Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Quick Hits

There have been several interesting developments over the last few days, so let's get right to them:
  • Eight weeks after the 2010 mid-term elections, the Obama administration, ahem, boldly announces that it has begun the process of looking into whether it will maybe start letting Mexican trucks onto US roads again.  The Transportation Department proposal is here.  The Teamsters are "deeply disappointed," and Mexico sounds pleased, so this is looking pretty good.  But let's be very clear here: nothing has changed yet.  Mexican trucks are still banned from US roads, and $2.4 billion worth of US exports will continue to face retaliatory Mexican tariffs - as they have since 2009 - until this agreement is finalized.  Today, USTR Ron Kirk and his Mexican counterpart Bruno Ferrari optimistically announced that it could be at least 4-6 months before the program begins (it apparently needs congressional approval), and Mexico will stop adding or removing products from its retaliation list.  Nevertheless, the tariffs will remain: "Once we have dates, time frames and the manner in which this Nafta mandate will be met, we'll present and discuss the process to lift the retaliatory tariffs," Ferrari said.
  • Are things looking up for the US-Colombia FTA's prospects in the 112th Congress?  According to Inside US Trade, ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee Sander Levin (D-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) separately have announced trips to Colombia over the next few weeks.  These visits will definitely give both top Democrats (and any others joining them in body or spirit) a new excuse to support the FTA, despite strong resistance from US labor unions and many, if not most, of their fellow Dems.  As you may recall, similar trips to Peru back in 2007 gave Levin and former Ways & Means chairman Rangel cover to support the US-Peru FTA.  On the other hand, supporters of the US-Colombia FTA shouldn't get too excited - the FTA remains organized labor's most-hated pending agreement; the White House still hasn't gotten behind the agreement (although the Daley Chief-of-Staff pick is a reason for optimism); and Levin and Baucus are some of the Democratic Party's more reasonable folks on trade, especially trade agreements that would boost automobile and beef exports.  Nevertheless, the Levin/Baucus trips are a good thing, and maybe, just maybe, they're a sign that the Democrats' absurd resistance to the Colombia FTA is fading.
  • Martin Feldstein, former chair of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors recently predicted that the US-China current account deficit should disappear in the next few years.  Today, China announced its 2010 trade balance, and its surplus is dramatically smaller than anyone was expecting.  "Chinese exports increased 31.3 percent last year as global demand recovered, but the extent of China's outperformance was underlined by a 38.7 percent jump in imports, fueled by its voracious appetite for oil, iron ore and other commodities." As a result, "China's full-year [2010] trade surplus was 38 percent lower than its pre-crisis peak of nearly $300 billion in 2008."  I've repeatedly cautioned that global supply chains now limit the predictive value of these trade stats.  Nevertheless, it appears - on the surface at least - that some changes are afoot.
  • The Daily Caller reports that the United States is missing out on being a big exporter of, wait for it, horse meat.  But because of a 2007 USDA rule that effectively banned the slaughter of horses, the 1 billion global consumers of horse meat get their food elsewhere.  Oh, and here's a real shock: the "saved" American horses apparently suffer far worse fates than the slaughterhouse, and they're causing serious environmental problems in several Western states.  And the Law of Unintended Consequences wins again.
  • Politico: "Leaders of 1,655 companies and associations sent letters this week to ever member of Congress pressing for passage of all three pending free trade agreements (Korea, Colombia, Panama). House letter: Senate:"  Me: please note the letters' typical overemphasis on exports.  Sigh.
That's all for now.  Happy reading.  (And Go Ducks.)

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