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Entries tagged "Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement"

Getting Around Geithner

March 4, 2012 ·

I've been trying to get the Obama administration to come out of the Dark Ages on the subject of capital controls for three years. The light, however, seems to be shining only outside Washington.

I know capital controls aren't exactly issue No. 1 on Americans' minds. But these tools for managing volatile hot money flows have saved countless families around the world from economic disaster. And while they're most frequently used in developing countries, promoting financial stability anywhere is in the interest of all of us.

Tim Geithner is stuck in the Dark Ages. Photo by U.S. embassy in New Delhi.So in the wake of the worst financial crisis in 80 years, I thought it would be a no-brainer for the U.S. government to give up its longstanding policy of banning capital controls through trade agreements. The North American Free Trade Agreement and dozens of other U.S. treaties severely restrict our trade partners' ability to use capital controls. If governments break the rules, foreign investors can sue their pants off in international tribunals.

In 2009, I was appointed to an official advisory committee to the Obama administration on investment policy, where I talked myself blue in the face about the need for a rethink on capital controls. To pump up the volume, I partnered with Professor Kevin Gallagher of Boston University to organize more than 250 economists to sign a letter to the administration, urging trade reforms to allow capital controls.

Many fancy economists were eager to sign -- a Nobel Prize winner, a former finance minister and Central Banker, a Harvard department head, etc... We got coverage in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as the opportunity to present the letter to Treasury officials and trade negotiators.

Finally, we received a reply from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The administration would "seek to preserve" current policy, he said, since, in his view, governments have sufficient alternatives to capital controls to deal with volatility.

Ouch. Geithner made the International Monetary Fund look like a relative beacon of progressive enlightenment. After decades of blanket opposition, the IMF now endorses capital controls on inflows of speculative capital under certain circumstances. They have recommended outflows controls in a number of countries facing capital flight, such as Iceland, and are supporting inflows controls to prevent speculative bubbles in emerging market countries.

What about Geithner's argument that there are plenty of other policy tools to deal with financial volatility? An IMF paper from 2010 went through the alternatives and concluded that in certain circumstances capital controls are still needed.

Fortunately, there are ways to get around Geithner. The greatest hope lies in other countries that may put up a fight over this issue. The Obama administration is negotiating a Trans-Pacific trade agreement with eight other governments: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam. Several of these have used capital controls effectively in the past.

For example, throughout most of the 1990s, Chile required a percentage of all foreign investments to be deposited in the central bank for a year, helping to prevent rapid capital flight. Malaysia imposed controls on capital outflows at the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz has written that this allowed Malaysia to "recover more quickly with a shallower downturn and with a far smaller legacy of national debt."

More than 100 economists from countries in the Trans-Pacific trade talks have signed a new letter urging more flexibility on capital controls. This time, signatories include prominent scholars from six of the nine participating governments, including well-known free trade supporter Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University and former IMF officials Olivier Jeanne of Johns Hopkins University and Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The letter will be delivered to each of the nine governments on the eve of a big March 1-9 negotiating round in Melbourne, Australia.

This isn't the only fix needed in our trade agreements. But if we can't move beyond the Dark Ages belief in the wonders of unfettered financial flows, it's hard to imagine winning much else in the way of enlightened trade reforms.

Crikey! Australia Shocks Corporate America on Trade

March 2, 2012 ·

The Australian government doesn’t like it when global tobacco giants can sue them over public health laws. Corporate America finds this utterly unreasonable.

President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.Thirty-one U.S. corporate lobby groups, from the Business Roundtable to the National Potato Council, sent a letter to President Obama this week, urging him to give Australia a good smackdown.

The Aussies’ offense? They have refused to accept trade rules that allow foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals. Known as “investor-state” dispute settlement, these rules are in every U.S. trade agreement negotiated in the past 20 years – except the 2005 U.S.-Australia pact.

The Land Down Under stood up to U.S. corporate goliaths and their representatives in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office that time around. But the issue has come up all over again because the two countries are negotiating a new trade pact with seven others, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Australia has reiterated its opposition to these so-called “investor rights” in this broader trade deal.

If anything, the government’s opposition has hardened since its last go-round with U.S. trade negotiators. That’s because Australia is now the target of a high-profile investor-state case. Philip Morris, of the Marlboro empire, filed a suit against Australia last year, demanding compensation for that country’s plain packaging laws for cigarettes. Oops – while Australia had kept investor-state out of the U.S.-Australia trade deal, it allowed it in some other treaties. Philip Morris simply used a subsidiary in Hong Kong to file the claim under a bilateral treaty between that nation and Australia.

In a statement surprisingly lacking in the usual bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, the Australians made clear they weren’t about to expand their vulnerability to such lawsuits by accepting investor-state in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Corporate America’s hair has been on fire ever since. In the lobby group’s letter to Obama, they warn ominously that “Australia’s rejection of investor-state dispute settlement is not only thwarting the ability of the TPP negotiations to produce strong enforcement outcomes, it is also having a corrosive effect on the level of ambition and other key aspects of the TPP negotiations. If Australia were able to extract such a major exemption, other countries would press forward to seek their own major exemptions from core commitments.” 

Translation:  they fear if the United States goes all soft on the Australians on investor-state, the other countries will smell blood and demand similar rules that are pro-public interest, but corporate-unfriendly. Several of the other governments are already attempting to stand up to U.S. pharmaceutical company proposals that would reduce access to affordable medicines.

Another hot-button issue is capital controls, which include various measures designed to manage the flow of volatile “hot money” across borders. More than 100 economists from TPP countries signed a statement this week urging negotiators to allow governments to use this proven tool for preventing and mitigating financial crisis. Seventeen corporate lobby groups have argued in another letter that permitting U.S. trade partners to support financial stability through the use of capital controls would undermine everything from U.S. jobs to national security. Despite growing consensus among economists that such controls are legitimate policy tools, it is standard U.S. trade policy to prohibit their use and allow investor-state claims against governments that violate these restrictions.

Besides the United States and Australia, others involved in the Trans-Pacific talks are:  Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam. Their 11th round of negotiations is taking place in Melbourne, Australia from March 1 to 9. Let’s hope the Australian team that is taking on Corporate America can make the most of their home turf advantage.

How Obama is to the Right of Reagan on Trade

September 8, 2011 ·

This blog post was originally published in Triple Crisis.

While doing some archaeological digging into old treaties, I discovered that the Reagan revolutionaries were relative softies on at least one issue — government meddling in capital markets.

The vast majority of the 52 existing U.S. trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties forbid governments from putting controls on capital flows. But buried in the annexes to four Reagan-era treaties, I found exemptions allowing trade partners to apply such controls during financial crises. Capital controls are various measures including (gasp!) taxes designed to prevent speculative bubbles or rapid capital flight.

Tea Partiers should give Obama credit for adhering more strictly to free market orthodoxy on this issue. His officials have made clear they are pushing for a ban on these crisis prevention tools in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the first trade deal to be negotiated under Obama’s watch. The eighth round of these nine-party talks is set for September 6-15 in Chicago.

Earlier this year, more than 250 economists sent a letter to the administration urging a re-think. “Given the severity of the global financial crisis and its aftermath, nations will need all the possible tools at their disposal to prevent and mitigate financial crises,” they wrote. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner responded by arguing that this was unnecessary because governments could find other ways to deal with volatility. USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie confirmed in a Bloomberg interview that U.S. negotiators expect to push for open capital-transfer rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

That rigid position places the Obama administration to the right not only of Reagan, but also both Bush presidencies and the International Monetary Fund.

After decades of blanket opposition, the IMF now endorses capital controls on inflows of speculative capital under certain circumstances. They have recommended outflows controls in a number of countries facing capital flight, such as Iceland and Ukraine. And they have been even more broadly supportive of emerging market countries that are using controls on inflows to prevent speculative bubbles.

In Brazil, for example, where hot money has driven up the value of the real, the government has imposed a one percent tax on currency derivatives and a six percent tax on foreigners’ purchases of bonds. On August 3, the IMF executive board described the country’s use of capital controls as an “appropriate” tool to manage foreign investment inflows.

A recent IMF report on one of the countries that received a Reagan exception — Bangladesh — credits capital controls with preventing the “global flight to safety” that left so many poor economies in shambles after the crisis erupted in 2008. Bangladesh instead doubled its central bank reserves during that period.

Reagan also allowed crisis-time exceptions in investment treaties with Turkey and Egypt, while a 1985 trade agreement with Israel has no restrictions whatsoever. All three have used these policies in the face of financial volatility.

President George H.W. Bush was no fan of capital controls, but he did allow limited exceptions in the North American Free Trade Agreement and bilateral investment treaties with Sri Lanka and Tunisia. His son’s administration beat back attempts by Singapore and Chile to obtain similar waivers, but softened its stance with South Korea, a country scarred by uncontrolled capital flight in the late-1990s crisis.

Aside from the handful of exceptions, 44 U.S. agreements prohibit capital controls even during a financial collapse. According to the IMF, these deals are outliers. The global norm is to “provide temporary safeguards on capital inflows and outflows to prevent or mitigate financial crises, or defer that matter to the host country’s legislation.” Indeed, as I’ve detailed in this new study, other TPP countries’ existing agreements include broad safeguards.

What can happen without such safeguards? Global corporations and financiers have the power to sue governments that resort to capital controls and demand compensation, even as a nation is reeling from severe economic catastrophe. That’s something Federal Reserve Board member Daniel Tarullo has described as not only “bad financial policy and bad trade policy,” but also “bad foreign policy.”

And yet the Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Financial Services Roundtable, and 14 other business groups have called on the administration to reject proposals to permit capital controls under trade agreements.

Thus, while Obama might seem lonely standing so far out on the anti-regulation end of the spectrum on this issue, if he sticks to his guns, he’ll have lots of admirers on Wall Street and in the executive suites.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and served on the Investment Subcommittee of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy in 2009.

Economists Unite Around Once-Demonized Capital Controls

January 31, 2011 ·

Who says economic policy has to be polarizing? In a remarkable sign of consensus, more than 250 economists across the ideological spectrum have signed a letter to the Obama administration in support of capital controls.

Until quite recently, this would have been unthinkable. For decades, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. government led a crusade to eliminate capital controls, which include taxes and other measures to manage cross-border "hot money" flows.

As part of a broader liberalization agenda, the IMF used loan conditions and the U.S. government used trade and investment agreements to try to end such policies. U.S. officials even insisted that trade rules allow foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals over violations of their "rights" to free capital mobility.

Then, after several countries used capital controls effectively to insulate themselves from the ravages of the 1990s financial crises, the IMF's opposition began to soften. And since the 2008 financial meltdown, the IMF has actually recommended such controls in certain circumstances, such as to prevent massive capital flight in Iceland or to stem assest bubbles in emerging markets.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, has carried on the old crusade and now has trade or investment agreements with 52 nations that prohibit capital controls.

In the statement delivered to to the Obama administration, economists are urging the Obama administration to end these outmoded policies. Initiated by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University (GDAE), the letter carries endorsements from:

  • Former IMF Economists: e.g., Arvind Subramanian, now a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Olivier Jeanne, a Professor at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Free Trade Supporters: e.g., Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall and her colleague Kimberly Elliott, who, while critical of capital control restrictions, have been generally supportive of U.S. trade policies, from the Central America pact of 2005 to the pending U.S.-Korea deal.
  • A Nobel Laureate: Joseph Stiglitz.
  • Former High-ranking Government Officials: Harvard's Ricardo Hausmann, a former Inter-American Development Bank Chief Economist and Minister of Planning of Venezuela; Y. Venugopal Reddy, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India; and José Antonio Ocampo, former Finance Minister of Colombia.

As the letter points out, this is a timely issue since "in recent months, a number of countries, from Thailand to Brazil, have responded to surging hot money flows by adopting various forms of capital regulations."

The Obama administration has ample opportunities to bring a fresh approach to ongoing negotiations in its:

Making sure these deals don't prevent governments from using sensible capital controls would be one important part of a pro-worker, pro-environment, pro-democracy trade reform agenda. If we've learned anything from the current crisis, it's that we're living in a globalized financial system, where chaos in one part of the world can be devastating for businesses and workers elsewhere.