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Saturday, June 30, 2018

China staunch defender of free trade under WTO, meet the 'selfish giant' of global trade

Photo taken on April 12, 2018 shows the World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. [Photo/Xinhua]

China staunch defender of free trade under WTO


There can be no order without rules. And trade is no exception to this. The World Trade Organization regulates the trade between nations to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

China has spared no efforts in honoring the promises it made to join the WTO, and the country has not only abided by the WTO rules over the past 17 years. It has contributed a great deal to the development of the world economy and is a staunch defender of the WTO trade system.

In contrast, the Donald Trump administration's unilateralism and trade protectionism pose an ever greater threat to free trade. Under the unjustifiable pretext of national security, it has violated the United States' WTO obligations by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and discriminating among its WTO trade partners.

There is no denying that China has benefited a lot as a member of the WTO, which has facilitated its opening-up and reform. Without integrating its economy with that of the world, it would have been impossible for the country to maintain its double-digit economic growth for more than a decade.

Yet the other side of the coin is that as a rule-abiding member of the WTO, China has also contributed to the world economy. Had it not been for China's help and support, it would not have been possible for the US and other major Western countries to have emerged from the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis so quickly.

And without China's opening-up, it would not have been possible for so many transnational corporations to benefit from their business in China. And of course, those businesses have provided jobs for China and enabled the country to earn more from international trade.

Free trade is undoubtedly reciprocal. China is a beneficiary of free trade within the framework of the WTO, but it also benefits others. It is a contributor to the development of the world economy and defender of the current world economic order.

Because they fail to appreciate this, some Western countries regard China as simply a free rider on globalization and refuse to recognize China's status as a market economy as they should.

That the US refuses to settle its trade dispute with China within the framework of the WTO only points to its own lack of respect for the WTO trade rules.

China will continue to abide by WTO rules and firmly defend the current world economic order, as it believes that rules-based multilateralism is essential for the healthy development of the world economy.

By China Daily editorial

Amid trade row, US losing international legitimacy

The Trump administration should find a balance between its new strategy, which can be partly reasonable, within the existing highly interconnected world. The US should understand that emerging countries cannot be treated like in the past.

 Meet the 'selfish giant' of global trade




Donald Trump has opened a Pandora's box which, if not shut soon, will cause mayhem in global trade and seriously undermine the multilateral trading system

At a time when globalization needs to be safeguarded and promoted, some countries are doing exactly the opposite by violating even the normative axioms of international relations. In particular, the Donald Trump administration seems hellbent on instigating a trade war with major economies by using anti-globalization and protectionist measures, which are disrupting the international trade order.

Claiming to resolve domestic structural problems and meet global challenges with a combative approach, US President Donald Trump has become the most powerful force behind the wave of trade protectionism. The trade disputes he has stirred up pose a big challenge to globalization, which is based on the division of labor in the global value chain. Trump's protectionist moves would disrupt the global production network, leading to a contraction, if not dismantling, of the global value chain. In fact, he has put the global free trade system and international trade order at great risk of being destroyed.

In his one and a half years in office, Trump has not only expedited investigations by the US International Trade Commission into anti-subsidy, anti-dumping allegations under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, but also used unconventional protectionist measures, such as Section 301 and 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, to order investigations against imports, including those from China, and the trade practices of other economies.

'Trump trap' versus 'Thucydides trap'

No wonder many overseas scholars are more worried about a "Trump trap" rather than the "Thucydides trap", because the former will harm not only China but also the rest of the world.

Essentially, the Trump administration's trade policies are not different in nature from those of the Barack Obama administration. But compared with Obama's trade policies, Trump's policies exhibit some new features.

First, for Trump, his "America First" policy is more important than international rules and the world trade order. Trump has been exhibiting a tendency to either take advantage of or discard the multilateral global trading system to fulfill US interests. The president's 2017 Trade Policy Agenda stresses that the efficiency of the open and multilateral trading system, built by the US itself, needs to be reassessed to realize and promote US national interests.

Apart from complaining about China's so-called restraints on foreign capital's access to some service industries, including telecommunications, banks and healthcare, the US Trade Representative has also accused China of forcing technology transfers despite China gradually opening up these industries in accordance with the General Agreement on Trade in Services of the World Trade Organization.

Second, the US administration has raised economic security to a new level, by incorporating economic and trade policies into national security, with Trump's first National Security Strategy emphasizing that economic security is national security. Declaring that the US would use all applicable tools to defend national security, Trump has said the US will adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward any move it considers unfair or harmful to the US economy.

Third, Trump is trying to weaken, even overthrow the multilateral trading system, a system based on rules that has played a central role in promoting cooperation and opening-up of trade and investment, apart from offering a stable and reliable system for WTO members to resolve trade disputes.

Evidently, the Trump administration is making all-out efforts to skirt and marginalize the WTO, most recently by saying appeals against WTO rulings should not take more than the mandated 90 days to deal with. What it has conveniently ignored, however, is that the delay is caused as the US, from time to time, has thwarted the Appellate Body from starting the procedure of selecting new judges, leading to a paralysis in the WTO's dispute-settlement mechanism.

Trump mantra: Trade good, imports bad

Fourth, Trump is trying to defend fair trade, ironically, through unilateral trade sanctions. The Trump administration has ordered an estimated 94 investigations into so-called unfair trade practices involving dozens of countries in just one and a half years, a year-on-year increase of 81 percent. In fact, the fair trade principle advocated by Trump stresses a kind of equality that promotes a unilateral (as opposed to multilateral) open market and regards trade beneficial but imports harmful.

Generally speaking, the fair trade Trump demands mainly constitutes of even tariffs and competition on an equal footing. Yet the disparity in tariff rates among WTO member states is largely attributable to multilateral trade negotiations. More important, uneven tariffs have enabled smaller economies at a primary stage of development to enter the global trading system.

Since different countries are at different development stages, and have different economic scales, production factors and political sensitivity toward trade liberalization and tariff policies, it is practically impossible to fix a unified tariff rate, which Trump effectively demands.

So, what is the truth behind the uneven Sino-US trade tariff rate? This can be better explained using hard data, instead of selectively ignoring unfavorable facts like the Trump administration has been doing. China's actual trade-weighted average tariff rate is 4.4 percent, which is almost the same as that of developed economies, including Australia that has a trade-weighted average import tariff rate of 4 percent and the European Union 3 percent.

Correspondingly, more than 3,335 of the US' most-favored nation tariff rates are higher than 5 percent and 1,120 above 10 percent.

Also, to prevent others from catching up, the US has invoked more than 125 Section 301 investigations since 1974, causing significant damage to other economies-the EU has faced 27 investigations, Japan 16, and Canada 14.

In January 2017, the US President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended in a report titled "Ensuring Long-Term US Leadership in Semiconductors" that the US restrain the development of China's technology industries because China's rise in the field of semiconductors posed a threat to the US.

China's high-tech sector a key target

Besides, the US is attempting to thwart the Made in China 2025 plan by launching more Section 301 investigations. And the 578 high-tech products on the US' sanctions list against Chinese imports, which account for 43.36 percent of the total number and 56.15 percent of the total amount of high-tech products, show the US is indeed trying to contain the development of China's high-tech industry.

Trump also is seeking to restrict Chinese investment in the US' high-tech sector, by extending the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US and accelerating the legislation procedure of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act.

Do we need more evidence to prove the US is the most potent destructive force in the global market and technology competition?

Furthermore, Trump seems to be preparing to take new measures in the escalating Sino-US trade conflict to restrict Chinese enterprises from investing or acquiring US companies in strategic industries listed in the Made in China 2025 plan, by using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

And as part of its new tax reform, the Trump administration plans to prevent US companies from transferring their operating activities, high-value patents, copyright and trademarks to low-tax countries. Particularly noteworthy is a provision in the Senate version of the tax reform plan, which says a tax of 13.1 percent would be levied on global intangible low-taxed income. The move is aimed at foiling the efforts of US companies such as Apple, Google and Qualcomm to transfer their technologies to or conduct innovative cooperation with companies in other countries.

Trump is trying to instigate a trade war without realizing, rather refusing to accept, that a trade war will hurt all and sundry, including the US. The challenge for and obligation of the rest of the world is to find a way, and find it fast, to safeguard the multilateral trading system and protect it from the assaults of Trump Inc.

By Zhang Monan China Daily.  The author is a researcher at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

Related: 

 China sends Donald Trump a message about free trade and the WTO


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Friday, June 29, 2018

Goldman Lunch at Taste Paradise Sets Table for 1MDB Money Probe

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-06-28/goldman-bankers-in-focus-in-1mdb-money-probe-video


https://youtu.be/tW9Q7v8pioY

Low Taek Jho and an official from 1MDB had hired Goldman Sachs Group to underwrite the US$1.75 billion bond offering.

SINGAPORE: In a private dining room at Singapore's Taste Paradise restaurant, over a meal of abalone and suckling pig, two Goldman Sachs Group Inc bankers were explaining a US$1.75 billion bond offering to six executives of a Swiss bank.

It was early 2012, and joining Goldman bankers Roger Ng and Tim Leissner that day were a young Malaysian financier named Low Taek Jho and an official from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, known as 1MDB, which had hired the New York bank to underwrite the bond sale.

Now, people familiar with the matter say, investigators from Singapore to the United States are looking more closely at the roles of Mr Ng and Mr Leissner, who have both left Goldman. And they're asking what happened in that private dining room named after the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang.

In particular, they're examining how US$577 million in proceeds from a bond sale that May ended up a day later in an account at BSI SA in Switzerland - the same bank whose executives were at the Taste Paradise.

Click here for the full report: Goldman Sachs lunch at Singapore's Taste Paradise set the scene for 1MDB's money probe

The lunch, previously unreported, brought together the key parties in what has become the biggest financial scandal in Malaysia's history, involving the alleged misappropriation of US$4.5 billion of 1MDB funds. It was the culmination of numerous conversations as BSI bankers and compliance officials sought clarity on the deal.



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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Govt Linked Companies (GLCs) - Monsters in the house?

Politicians should not be appointed to run government-linked companies (GLCs) to keep graft in check, said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Advisory Board Chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim.He said politicians holding GLC positions might face conflicts of interest, leading to abuse of power and responsibility.




 ABOUT a month before Malaysia’s parliamentary election in May, then-opposition leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad raised concerns over the role that government-linked companies (GLCs) were playing in the economy, being “huge and rich” enough to be considered “monsters”.

Data support his description – GLCs account for about half of the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index, and they constitute seven out of the top-10 listed firms in 2018. They are present in almost every sector, sometimes in a towering way. Globally, Malaysia ranks fifth-highest in terms of GLC influence on the economy.

Calls to do something about GLCs have increased since the election following the release of more damning information, although most of it relates to the GLCs’ investment arm: government-linked investment companies (GLICs).

Some experts have proposed the formation of an independent body with operational oversight for GLICs, after institutional autonomy is established and internal managerial reforms are introduced. Unlike most GLCs, GLICs are not publicly listed and face little scrutiny. The same applies to the various funds at the constituent state level, which need to be looked at too.

For GLCs, the answer is less straightforward. PM Tun Mahathir claims that GLCs have lost track of their original function. Before the Malaysian government decides on what to do, it needs to examine the role GLCs should play – as opposed to the role they currently play – and to examine their impact on the economy.

In Malaysia, GLCs were uniquely tasked to assist in the government’s affirmative action program to improve the absolute and relative position of bumiputras. The intention was to help create a new class of bumiputra entrepreneurs – first through the GLCs themselves, and then through a process of divestment.

Given the amounts of money involved and the cost of the distortions introduced, the benefits to bumiputra were unjustifiably small and unequally distributed. The approach of using GLCs as instruments of affirmative action failed because it led to a rise in state dependence, widespread complacency and even corruption, as Tun Mahathir himself recognised in his memoirs, A Doctor in the House, and again more recently. There is also empirical evidence that GLCs have been crowding out private investment, a concern raised in the New Economic Model as early as 2011.

Additionally, the new government has correctly highlighted the need to include certain off-balance-sheet items and contingent liabilities, such as government guarantees and public-private partnership lease payments, in any complete assessment of debt outstanding. The use of offshoot companies and special purpose vehicles (SPVs) in the deliberate reconfiguration of certain obligations mean that traditional debt calculations underestimate Malaysia’s actual debt.

All these factors combine to place new impetus on reconsidering the extent of government involvement in business. Divestment will not solve Malaysia’s debt problem, but it can help if there are good reasons to pursue it. So how should the government proceed?

It is important to recognise at the outset, that there is a legitimate role for government in business – providing public goods, addressing market failures or promoting social advancement. And like in most other countries, there are good and bad GLCs in Malaysia. If a GLC is not crowding out private enterprise, operates efficiently and performs a social function effectively, then there is no reason to consider divestment. But a GLC that crowds out private investment in a sector with no public or social function, or one that is inefficiently run, should be a candidate for divestment. In this regard, one has to carefully study why GLCs should be present in retail, construction or property development, for instance.

In assessing performance, one needs to separate results that arise from true efficiency, versus preferential treatment that generates artificial rent for the GLC. The latter is a drain on public resources and a tax on consumers. Divestment in this case, will likely provide more than a one-off financial injection to government coffers – it will provide ongoing benefits through fiscal savings or better allocation of public resources.

The divestment process should be carefully managed to ensure that public assets are disposed at fair market value, and does not concentrate market power or wealth in the hands of a few. This has allegedly happened with privatisation efforts in the past.

The new government has committed itself to addressing corruption and improving the management of public resources. As part of this process, one must re-examine just how much government is involved in business. This is one of the many tasks that the Council of Eminent Persons is undertaking in the first 100 days of the new government.

To be done correctly, would require a careful study of GLCs and their impacts. This could then rejuvenate the private sector while enabling good GLCs to thrive, and fortify Malaysia’s fiscal position in the process. This is what Malaysians should expect – and indeed demand – of the “New Malaysia”.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank. This is an abridged version of an item that first appeared on the East Asia Forum. Related articles

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Jack Ma Embraces Blockchain for Ant But Warns of Bitcoin Bubble

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-04-20/how-much-is-bitcoin-really-worth-video

https://youtu.be/SA2wG5st0rk

Billionaire Jack Ma has declared Bitcoin a potential bubble, reiterating his caution over the volatile crypto-currency as his Ant Financial on Monday launched blockchain-based money transfers between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. extolled the possibilities of the decentralized ledger on which Bitcoin is based but warned that the digital currency itself may be driven by torrid speculation. Ma made his comments after officially launching a blockchain-based remittance service with Standard Chartered Plc and GCash, Ant’s venture with the Philippines’ Globe Telecom Inc.

Bitcoin set a 2018 low on Sunday before bouncing back a tad, underscoring the volatility that stems from increased scrutiny by regulators even as global central bankers and business chiefs raise questions about its viability.

“Blockchain technology could change our world more than people imagine,” Ma told reporters in the former British colony, home to a large population of Filipino workers and domestic helpers who send money home regularly. “Bitcoin however could be a bubble.”

Read more: Ant Financial Raises $14 Billion as Funding Round Closes

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba’s backed by some of the biggest names in global finance and investment, has explored blockchain technology for years, including to clean up China’s murky charities. But the remittance service marks one of the first instances of the internet giant using the technology in mainstream finance.

On Monday, Ma also took potshots at the traditional banking industry, saying financial institutions were over-charging for overseas payments. Ant Financial, blocked from buying Moneygram International Inc., now wants to build something better and take blockchain-based remittances beyond just Hong Kong to the Philippines. He didn’t elaborate.

“Traditional financial institutions serve 20 percent of people and make 80 percent of profits. New financial institutions should service 80 percent of people, and make 20 percent of profit,” said Ma.

Read more: Jack Ma’s Too-Big-to-Fail Financial Giant Faces a Clampdown

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Bitcoin Drops Back Below $6,000 as 2018 Loss Approaches 60%


Bitcoin briefly dropped back below the $6,000 threshold breached this past weekend, bringing the loss for 2018 to almost 60 percent.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency by market value traded as low as $5,988, and was down 2.2 percent to $6,044 as of 10:56 a.m. in New York. Bitcoin last traded at this level in February.




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