Sinosure can work anywhere, except where there’s a live conflict or in cases of repayment arrears. By contrast, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has a list of over 100 countries where it cannot do business. Sinosure’s premiums max out at 7% of the total debt servicing cost of a project, making it relatively cost-effective. In this aspect, it is surprisingly transparent. DFC’s fees and costs are numerous and opaque, with DFC passing some of its own costs on to its clients. By the end of 2022, Sinosure had provided over $1.3 trillion-worth of insurance on export and investment, with a quarter of this going only to BRI countries. In 2022 alone, it supported a total portfolio of $900 billion through its insurance for over 170,000 clients, of which $80bn went to overseas investment and long-term finance, which mostly supports projects in infrastructure such as power, transportation, construction, telecoms and shipping. It received a total net insurance premium of $1.9 billion and paid out $1.5 billion in insurance claims. Despite its significant payouts, however, Sinosure continues to earn a modest profit of $102 million – not much of a margin, but enough to propel China’s global leadership on trade and infrastructure development.     By contrast, DFC’s current total portfolio-wide exposure is $41 billion, with just over $9.3 billion committed in fiscal year 2023 for 132 transactions – of which only around $3.5bn of this was for guarantees and risk insurance. DFC has many of the same tools available to it as the Chinese government, and DFC is not even legally required to earn a return on its investments. Yet DFC has not made full use of its capital resources and has not deployed its capacity for risk-mitigation finance in the same way. An unleashed DFC could make the U.S. more competitive It’s not too late for the U.S. and others to compete. The U.S. has an opportunity to further change how it conducts business to compete with China, while promoting sustainable development. DFC is starting to flex its competitive muscles with its own insurance product, recently using political risk insurance to support a $1.6 billion debt-for-nature swap in Ecuador and another $500 million debt-for-nature swap in Gabon, which support broader debt relief efforts, as well as channelling money towards climate and conservation goals. Moreover, those deals come at a very low cost to the U.S. government given DFC’s pricing models. DFC is up for reauthorisation in 2025. It has both foreign policy and development mandates. In a previous blog, we laid out 10 recommendations about how DFC could be more effective in achieving its development mandate. Here are 9 recommendations to help DFC be more effective in competing with China and achieving its foreign policy mandate: 1. Spend some money and spend it right All it took for Sinosure’s expansion in the early 2010s was a capital injection of $3 billion. To make its financial institutions just as competitive, the U.S. only needs to commit a few extra billion dollars of appropriated resources per year, just as State Department has proposed, not hundreds of billions. Sinosure, with its somewhat loose investment criteria, still managed to earn over $100 million profit on a $900 billion portfolio in 2022. Even if DFC were to spend $1 billion/year of additional budgetary resources – for the purpose of leveling the playing field with China and providing developing countries with the type of inexpensive financing they need – that could be money well spent for the U.S. taxpayer. That money could cover legal fees that DFC currently passes on to clients. It could be deployed through innovative instruments: to take on some of the currency risk on strategic transactions, to cover first loss on strategic investments, or to provide technical assistance that does not need to get repaid–comparative advantages that Chinese financial institutions still sorely lack. That funding also could be used, simply, to reduce interest rates and fees, at a time when borrowing costs for lower-income countries have risen astronomically. 2. Structure deals to outcompete China Encourage DFC to structure transactions to use its funding to maximize competition with China in a way that promotes a more level playing field. DFC should not crowd out competitively tendered and transparent private sector investment, but where inexpensive or even concessional DFC co-financing might help the private sector out-compete opaque Chinese investment, DFC should be equipped to support those projects. 3. Don’t obsess over returns Even though DFC is not legally required to earn a return on a portfolio-wide basis, most members of Congress expect DFC to be revenue neutral to the U.S. Treasury. If members of Congress would adjust their return expectations even slightly, DFC could significantly advance its development and foreign policy goals. Effective development and foreign policy are not free – especially when competing with China. Even earning back $.95 on the dollar on a portfolio-wide basis would be a significant leverage of 1:20 of appropriated resources to private investment – giving DFC broad flexibility to structure deals that prioritise development impact and foreign policy. 4. Remove DFC’s limits Eliminate ceilings on DFC financing – including the $1 billion transaction limit, the $10 billion annual portfolio limit, and the $60 billion total portfolio exposure. It really doesn’t cost anything to do this. It’s like raising its credit card limit. 5. Let DFC work anywhere when necessary Give DFC the authority to determine the countries where it can do business on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the foreign policy and development priorities are. DFC should be required to continue to prioritize investments in low and lower-middle income countries, but it should have flexibility to respond quickly and selectively anywhere that doing so will credibly advance a compelling U.S. national security interest, such as financing a strategic port or lithium processing. To prevent DFC from sliding into becoming just a national security tool, abandoning its development mandate, DFC should be required to clearly articulate the compelling national security interests of projects and should provide a detailed report to Congress each year on its investments in upper-middle income and high-income countries to explain these interests (even classified, if necessary). 6. Empower DFC to support “nearshoring” DFC can help the U.S. diversify its supply chains and reduce dependencies on China. To encourage companies to move operations out of China and into the Americas (if operating in the U.S. is not commercially viable), give DFC broader authority to support strategic transactions in the region. 7. Make it easier for DFC to support equity investments in strategic infrastructure When DFC takes an equity position in a company or an investment fund, it gets a seat at the ownership table. That allows DFC to drive decisions regarding sourcing of goods and services (i.e., making sure contracts do not always go to Chinese companies). Investing in equity funds that develop and finance a portfolio of infrastructure projects is an effective way for DFC to increase and spread its strategic influence -- except that DFC often struggles to make these types of investments because U.S. legal requirements make DFC a slow and clunky, and hence, an unattractive investment partner. DFC needs flexibility to bypass some of these requirements. 8. Help DFC scale its risk insurance instrument For years, DFC has been hugely innovative in deploying its insurance products to leverage capital from others. DFC used its political risk insurance tool to crowd in private investment in Ukraine, and to catalyze pioneering debt-for-nature swaps worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Ecuador and Belize. But according to recent reports, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has been threatening to start treating insurance investments like guarantee instruments from a budgeting standpoint. This will make it more expensive for DFC to deploy this tool. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? As we’ve shown, one of the main factors behind China’s competitiveness abroad is through Sinosure’s expansive use of its insurance tool: OMB’s changes will make it more expensive and difficult for the U.S. to scale its own. OMB needs to read the room. We’re not going to suddenly balance the U.S. budget by tinkering with a formula that has worked for decades. Let DFC do more of what it does well. 9. Help speed DFC up Before committing any transaction over $10 million, DFC is required to notify Congress in advance. This “Congressional notification” requirement provides a valuable extra level of oversight to ensure that DFC does not doing anything out-of-whack with Congressional priorities. But the process slows DFC down, when Chinese financiers are known for their speed. Even though DFC only is required to “notify” Congress of its deals, and not seek “approval,” practically and politically speaking nobody wants to run afoul of any one of the 535 members of Congress. Consequently, DFC rarely moves forward on a project until it can resolve the concerns of members of Congress. DFC needs to work with Congress to come up with a reasonable alternative to the Congressional notification process that balances speed with continued close collaboration with Congress. In addition, DFC’s Board can help speed things up by focusing its efforts on high level policy guidance instead of individual transactions. The Board should delegate more decision making on individual deals to DFC’s CEO. It makes no sense for the Secretary of State, who chairs DFC’s Board, to dig into a $20 million investment into a healthcare fund, not to mention the hundreds of State Department staff with little development finance experience who review the documentation before it goes to the Secretary with a recommendation for a vote. U.S. taxpayers probably would prefer to have the State Department focus on resolving the Middle East conflict. From the perspective of many Global South countries, this competition between the G7 countries and China is not inherently bad if it brings them more desperately needed resources and improves the quality of their infrastructure. The U.S. could be more competitive if it empowered its development finance professionals to use DFC’s tools the way they were designed to be used. DFC must be properly resourced with enough people and enough money to allow it to grow its portfolio. While development impact remains the key priority for DFC, delivering for the needs of partner countries is what also will deliver long-term influence. That is how the U.S. can compete – and all at relatively low cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Energy & Economics
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Libertarian supporters at the inauguration of the new Argentine President Javier Milei

Remarks by the President of the Nation, Javier Milei, at the Economic Forum of the Americas (IEFA), at the Four Seasons, CABA

by Javier Milei

Good afternoon everyone, if we’re talking about exploring opportunities, clearly one would have to address growth issues. The problem is that, when one encounters a deeply unbalanced macro situation, growing becomes very difficult, almost I would say impossible. And especially when for many years, relative prices have been distorted and the economy has been put in an imbalanced situation, trying to live in a sort of permanent boom, when the boom comes it’s much more violent. That is why when the correction of relative prices is carried out, it generates a contraction of activity and employment, and the more violent and prolonged the process of overstimulating the economy, the stronger the contraction becomes. In that sense, Argentina has lived – for more than 20 years – under a wild populist regime, which has led to the destruction of capital, the destruction of productivity, which is why we are in an absolute miserable situation. Yes, because populism is not free; wages, in dollars, on average, in the 1990s, were $1,800 and if you adjusted for American inflation that would imply that Argentinian wages, on average, should be $3,000, something like 3 million pesos. And today, luckily, if we exaggerate and become very optimistic, we could say they are $600, which is false because they are lower. This means that Argentinians in this populist adventure have lost 80% of our income, that is the real catastrophe. The consequence of this is that we have more than 50% in poverty and 10% in extreme poverty, or a little more as well. This means that the country, which produces food for 400 million people and has a tax burden on the food production sector of 70%, meaning that the State takes the food from 280 million people, and has 5,000,000 Argentinians who do not have enough to eat, which is the real catastrophe. But it is not only a catastrophe in terms of growth, well-being, employment, and wages, but the inheritance was very complicated, the inheritance we received. I am going to describe the inheritance we received and the measures we have been taking during these first 100 days of government, and it’s not to mourn it, because the reality is that if there was something that became clear with “the Chief”is that we truly managed to win the elections it was because we were truly in a disastrous situation, because for a libertarian liberal, who openly says it, to come to power, it is precisely because the situation was not going to be an easy one. That means they were going to leave us in a very, very difficult situation, because otherwise the populists would continue to win. And for people to wake up the way they are doing, evidently it had to be a very complicated situation. So, I would almost say, we were always prepared to receive this hot potato, and you can see that, because if we hadn’t taken quick measures, we would have blown up several times already. Specifically, when studying, you review the literature on early crisis indicators, when you have twin deficits, by 4 points of GDP, it's a yellow alert; if you have 8 points of GDP it's not only a red alert, but you're going to take a significant hit. We inherited twin deficits of 17 points of GDP, just to give you an idea of the magnitude of the disaster we received. In other words, the size of the hit was going to be colossal; basically, the inheritance had the worst of the three worst crises in Argentina. It had a monetary imbalance worse than what we had before the "Rodrigazo" in 1975; we had an imbalance in the Central Bank's balance worse than what Alfonsín had at the beginning of 1989, which ended in hyperinflation, and worse social indicators than in 2001, that is, before the crisis of 2002. In other words, literally, it was the sum of all evils. In that sense, that twin deficit, of 7 points of GDP, was composed mainly of a 15-point consolidated fiscal deficit. Of those 15 points, 5 corresponded to the Treasury and 10 corresponded to the Central Bank. Furthermore, to give you an idea of the magnitude of the disaster we received, basically, although during the entire previous government, monetary issuance was used to finance the fiscal imbalance, by 28 points of GDP. Of those 28 points, 13 took place in the last year; not a minor issue if you think about it because the monetary base is already - today - 2.6 of GDP, meaning they left behind a quintupling of prices, and if you also look at the Central Bank's balance sheet having holdings in Leliqs, ranging from 30 to 90 days, meaning 30, 60, and 90 days, all converted into overnight loans, which means there was the possibility of multiplying the money supply by 4 in a day. In that context, moreover, during the first week of December, prices were rising by 1% daily, which means that in annual terms, it is 3700% inflation. If it stopped in the first two weeks, that would be 7500% annually, and if you look at what wholesale inflation was in December, which was 54%, that annualized is 17,000%. So, facing hyperinflation, if the economy had already entered a recessionary path in the second and third quarters last year but was fueled by a lot of monetary issuances to try to force an electoral outcome that did not happen, and in that context, it was essential to avoid hyperinflation. But to avoid hyperinflation, it was necessary to implement a very tough stabilization program, a program that we had and that we were only able to announce on the third day, basically because we had the issue of appointments at the Central Bank. And basically, it had the three fundamental elements that any stabilization program has, which were fiscal adjustment, exchange rate correction, and the definition of a new monetary policy. In that sense, for us, the key was to end monetary issuance so that there would be no monetary validation of the price increases, and that it would not escalate and generate hyperinflation. In that sense, along with the devaluation, which was made because basically all we did was bring the exchange rate to the market exchange rate, adjusted by the PAIS Tax, and in that context, on the fiscal front, we decided to adopt what is called a zero-deficit policy. But a true zero deficit, not a lie, meaning a zero deficit in the line of financial result, that is, after paying interests. This is very important because if we achieve a zero deficit in the financial line, it means that the debt no longer grows. And if the debt does not grow anymore, the debt-to-GDP ratio does not increase more, and therefore one becomes temporarily solvent, and the consequence of this is that the PAIS Tax begins to fall, and the interest rate will decrease. Thus, the interest rate regains its essential function, which is to be a mechanism of inter-temporal coordination and for the growth process to be related precisely to the interest rate, the natural interest rate, that is, the market rate, not the rate that a bureaucrat comes up with by meddling from the Central Bank. I clarify to make it clear, this idea of being tinkering... Once, I remember telling someone: "you are worse than Moreno" because Moreno controlled the prices of today, but you want to control the interest rate, which means you want to control the prices of today and the future. Why? Because the interest rate is the relative price of present goods over future goods. So, this would be much more complicated. So, we also began a process of cleaning up the Central Bank's balance sheet, and the reality is that we believed and aimed to achieve a zero deficit by 2024, and we were truly and absolutely committed to carrying out a fiscal adjustment, which obviously involves a lot of chainsaw and a lot of blender, and if we wanted to do it quickly, we had to use both. There is a lot of blender and much more, actually, of chainsaw because we eliminated public works outright, something of which I am deeply proud, considering that public works are a major source of corruption and theft, which I imagine all decent people should oppose. (APPLAUSE). On the other hand, we also completely eliminated discretionary transfers to the provinces; we also laid off 50,000 public employees, not only that but we also terminated contracts, and you see, now, more contracts are being terminated, and 70,000 contracts will be terminated. We also eliminated 200,000 social programs, irregularly delivered, and at no time did we neglect social policy because – in the midst of it all – we doubled the AUH; we doubled the Food Card; we tripled assistance in the One Thousand Days Plan, that is, for pregnant women, and not only that, but we also quadrupled assistance for school supplies and created a mechanism for middle-income families, who attend low-cost private schools, to have a support mechanism so that the children wouldn't drop out of school, which they attended, and not have to suffer the shock of changing schools, that is, we also had a strong social perspective in what we were doing, and we also did something that, at the time, when Minister Pettovello designed it, the red circle, which is increasingly analog and doesn't understand anything we do, because the digital era has already passed us by, but the interesting thing is that, at one point, Minister Pettovello announced that social programs didn't have to be verified as working, that is, social programs are given and they were required to provide work in return, and obviously, let's say, no one explained how the whole situation was, and then we, knowing how tough the first months were going to be, while the adjustment took place, because apart from when you generate an increase in savings and there is no counterpart of investments, it generates a drop in activity and that makes employment fall and/or real wages fall and that could lead to social tension, which we wanted to cushion. And in that sense, it's very interesting because Minister Pettovello removed the need for them to verify that they had worked. Obviously, the large number of monkeys, and I apologize to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for insulting the monkeys, who look at Argentinian politics, where some obviously respond that they are very angry because they don't have a guideline, but let's say those monkeys – sorry to the monkeys, again – strongly criticized Minister Pettovello for this. What they didn't realize is that it was a way to end intermediaries, where all governments wanted to end intermediaries, but this government did it. So, basically, the people who receive social programs obviously receive a card and that goes to an account. So, they thought that with that they ensured that they would not be extorted, what they didn't know is that you must go to verify if they were working and there, when you were going to receive the verification that they had been working, the Bellibonis of life appeared, taking half of people's income. And they only validated it if you brought them the pretty ones, where they must validate that they were at the rallies. I mean, in reality, they stole half of the money and not only that, but they also had to go and work as picketers, so what you were doing was finance criminals and also ruining the functioning of the streets. In that sense, by eliminating the need for a counteroffer, until April, what happened, well, those criminals could not take away the money that people received from the social program. Therefore, without spending a penny more, this implied doubling the assistance and at the same time, we set up a phone line to report the pressures and extortions of these criminals and we have received close to 300,000 reports and today there are 18,000 cases in the courts. In other words, they are going to pay for having pressured people to go to the rallies. And furthermore, Belliboni threatened us that he was going to gather 50,000 people in the Plaza, so evidently, he planned to bring 100,000. From the Nation, we contributed with 12,000 officers, I don't remember the number that the City contributed, but it was tremendous because there were more police officers than people, as only 3,000 showed up, so it was a resounding success, coordinated at that moment between Minister Bullrich, Pettovello, and the Minister of Infrastructure. Additionally, in the public transportation, there was the announcement that fare-dodging wouldn't be penalized, and the lines for making complaints, and there we also started to organize the streets. In other words, we took away their firepower because now they can't extort people to do this, and we also started to enforce order. Therefore, one of the demands we received as a government, which was to put the streets in order, we are doing it. Because now, whoever blocks the streets doesn't get paid. And moreover, whoever does it... pays for it. And that is working perfectly. Not only that, but while we expected to achieve financial balance over the course of the year, the hard work of each minister allowed us to achieve that financial surplus in the month of January. And obviously, the "red circle" – it was logical – began to predict that we would have very strong deficits in February. And to the dismay of those who live betting against those of us who want to change, we again had a financial surplus in the month of February. Specifically, what we are doing is obtaining a result that, if you take the first two months, equivalent to half a percentage point of GDP, of primary surplus, that annualized would be 6 points. Therefore, we have over-adjusted what we needed, because we only needed to make an adjustment of 5 points of GDP. It's very funny because there are many who say that this is not sustainable, that this, that, when they said that the only thing that could be done was to adjust 1 percentage point of GDP, well, we adjusted 5 percentage points, but of course, that requires a dose of courage that others do not have. But that's not all because there's also the issue of the adjustment we made within the balance of the Central Bank, which generated a 10-point fiscal deficit, quasi-fiscal, and today that number is already 4. That is, with which there is no historical record – worldwide – of a government making an adjustment of 11 points of GDP in three months. And to the dismay of the "Helicopter Club" and all those who wish us ill, especially those whose schemes we've disrupted – which are quite evident, as you'll see them complaining. There's a saying that goes, "where there's a Kirchnerist kicking, there's a scheme that's been cut off," well, it's true. And not just Kirchnerists, but also, look at some other important economic groups. You can imagine who I'm talking about. Aside from that, they're very angry because Elon Musk has arrived. The important thing about this is that faced with the inflation disaster we had when we took office, in three weeks, inflation was at 30 percent, the retail figure, and it was expected to close the month at around 45 percent. I remember one weekend, journalist Gabriel Anello, a great journalist, and an even better person, asked me about inflation, and I told him the truth, that if it stayed at 30, it was a great number because it meant that by the fourth week, prices had stopped rising. And we found that it was 25, meaning there was a retraction in prices that had been fixed from the third week to the second. Then, in January, inflation was 20 percent, and in February, it was 13 percent. Now, when you strip out the statistical carryover effects related to one-time increases, like the tariff adjustments and prepaid health plans, that's equivalent to 6 points, so the true inflation rate for February was around 7%. In other words, we're bringing the inflation rate down to single digits. Furthermore, even if you were to include all these elements in the index, but somehow capture the effect of promotions, which can't be captured by the price index because it's a non-linear pricing scheme and depends on each citizen's consumption, then it's impossible to capture through the CPI due to the effects of "two for one," "three for two," and all those things. So, there's a sort of estimation of how much that weighs, but it can't be documented, and if that effect were considered, despite the previous factors, we would still be in single digits. Furthermore, in the third week of March, the price increase came to a halt, meaning we are moving in the right direction regarding anti-inflationary policy. In fact, some of the criticisms we receive are quite peculiar because, for example, if you look at the evolution of the inflation rate, the speed of the decline is stronger than what occurred during the convertibility period. When you examine the effects of stabilization during convertibility, prices are falling much faster today, or the inflation rate is declining much faster. This also makes sense, and what happens is that during convertibility, the money supply was endogenous, meaning that when there was an increase in the demand for money, the way to validate it was to bring in dollars and sell them to the Central Bank, which implied an expansion of the money supply and allowed for the re-adjustment of relative prices to occur with upward pressure on prices. Notice that since we took office, the monetary base has practically not changed, despite buying $11.5 billion in the market. Not only that, but we also had an expansion of the money supply due to the PUCs that the previous Central Bank administration used to try to control the exchange rate, and there was also expansion due to interest-bearing liabilities. However, the contraction due to BOPREAL has been so significant that the monetary base has barely changed or changed very little. So, we still have the same monetary base of $10 billion, but now on the asset side, we have $11.5 billion more in reserves. Therefore, we are undergoing a very strong process of balancing the Central Bank's balance sheet, and soon we will have net reserves close to zero, whereas the previous government left us with $11.5 billion in negative reserves. Not only are we achieving that, but also when the demand for money is restored, since the nominal money supply is fixed, this implies that to rebuild monetary holdings, people have to sell goods. Therefore, the deceleration of price growth is much more severe than in the convertible scheme because in the convertible scheme, the money supply expanded according to the demand for money and did not conflict with the goods market, which is what causes the inflation rate to fall much faster. I also find it very amusing to those who demand changing the pace of the exchange rate evaluation, which is ridiculous because today the free exchange rate shows no gap. If I take the reference exchange rate from the Central Bank and multiply it by 1.175, which is the PAIS Tax, it would be around 1,060. Therefore, I don't have a gap; I have a negative gap. So, if the market doesn't put it elsewhere, why would I arbitrarily modify it? Based on what? On a calculation made by clueless economists because they make that calculation of the real exchange rate, and the question is, have they never seen that during crisis periods, the real exchange rate is very high, and during boom periods, it is very low? Have they not seen the trend? Have the supply and demand conditions for all goods in the Argentinian and global economy not changed? How can they pretend to be so arrogant as to determine the price of something? Moreover, they average the average. Of what? If with the standard deviation they have, that average is ridiculous. I have an article about that, which says that the real exchange rate is when economists are part of the problem. Moreover, it implies a problem of fatal arrogance or rudeness because it would imply knowing the preferences, technology, and endowments, not only of our economy but also of the rest of the world. It seems quite pathetic to believe that they can have all that information to make all those decisions. Unfortunately, in Argentina, public education - because it's all public, it can be privately managed or state-managed - has done a lot of harm by brainwashing people and leading them to read authors who have truly been disastrous for human history and especially for Argentina. I always joke that if you go to the University of Buenos Aires, to the Faculty of Economics, and ask, "Who is Ludwig von Mises?" They will tell you he's the 9th of Holland, while for others, he's the greatest economist of all time alongside Murray Newton Rothbard. But, of course, they know the bearded one, the German impoverisher Marx, they know him. But beyond this situation, the other funny thing is that if I have the future dollar curve aligned with the Crawling Peg that the Central Bank is implementing, why would I need to devalue? It's incredible, it's ridiculous. They're looking at market data and no. The whole market is wrong, they resemble James. It's incredible because when Keynesians talk about what a great investor James was... He was involved in finance and went bankrupt like a rat and the argument... if you look at Damodaran's Valuation book, there's James’s quote saying he was so arrogant that he said, "It's no use being right when the whole market is wrong. You'll lose anyway." So, everyone was wrong except him, but when they all turned against him, he lost money and went bankrupt. He had to go ask his father, who was friends with Marshall, for help, took a 6-month course, and then got into Cambridge. And when they say he was a great investor, it was all a lie because in reality, as a person with a lot of influence in English politics, he was on both sides of the counter during the War and the Great Depression. I mean, he was in both England and the United States, and Mr. James, the fortune he made, he made through what today would put him in jail, which is the inside trading. That is, he would take information from the American government, which he would use on certain things, and trade with it. It's like the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko was a choirboy compared to James. So, it's also another myth that he was a great investor; the guy played with classified information. I mean, nobody else thought of it, but he did. That's why all the regulations on Wall Street came afterward. So, it seems quite comical that we have to change the crawling peg when the entire futures curve is aligned with monetary policy. And in this whole context, given the commitment we have to the deficit zero policy, I often say that I've been tied to the deficit zero policy like Ulysses to the main mast, with the advantage that I have my ministers shooting at the sirens. So, we're going, and we're doing it well. So, from receiving an economy that had a PAIS risk of 2,900 points, today it's already reaching 2,400. Analysts are seeing that we're heading towards 1,000. That's not insignificant because it opens up possibilities for us to enter the capital markets. Our credit rating has been raised, bonds that used to cost $18 are now worth $54, and Argentinian assets have appreciated significantly. When you look at the GDP data today, it's true that it fell in the first quarter, by about 4.5-points, but it's also true that analysts were expecting a 6-point drop. So, we're making a much stronger adjustment than analysts anticipated, and we're falling less. And that also encourages the idea of a "V-shaped" recovery. A very interesting piece of data from the Orlando Ferreres Consultancy emerged, which is that the seasonally adjusted figure for February was positive, just a little bit. So, we're not getting excited about that number, but at least it seems that we'll be finding the bottom at some point in the near future, and many analysts are already talking about a "V-shaped" recovery, which is understandable when you look at how quickly the PAIS risk is falling. At the same time, we are working on the issue of lifting currency controls, and as soon as we manage to clean up the Central Bank's balance sheet, when we can get rid of all the interest-bearing liabilities and put an end to this nefarious practice of remunerating liabilities, what this will imply is that the issuance of money through interest-bearing liabilities will be halted. Simultaneously, another thing we are working on is a reform of the financial system to move towards an integrated system with the capital market and build a banking system that is anti-runs. The truth is, that wouldn't be a problem today because credit to the non-financial private sector is 4-points of GDP, meaning we don't have a financial system; there is no financial system. Therefore, it's interesting that we start building a financial system that doesn't require a lender of last resort. So, if that reform includes integrating the format of banks with a format of the capital market so that we can move towards a system of free banking, that will allow us, when we have that reform, to open the financial system, lift currency controls, and in that context also pass the law against monetary issuance, where basically we consider seigniorage a crime, it's theft, it's counterfeiting, it's fraud. Issuing money is a scam. And in that sense, if there were to be monetary issuance, the President of the Central Bank, the board, the President of the Nation, the Minister of Economy, and deputies and senators who have approved budgets with fiscal deficits would go to jail. Obviously, you might say to me, "But this is Argentina," and surely another criminal will come along and change things and overturn that law. But we will give it the category of non-prescriptible, as if it were a crime against humanity. Therefore, yes, another criminal may come and change these conditions and return to the practice of issuing money, but then another may come and say, "You are a criminal, you did that," and put them in jail. So, we are going for a solution of these characteristics to end this scam of monetary issuance in Argentina. And obviously, as we can continue advancing in this system of free banking, of deep capital markets moving towards a complete system, and we have stopped issuance through rediscounts, issuance through remunerated liabilities, issuance to finance the treasury, we will have a free exchange rate, with the money supply fixed, and if it is necessary for more money to enter the system, it will be entered by the agents themselves. For example, they will open their mattress and start making transactions. Therefore, the monetization of the economy will be done by individuals themselves with the currencies they want to transact. Currency competition has a very interesting consequence. For example, if you're in the oil sector like Alejandro, you can transact with your peers in WTI, or if you're in the gas business, you can transact with others in BTU. If you're in the agriculture sector, you can transact with others using soybeans in Chicago, and so on. Each will have its own currency. This is equivalent to having a basket of currencies where the weights are determined endogenously by the people, instead of being determined by a bureaucrat at their discretion, which they will always get wrong. Even if they did it right, it would have to be this result, and that's what the agents do, so we don't need a bureaucrat sticking their finger in anywhere because they already know where the finger ends up, and often, it ends up being the arm, not the finger, where they stick it. If they had a vaseline business, they would be happier celebrating. So, once we achieve this, we'll be able to lift the currency controls. Currently, we have excess demand in the Foreign Exchange Market and excess supply in the rest of the economy, resulting in low bond prices, high interest rates, and high PAIS Tax. It also means oversupply in the goods market, leading to economic activity deterioration. In fact, our per capita GDP is 15% lower than in 2011, and we have the same number of jobs in the private sector as in 2011. This implies an increase in the number of poor and indigent people, leading to social pressure for support. Naturally, when we close this excess demand in the Foreign Exchange Market, all other excess supplies will close as well. This will result in higher bond prices, lower interest rates, closing the imbalance in the goods market, economic expansion, improvements in real wages, employment, and reduction in poverty and indigence. Then, the economy will start to rebound, despite the corrupt institutions we have and the economy's deep capitalization due to over 20 years of populism. Nonetheless, we can grow and generate genuine economic growth without inflation. And we can do all of this despite the politics, despite all the obstacles, and despite all the garbage they throw at us. But you know what? There's something wonderful, something that even the analog red circle doesn't see. Every DNU issued in Argentina, all of them were aimed at generating regulations, in other words, reducing market freedom, making markets more concentrated, giving businesses to cronies, huge scams, and above all, encroaching on individual freedoms. Remember what they did during the pandemic, this gang of criminals, and yet there were people applauding them for locking us up. No one opposed that deluge of DNUs. Our DNU is the first in history to restore individual freedoms, making markets more competitive. Look at the wonderful thing in the issue of rentals; you couldn't find a property. The number of rental properties doubled, prices in real terms dropped, and the real estate market expanded strongly during the month of February. Look at the interesting things the DNU achieved, which is still in effect, but had a setback in the Senate, which, by the way, isn't so bad because if we only have seven senators and we got 25 votes, it wasn't so bad, there's improvement, there are people betting on change. But obviously, since this also touches on political scams, evidently, since politicians don't want to give up their scams, don't want to lose their privileges, don't want to give up anything, they'd rather sink Argentinians into misery to maintain their caste privileges, that's why they overturned the DNU. And this is very interesting because if I had told you that in two or three months, we were going to be able to order the Argentine ideological spectrum, you would have said I was crazy. And after what happened with the Basic Law and what happened with the DNU, it's wonderful in terms of the principle of revelation; they left all their fingers dirty. On one side, there are the orcs, who are orcs and can't be expected to behave differently because they are orcs. Then there are the people who truly want change, and there are the fraudulent criminals who say they want change, but in reality, they disguise themselves as wanting change but are just as criminal as the orcs, but they are ashamed to be associated with them. So, they hide behind formalities and all those issues, but deep down, they are the same garbage as the orcs. It was very interesting because it became evident, both in the voting in the House, particularly on the articles, and in the Senate the other day, they were exposed. Today, with the vote, it became clear who is against progress, who the criminals are, who are in favor of scams and theft, and who are against returning freedom to the people, against competitive markets, and against letting go of the scams so that people can get their money back. So, it's wonderful because in three months, we ended up unmasking these criminals. And that's also very interesting because it won't come for free in the midterm election; they will pay with their votes, and those criminals will be left out. That will allow us to have a much better midterm election than the one we had last year. That's interesting because we'll have another composition of Congress, and all the reforms that we couldn't push through now, we'll do it at that time, starting on December 11th, 2025. Furthermore, we'll push through the 3,000 pending reforms that we couldn't pass because of this group of criminals who are the obstruction machine, who want the status quo to continue, where you pay the bill, and they benefit. Therefore, I am very optimistic about the future because we are achieving a lot of things despite politics, and people are seeing that. It's very interesting because even though we are facing the largest adjustment in the history of humanity, with 70% of Argentinians acknowledging that they are worse off... There are some very important data points. The first one is that when we took office, only 20% of Argentinians believed they would be better off in a year's time, but in January, that number rose to 30%, in February it climbed to 42%, and today it stands at 50%. This means that despite being worse off in the present, 50% of Argentinians are convinced that we will be better off from now on. Not only that, but 70% of Argentinians are convinced that we will defeat inflation, with 50% of them believing we will do it in the first year and 20% believing we will do it in the second year. When you look at what's happening in terms of a word that represents the sentiment of Argentinians, the word that appears most strongly and fundamentally dominates is "Hope". Yes, people have "Hope", people see that we are going to make it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and people are seeing it, even though they are going through a tough time now. They've realized that populism leads nowhere, they've realized that the solution lies in embracing the ideas of Liberty, and that's no small feat. If today were the elections in a runoff, we would be getting 58%, that is, it would be 58, 42. Instead of +2, we are +16, and when you ask that group: Who would you vote for in the first round? They would vote for ‘Libertad Avanza’ with 48%, that is, we improved the voting strength by 60% compared to what we obtained. This means that with that alone, we would already win in the first round because the second person in voting intention is Mrs. Cristina Fernández Kirchner with 20%. But not only that, there are 10 points, which if we go for the most rudimentary case, half and half, 48 and 5 = 53. Therefore, what I want to tell you is that there is hope. Do you know why there is hope? Because people woke up, they decided to stop being sheep and decided to be Lions now. Therefore, there is hope because Argentinians are embracing the ideas of freedom, not only that I'm going to tell them that we're going to be better, but they also already know that we're going to be better. Therefore, Argentina does have a future because that future is liberal. Thank you very much.

Energy & Economics
Argentine President Javier Milei takes the stage to speak during the 2024 CPAC Conference at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Washington DC on February 24, 2024

Javier Milei ended a DC - sized deficit in... nine weeks

by Peter St. Onge

Argentina’s Javier Milei is racking up some solid wins, with the fiscal basket case seeing its first monthly budget surplus in 12 years. Apparently, it took Milei just nine and a half weeks to balance a budget that was projected at 5% of GDP under the previous government. In US terms, he turned a 1.2 trillion-dollar annual deficit into a 400 billion surplus. In 9 and a half weeks. How did he do it? Easy: he cut a host of central government agency budgets by 50% while slashing crony contracts and activist handouts. For perspective, if you cut the entirety of Washington's budget by 50%, you'd save a fast 3 trillion dollars and start paying off the national debt. It turns out it can be done, and the world doesn't collapse into chaos.    Milei Making Fast Progress Deficits aren’t the only win Milei's logged. He’s slashed crony regulation, got rid of currency controls, and recently slashed rent prices by removing controls — that actually led to a doubling of apartments for rent in Buenos Aires, slashing rent costs. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing: a bill to privatize corrupt state-owned companies — to effectively de-Soviet the Argentine economy — was blocked by the socialist opposition who serve the government unions who would lose their jobs. Meanwhile, a major Milei reform to make it a lot easier to hire people but would hurt unions was struck down by the high court, which said it must go through Congress. Having said that, for the average Argentinian, these are deckchairs on the Titanic compared to the elephant in the economy: Argentina's hyperinflation. Just last week, the monthly inflation figure came in at 20.6% — on the month. That was a lot better than the outgoing government, but it still left year-on-year inflation at 254%. Why so high? Partly because Milei had to free up the exchange rate to smooth the path to dollarization — for Argentina adopting the US dollar instead of the local confetti. But mostly because the rivers of money printed by the previous socialists continue to run through the battered ruins they left of Argentina's economy. After all, Milei's only been in office for two months.  Argentina’s Dollarization Milei's reforms will continue to be trench warfare. But his inflation progress is going to be key to retaining support. He just notched a big win with the deficit, but it only stops the bleeding — the patient is still on life support. To fully kill Argentina's hyperinflation, Milei would need to make real progress on the dollarization — or, dare we dream, a gold standard. On dollarization, that would involve announcing a months-long window for peso assets to be revalued in dollars. He's been preparing the groundwork so far — the currency controls and deficits are a big help. And he's surely motivated to do it since dollarization in other countries like did it like Ecuador has 90% public support. But it is a complicated process, and if done badly, he'll be dead in the water. The stakes are high. And not just for Argentina: If Milei succeeds, he'll be a model for radically shrinking government in other countries in Latin America, in the rest of the world, and even for our spineless goblins in Washington. Originally published at profstonge.com.

Energy & Economics
Border between USA and Mexico

How the US Regime Subsidizes Immigration—both Legal and Illegal

by Ryan McMaken

In recent months, stories from both the legacy media and the independent media have continued to pile up on how undocumented foreign nationals—also known as "migrants" and "illegal aliens"—are able to take advantage of a vast network of taxpayer funded benefits in daycare, medical care, housing, and more. For example, both the New York Post and Denver Post report that these foreign nationals have "overwhelmed" the Denver Health hospital system in Denver, and that the situation is "unsustainable." Meanwhile, public schools report classrooms are filling up quickly with the children of these foreign nationals. Denver is hardly alone. The New York Post notes that both the City of New York and the state government have expanded local welfare programs, including pre-paid credit cards, to further ensure that migrants continue to receive cash and resources from American taxpayers. This is in addition to the approximately 66,000 foreign nationals who are housed in hotels and shelters, care of both New York and federal taxpayers. USAToday reports that colleges "across the country" are receiving millions in taxpayer money to offer housing to migrants at no charge. Chicago's mayor is bragging he's giving away $17 million in taxpayer-funded giveaways to "asylum seekers" who are presently living off the sweat of the taxpayers in government shelters. This, of course, is just a downpayment on many more planned giveaways. Just how much in taxpayers' resources is going to foreign nationals? It's difficult to estimate for a number of reasons. The spending is done through numerous different government agencies at various levels of government. Moreover, much of the money if filtered through non-profits (i.e., "NGOs") that are labeled "charities" but are simply adjuncts of the regime. Once we add up $1 billion here and $77 million there, after a while we're talking about real money, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: the regime and its partners are subsidizing the influx of foreign nationals who are promised a variety of both cash and in-kind benefits. It must also be noted that, contrary to certain myths, the largesse is not reserved for only the so-called "illegal aliens." Legal immigrants can take advantage of the generous and well-funded American welfare state even more readily than can the undocumented migrants. What is the effect of subsidizing a particular product or activity? It is usually the same everywhere we look: you get more of what you subsidize. This is true of student loans, it's true of ethanol, and it's true of migrants. Economic theory tells us that the government cannot possibly know the "correct" number of migrants, nor should the regime be free to centrally plan some arbitrary number. On the other hand, it is extremely unlikely that the number of migrants—even with lax border enforcement—would be as high as it is without the regime's incessant subsidization of migrants, both legal and illegal. How Many Foreign Nationals Live in the United States? According to the Congressional Research Service, it is estimated there were approximately 45-46 million foreign-born residents of the United States in 2022. Of those, about 53 percent, or 24 million, are naturalized citizens. In addition to this there are 12.9 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) and approximately 11 million more are so-called "illegal" immigrants. All combined, we find that 23 million non-citizen US residents—i.e., "foreign nationals"—are living in the United States. That's about 51 percent of the overall foreign-born population. As we will see, many of them receive financial support and resources from US taxpayers. (This measure does not count the approximately 3.2 million nonimmigrant workers, students, exchange visitors, diplomats, and their relatives who have sought only temporary residence in the United States. These nonimmigrant groups are not eligible for public benefits.) Are Foreign Nationals Eligible for Welfare? Among immigrant foreign nationals, most are eligible for some form of taxpayer-funded "public" benefits. For example, undocumented foreign nationals may legally access "treatment under Medicaid for emergency medical conditions," a variety of in-kind services such a soup kitchens and temporary housing, and "programs for housing or community development assistance or financial assistance administered by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development..." That's just the direct federally-funded services. State and local government may elect to provide additional services at local taxpayers' expense. The welfare programs available to legal foreign nationals are far more broad. Legal foreign nationals (LPRs) can access most federal welfare programs after an initial five-year period. This includes non-emergency Medicaid, CHIP, TANF (i.e., cash assistance), food stamps, and SSI. Access to these programs have been further broadened by state governments. As noted by the National Immigration Law Center: Over half of the states have used state funds to provide TANF, Medicaid, and/or CHIP to immigrants who are subject to the five-year bar on federally funded services, or to a broader group of immigrants. A growing number of states and counties provide health coverage to children, young adults, or pregnant persons regardless of their immigration status. Several states offer or will offer health coverage to older adults regardless of their immigration status. And five states (California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington) and the District of Columbia offer or will offer public or private health coverage with state subsidies to all otherwise eligible immigrants regardless of their immigration status. It is not necessary to be employed to maintain legal permanent resident status, even if one is of working age. After all, LPRs are not the same at temporary nonimmigrant workers like H1B visa holders: "Green card holders [LPRs] can also collect unemployment compensation the same way citizens do ...nor can a legal permanent resident be deported for being unemployed." Legal immigrants do not jeopardize their legal status by applying for additional taxpayer funded benefits such as food stamps: "SNAP enrollment will NOT affect your ability to remain in the United States, get a green card/permanent resident status, keep your green card/permanent resident status, or become a U.S. citizen." In short, nearly the full gamut of taxpayer-funded welfare programs are open to legal foreign nationals after the initial five-year bar. Moreover, many migrants aren't even held to that, including "[r]efugees, people granted asylum or withholding of deportation/removal, Cuban/Haitian entrants, certain Amerasian immigrants" and other specific groups are exempted from the waiting period. All these foreign nationals, regardless of status, are free to send their children to government childcare centers known as "public schools." How Much Do Foreign Nationals Use American Social Benefits? A variety of organizations have attempted to quantify the extent to which both naturalized immigrants and current foreign nationals use welfare programs. This study from the National Academies concludes that the data show[s] that the immigrant households use several programs, most notably food assistance and Medicaid, at higher rates than do households led by the native-born. ...This higher use of welfare programs by immigrants is attributable to their lower average incomes and larger families. In the NA study, immigrant households with children utilized welfare programs at higher rates in nearly every US state. In California, 61.5 percent of households utilized welfare while 40.7 percent of immigrant households did. In Texas, the same measures are at 66.3 and 44.2 percent, respectively. Similar proportions are found in Florida and New York. This report unfortunately does not differentiate between naturalized immigrants and foreign nationals. However, given that naturalized immigrants tend to earn 50 to 70 percent more than non-citizen immigrants, it is safe to conclude that foreign nationals utilize welfare programs more than naturalized immigrants, and therefore more than the native population. An increasingly important addition to legal immigration in recent decades has been the population of immigrants legally designated as refugees. In total, this all costs the taxpayers nearly two billion dollars per year, or $80,000 per refugee per year in the form of federal and state programs including food stamps, child care, and public housing. The Center for Immigration Studies has published studies similar to the NA study. These CIS studies show similar results. In 2012, 51 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal) reported that they used at least one welfare program during the year, compared to 30 percent of native households. Welfare in this study includes Medicaid and cash, food, and housing programs. Immigrant households have much higher use of food programs (40 percent vs. 22 percent for natives) and Medicaid (42 percent vs. 23 percent). Note that these conclusions reflect immigrant households rather than immigrant individuals. This is an important distinction because many immigrant households contain citizen children who became citizens at birth due to being born in the United States. Thus, the household may contain both citizens and foreign nationals—some of whom may be illegal foreign nationals. These households, however, enjoy access to welfare programs by virtue of the underage members' citizenship. Thus, immigrant households can access taxpayer funded healthcare, food stamps, housing programs (and more) through the native-born children. Similar trends persist when non-citizen households are measured separately from all immigrant households combined. Some researchers insist that welfare benefits for foreign nationals ought to be measured only on an individual, per capita basis. For example, in this report from the CATO institute, the researchers conclude that for 2020, native-born residents, on average, cost welfare programs $8,335 per capita while immigrants cost welfare programs $6,063. These proportions can vary by program. For example, the per capita Medicaid cost for immigrants is $1,859, while the cost for native-born residents is $2,081. The use of food stamps is similar ($190 per capita for immigrants versus $214 per capita for natives), Immigrants usage of SSI is slightly higher ($188 per capita) than it is for natives ($169 per capita). How much taxpayer funding are we talking about overall? The CATO report estimates that the total cost of welfare going to non-native US residents in 2020 was $290.4 billion, That's a sum equal to the combined budgets of the Departments of Education and Homeland Security. Yet, only about half of non-natives are non-citizen foreign nationals. To find the sum used by non-citizen immigrants, we can't just divide the sum in half because foreign nationals tend to use welfare more than naturalized immigrants. So, given the $290.4 billion total for immigrant welfare spending, we can estimate that at least $150 billion of that is consumed by foreign nationals—a sum about equal to the combined budgets of the Departments of Education, State, and Housing and Urban Development. (This spending total excludes state and local spending on government schools for the children of foreign nationals.) An older CATO study (from 2013) does break out non-citizens from immigrants overall. Here, the researchers conclude that low-income immigrants use food stamps more than naturalized immigrants, and only slightly less than native-born residents. When it comes to taxpayer funded healthcare: one in five non-citizen immigrants collect this benefit while slightly more than 1 in 4 natives collects this particular form of taxpayer largesse. The Migration Policy Center reports that in 2021, 32 percent of immigrants (both citizen and non-citizen) used government health insurance. That's comparable to 38 percent of natives. Yet, even by this conservative measure of immigrant welfare usage, the best we can say is that immigrants use welfare at a rate slightly lower than that of natives. One could argue that, at the low end, immigrants receive (per capita) about 70 to 75 cents for every welfare dollar that goes to natives. That's not exactly "good news" given that overall federal spending on social benefits amounts to about half of the annual $6.3 trillion budget and is clearly out of control. The fact that natives get most of this is hardly an exoneration of immigrants. It's more of an indictment of native-born Americans, millions of whom exploit their most productive fellow citizens every month to keep the government benefits flowing. In any case, we find tax money flows freely to foreign nationals, and immigration to the United States is heavily subsidized. We should not be surprised when a lot of immigrants show up to get their share.