Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Quick Hits

Work's been pretty rough these last few days, but here are some quick hits to get you through the slower blogtimes:
  • "Zeroing" took yet another hit last week: this time by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled last Thursday that the Department of Commerce needs to revisit its use of the WTO-illegal methodology in antidumping annual reviews because (i) DOC had abandoned the practice in investigations; and (ii) the US government had failed to offer a good (well, any) reason for the different approach in reviews.  WorldTradeLaw.net's Simon Lester offers some good commentary on the CAFC decision, and the WSJ rightfully applauds it: "thanks to statistical sleight-of-hand, American consumers have paid billions of dollars more over the years in higher prices either because antidumping duties raised prices on imports or because those duties sheltered domestic companies from downward price competition. This was bad economics, and now it turns out it was bad law, too. The World Trade Organization has dinged Washington repeatedly for zeroing. Commerce and Congress have done their best to avoid complying, at considerable expense to American credibility abroad. Most recently, Commerce attempted to stop zeroing for new antidumping investigations while keeping the practice for existing duties, to placate both the WTO and domestic protectionists. Last week's appellate court ruling puts an end to that charade by finding that under existing U.S. law Commerce has to either zero in all cases or zero in none. Since the department has abandoned zeroing for new investigations, there's reason to hope the Obama Administration will disavow zeroing entirely instead of searching for some way around a carefully reasoned and forceful appellate ruling."  Indeed.  I'd only add that the US courts have been the last refuge of America's zeroing proponents (i.e., protectionists) and their buddies in Congress, so the CAFC's latest decision must have them squirming something fierce this week.  And that thought makes me smile.
  • Politicians of both parties are lining up in support of the US-Colombia FTA - a strong signal that the Obama administration could finally send the Agreement to Congress sometime soon (everybody likes a winner!).  Dem Senators Baucus and Kerry gave the FTA a nice (albeit mercantilist) plug in a recent WSJ op-ed, and the (admittedly dwindling) New Democrat Coalition in the House fired off a letter to the President calling on him to submit all three pending FTAs asap.  Meanwhile the US business community is also upping the pressure, as this US Chamber blogpost and Caterpillar ad make clear.  Eternal optimist Monica Showalter of IBD has gleefully noticed all of this news and notes something important on Facebook: "With Obama and Santos scheduled to meet Thursday, and Santos refusing up until this point to meet Obama unless there's free trade - I think it is going to happen."  A very insightful point, and I hope she's right, but I'll believe it when I see it.  (Although this announcement re: the Canada-Colombia FTA certainly adds more pressure on the USA.) [Update: Monica has more in this new IBD editorial.]
  • Speaking of that Kerry-Baucus op-ed, Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux gives it "two cheers," and withholds the third because of something that I've been arguing here for a long time: "A third cheer would be in order had not the senators relied upon a wholly mistaken reason to justify this particular move toward freer trade. In their essay, U.S. imports and American consumers are mentioned a total of zero times, while U.S. exports and American producers (such as farmers, firms, and workers) are mentioned 23 times.... The senators’ argument for freer trade in this particular case undermines the larger effort to persuade the public that free trade is to everyone’s long-term advantage – an advantage that is measured by increases in what we’re able to consume and not by increases in what we must sacrifice."  Exactly!!
  • Cato's Ted Galen Carptenter explains why China's inevitable rise to superpower status isn't so inevitable, and why the United States has a lot to say about it.
  • The Mercatus Center's Veronique de Rugy explains something I already know and have known for a few years now: the Alternative Minimum Tax sucks and should be eliminated asap.  Mind-blowing fact: "Congress created the AMT in 1969 to prevent 155 wealthy taxpayers from using deductions and credits to avoid paying any federal income taxes....  According to the Congressional Budget Office, last tax season 4.5 million taxpayers were affected by the alternative minimum tax, an increase of more than 4 million taxpayers since 1970."  Sonova...
  • The WSJ Asia pens an excellent editorial on how the Japan tragedies have clearly revealed just how dependent American businesses and workers are on imports in this modern era of global supply chains.  The whole thing is worth reading, but here's my favorite passage: "Despite the fears of Japanese products a generation ago, in reality those imports have allowed America to keep its place as the world's largest economy by a country mile. We hope someone on President Obama's economic team is taking note. Trade opponents can always point to the jobs they claim trade has "cost" Americans, but it's rarer to see such an obvious example of how Americans are hurt when trade is suddenly interrupted. The point extends to imports from everywhere. American auto-industry fears over car imports from South Korea have so far helped block ratification of a Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement. That bit of politics hurts Americans who would export to Korea under the deal, but it also hurts the Americans who would benefit from Korean imports. Such as, say, small businesses that use pick-up trucks and currently face higher domestic prices and less competition thanks to a 25% tariff on imported trucks."  Amen.
  • Last week USTR released its annual national trade estimate (NTE) report on foreign trade barriers.  It's never anything earth-shattering (and involves a lot of cut-and-pasting from previous years), but it's still a good place to find the next US WTO dispute or two.  (If you don't mind wading through the chaff.)
Now that should keep you busy until I come up for air...

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