The U.S. stopped short of branding China a currency manipulator, but urged the world’s second-largest economy to let the yuan rise with market forces and embrace more trade.

No major trading partner is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage, according to the first foreign-currency report released by the Treasury Department under President Donald Trump. It kept China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland on its foreign-exchange monitoring list.

“China currently has an extremely large and persistent bilateral trade surplus with the United States, which underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services,” as well as quicker reforms to boost household consumption, according to the Treasury report.

Trump declared that he’ll back away from a campaign promise to name China a currency manipulator, a move that would have created friction between the world’s largest economies as they try to boost trade cooperation and address North Korea’s nuclear threat. Trump, in a Wall Street Journal interview, said China hasn’t manipulated the yuan for months, while accusing nations that he didn’t identify of devaluing their currencies and saying the dollar is getting too strong.

The report contains an implicit threat that unless China gives U.S. exporters greater market access and further rebalances the economy, the U.S. could act to rectify the trade imbalance, according to Eswar Prasad, former head of the IMF’s China division and author of “Gaining Currency: The Rise of the Renminbi.”

“While China now meets only one of the three criteria for currency manipulation listed in the report, the text makes clear that China’s large bilateral trade surplus with the U.S. is by itself enough to warrant careful scrutiny of China’s trade and currency practices,” said Prasad, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The Treasury report said that for a decade China engaged in one-way, large-scale interventions to hold down the currency, and then only allowed it to strengthen gradually -- a practice that imposed “significant and long-lasting hardship on American workers and companies.” While China has been intervening to prevent a depreciation of the yuan, its selling of foreign currency reserves abated early this year, Treasury said.

Now, China needs to show that its lack of intervention in the currency markets “to resist appreciation” over the past three years is a “durable” policy by allowing the yuan to strengthen “once appreciation pressures resume,” the Treasury said.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking comment on the report.

Foreign Reserves

Treasury avoiding the manipulator label reflects that China’s current-account surplus as a share of output is much reduced, and currency intervention now supports yuan strength, according to Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Justin Jimenez. China has burned through almost $1 trillion of its foreign reserves, or about a quarter of the total stockpile, since mid-2014 to help support the currency.

“After much hoopla, and with a few extra bells and whistles, the Treasury’s position is completely unchanged,” Orlik and Jimenez wrote in a report. “Treasury does have some choice words for China, accusing it of causing ‘long-lasting hardship’ to American workers. And there’s what looks like a change in the criteria, opening the possibility that China’s outsize trade surplus alone will be enough to keep it on the watch list.”

Like the last report by the Obama administration in October, China met only one of the three criteria -- for having a large trade deficit -- that’s used by the Treasury as a threshold for manipulation. China’s $347 billion goods trade surplus with the U.S. was the largest of major trading partners last year, according to the report.

Taiwan also met one condition, while the other four met two.

The Treasury said Germany has a “responsibility” to help balance global demand and trade flows. Europe’s biggest economy should use fiscal policy to encourage strong domestic demand, which would put “upward pressure” on the euro. Switzerland “could increase reliance on policy rates in order to limit the need for foreign-exchange interventions, which should be made more transparent.”

In Asia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea were urged to keep interventions to a minimum, and aspire to have flexible and transparent exchange rate policies.

“The United States cannot and will not bear the burden of an international trading system that unfairly disadvantages our exports and unfairly advantages the exports of our trading partners through artificially distorted exchange rates,” the report stated. “Treasury is committed to aggressively and vigilantly monitoring and combating unfair currency practices.’’

The department is required by law to report to Congress twice a year on whether America’s major trading partners are gaming their currencies. The report is the government’s formal channel to impose the manipulator designation, leading to a year of negotiations for a solution and penalties if the practice continues.

The U.S. hasn’t branded any country a manipulator since 1994.

A senior Bank of Korea official said South Korean foreign-exchange authorities maintain their stance that the exchange rate is to be determined by the market as the report emphasized fair competition. The official asked not to be identified because the central bank hasn’t issued a statement the report.

A spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office referred a request for comment to the central bank. An official at the monetary authority, who asked not to be identified, said Saturday that the central bank is in continued contact with the U.S. and has good communication channels with Washington.

The Treasury left the criteria for manipulation unchanged at having a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion; having a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3 percent of gross domestic product; repeated currency depreciating by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2 percent of output over the year.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said that the issue of “currency misalignment” -- which could also include unintentional devaluations -- will be addressed in a study of trade abuses by nations that run large surpluses with the U.S., which is due to be ready in June.

 

Credit: Bloomberg

Every four years the CIA’s National Intelligence Council (NIC) provides the incoming president and his administration with an assessment of the most powerful global forces likely to affect foreign and domestic affairs. Known as the CIA’s Global trends, the report is also available to the public and normally has a time horizon of five years and beyond.

Donald Trump would probably be prompted to dismiss the 235-page 2017 edition with a tweet after getting just half-way down the first summary page. The next five years, the report says, will

close an era of American dominance following the Cold War.

Trump would undoubtedly see this as a personal affront to his promise that he will “Make America Great Again”.

Ironically, Trump’s own behaviour during his presidential campaign and transition only lends credence to one of the report’s general forecasts that the next five years

will see rising tensions within and between countries.

So far Trump has stirred tensions with a range of countries. He has made controversial statements that have offended, among others, Europeans, Asians and, of course, Mexicans.

The report provides a useful starting point to reflect on what’s in store for Africa over the next five years. And how the continent should think about responding to challenges it identifies in the context of a Trump presidency.

A case in point are the report’s findings set against Trump’s stance on climate change. The Global Trends 2017 puts greater emphasis on the urgent need to mitigate and adapt to global warming and other man-induced climate change than earlier editions. But Trump’s climate denial rhetoric and the prominent deniers he is including in his cabinet, contradict all available evidence-based judgements.

This might suggest that the continent and Trump are on a collision course given that Africa will suffer more than most regions from the threat of climate change. This needn’t be the case. There are some low-cost ways African Union members, individually and together, could undertake to slow down, and even derail, Trump and his climate deniers. And shrewd diplomats would do well to use the report as a useful reference for prodding US negotiators. They might also use it for gauging levels of public and Congressional support for Trump’s controversial policies.

Clues to Trump’s views on Africa

There have been few indications of Trump’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa. But a few clues of how his administration views the continent have been reported by the New York Times.

The report was based on a leaked four-page list of questions about Africa his transition team sent to the State Department and Pentagon. The questions indicate a general scepticism about the value of foreign aid or even US security interests in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting Africans have squandered American money and effort.

Questions included:

With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen?

and in relation to the African Growth and Opportunity Act

Why do we support that massive benefit to corrupt regimes?

and regarding US business interests

Are we losing out to the Chinese?

Based on these questions, it’s possible that Trump will opt for an American retreat from the bipartisan development, humanitarian, and security assistance goals of previous administrations. Even so, policies he pursues on global issues such as trade and climate change will have a dramatic impact on the continent.

Trends facing Africa

The Global Trends report conclusion is that prospects for progress on the continent clearly outweigh the dangers. It says that in the next five years African countries will focus on internal issues as they struggle to consolidate the gains of the past 15 years and try to resist the geopolitical and economic headwinds that threaten them.

It also identifies the key challenges, among them the familiar issues of rapid population growth and rural-urban migration, severe if uneven environmental and health risks, radicalisation, and failures of governing institutions.

The report’s emphasis on climate change is particularly telling. It cites credible scientific evidence of global warming and forecasts dire consequences for countries across the world, including in Africa.

An emaciated cow walks in Gelcha village, one of the drought stricken areas of in Ethiopia. Reuters/Tiksa Negeri.

The report endorses the findings and process approved by 194 countries participating in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Obama Administration was a global leader in the IPCC and agreements reached in Paris in 2015 on reducing greenhouse gases emissions in a voluntary process now endorsed by virtually all UN members.

Obama was also committed to a bilateral agreement with China, obligating the world’s two largest emitters to major reductions. And he made a pledge vital to Africa of US$3 bn toward an initial IPCC $10 billion fund to assist the most vulnerable and under-resourced countries adapt to global warming. This fund is scheduled to grow to $100 billion annually by 2020.

Trump, however, has repeatedly threatened to renege on all these US commitments once in office.

What Africa needs to do

Here are some low-cost ways African Union members, individually and together, could undertake to slow and even derail Trump and his climate deniers:

  • Seize every opportunity in bilateral talks and multilateral forums to reference the findings presented in Global Trends 2017. Although prepared during the Obama administration, it is the work of non-partisan civil servants.
  • Devise and implement public diplomacy campaigns in partnership with civil society groups, environmental activists, and the African Diaspora. Recalling lessons from the highly effective anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s could be helpful.

  • Develop a better understanding of and links to America’s booming alternative energy sector. Costs of solar, wind, and other clean energy sources have fallen dramatically to the point that economics, rather than politics or ethics now drive most major reductions of America’s dangerous emissions. There may be positive business opportunities for African companies and countries to exploit for economic grow, development and dealing with the effects of global warming.
  • Actively support Americans (and anyone else) who support a carbon tax, with generous allowances for low polluting African countries swap credits with rich emitters, with cash generated assisting climate adaptation.

  • With Obama gone, China alone appears poised for global leadership on climate change. South Africa could help by using its membership in the BRICS and close ties to China and Brazil to press India, and especially Russia to meet their obligations. Perhaps it might even get the group to increase its contributions to the special fund for seriously affected African countries.
  • R

    eassure potential American donors and partners, including Trump and his allies, that funds allocated for helping Africans adjust to climate change will be accounted for through a voluntary transparent process of planning and reporting. Such accountability is a key vision of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and its African Peer Review Mechanism, currently under renewal.

  • Finally: tap into African expertise. Arguments should make full use of the continent’s small but growing community of climate scientists and their many links to America’s scientific community and environmental activists. Holding Trump to facts, not opinion, has failed so far. But evidence suggests public sentiment and economic incentives increasingly favour better climate management.

Africa’s appeals to America for fairness can be as effective as they once were for freedom.

 

John J Stremlau, Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article..

 


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