New Article on the Precarious Legitimacy of Transnational Trade Governance

Prof. Christian Joerges of the Hertie School of Governance and I recently finished our work on a book chapter that examines the impact of modern trade agreements on democratic policy-making and the ways in which their effects on national governance can be legitimised. The new paper (SSRN download link) is based on a previous version with a slightly different focus that was extensively rewritten by us over the last months. The final version will be published in the forthcoming Research Handbook on the Sociology of International Law edited by Moshe Hirsch and Andrew Lang in the coming months.

A Conflicts-Law Response To The Precarious Legitimacy Of Transnational Trade Governance

The abstract: 

This paper discusses the fundamental tensions between economic globalisation and democratic politics in the field of international trade. New bilateral and regional trade agreements increasingly incorporate other ‘trade-related’ policy areas and threaten to constrain state action and democratic politics. The move towards deeper and more comprehensive trade deals has greatly accentuated grievances and is of exemplary importance in the realms of transnational governance. We examine the decoupling of these agreements from national and democratic control and the resulting legitimacy impasses of transnational governance, based upon the theoretical frameworks of Karl Polanyi and Dani Rodrik. Arguing that politics is not a mistake that gets in the way of markets, we submit our own conceptualisation of transnational legitimacy. In doing so, we suggest a new type of conflicts law which does not seek to overcome socio-economic and political diversity by some substantive transnational regime, but responds to diversity with procedural safeguards, thus ensuring space for cooperative problem-solving and the search for fair compromises.

 

New Article on the Precarious Legitimacy of Transnational Trade Governance

Fair handeln

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In vielen afrikanischen Ländern herrscht Armut, ihre Einwohner sehnen sich nach einem besseren Leben – und flüchten. Schaffen neue Handelsabkommen Abhilfe?

Gastbeitrag für das Magazin enkelfähig zusammen mit Clara Weinhardt

Seit 15 Jahren verhandelt die Europäische Union mit Ländern in Afrika, der Karibik und dem Pazifik über Wirtschaftspartnerschaftsabkommen (EPAs). Viele afrikanische Handelspartner befürchten jedoch Nachteile aus der eigenen Marktöffnung. 2014 wurden zwar mehrere regionale EPAs in Afrika unterzeichnet; die Kontroversen reißen jedoch nicht ab. Aus Sorge um die eigene Industrialisierung weigern sich Staaten wie Nigeria und Tansania, die bereits verhandelten Abkommen zu ratifizieren.

Und tatsächlich können sie sich in einigen Bereichen negativ auf die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung auswirken. Dabei sind weniger die Handelsgrenzen der EU das Problem, denn die Abkommen sehen weitgehende Zollsenkungen vor. Risiken birgt stattdessen die Marktöffnung, zu der sich die afrikanischen Partner im Gegenzug verpflichten.

Schokolade statt Kakaobohnen

Der Abbau eigener Handelsgrenzen verspricht zwar günstigere Importe, ver­ringert aber das Exportpotenzial. Der flexible Einsatz protektionistischer Maßnahmen, wie etwa Steuern, wäre für afrikanische Länder deshalb wichtig, um eine Marktöffnung mit der gezielten Förderung einzelner Sektoren zu verbinden, deren Wertschöpfungspoten­zial hoch ist. Wertschöpfung bedeutet: anstelle von Rohstoffen wie Zucker oder Kakaobohnen weiterverarbeitete Produkte wie Schokolade zu exportieren, deren Marktwert um ein Vielfaches höher liegt.

EPAs erschweren es jedoch, Steuern auf den Export von Gütern wie Rohstoffen einzusetzen. Äthiopien zum Beispiel hat diese in der Vergangenheit erfolgreich als Anreiz für eine Weiterentwicklung der eigenen Lederindus­trie genutzt. (Dazu hier mehr von mir – FB.) Viele afrikanische Länder haben dennoch ein EPA abgeschlossen, insbesondere um dem drohenden Verlust von zollfreiem Marktzugang in die EU zu entgehen.

Die EU betont, dass die EPAs im Vergleich zu anderen Handelsabkommen weiter reichende Schutzklauseln und Ausnahmen enthalten. Das ist richtig, kann aber nicht in allen Fällen die Risiken auffangen. Zwar konnten die afrikanischen Staaten rund 20 Prozent des Handelsvolumens von der Marktöffnung ausnehmen; diese Ausnahmen betreffen vor allem landwirtschaftliche Produkte.

Doch in Zukunft könnte es für viele afrikanische Staaten sinnvoller sein, Produkte der weiterverarbeitenden Industrie zu schützen. Die Länder, die ein EPA unterschrieben haben, sollten bei der Umsetzung darauf drängen, dass die angekündigte Überprüfung der Abkommen tatsächlich verwirklicht wird. Auf diese Weise ließen sich bei negativen Auswirkungen zumindest Anpassungen anmahnen.

Afrikanische Regierungen sind gefordert

Es wäre jedoch zu einfach, die EPAs zum zentralen Entwicklungshindernis der afrikanischen Partner zu stilisieren. Die individuellen nationalen Rahmenbedingungen spielen eine zentrale Rolle für wirtschaftliches Wachstum und soziale Gerechtigkeit. Viele Regierungen haben ihren eigenen Spielraum in der Vergangenheit nicht genutzt. Mit anderen Worten: Die afrikanischen Länder müssen auch eigene soziale, politische und wirtschaftliche Reformen initiieren und umsetzen.

Die Grundidee der EPAs, handelspolitische Reformen anzuregen, ist zukunftsweisend, aber der Impuls für eine strategische Neuausrichtung einer nationalen Ökonomie kann nicht von außen kommen. Viele afrikanische Regionen sind gerade erst dabei, eine eigene handelspolitische Strategie zu entwickeln. Der Druck der EU, die Abkommen dennoch abzuschließen, könnte somit kontraproduktive Auswirkungen haben, weil einige Länder schlicht noch nicht dazu bereit sind.

Fair handeln

An Example of the Successful Use of Export Taxes and Its Value for North-South Trade Negotiations

A recurring problem in the discussion on North-South trade relations is identifying good examples that show how controversial – trade-distorting – policy instruments are successfully used to promote economic development. The search is not a purely academic exercise as the case studies can be used to legitimise and defend policy tools in trade negotiations aimed at outlawing or restricting their domestic application. Export duties, i.e., taxes imposed upon the export of raw materials, are one of these instruments and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and developing countries are one attempt at circumscribing their use.

Because export taxes can be used to ensure a price advantage to domestic industries and therefore skew international competition – a good example are Chinese duties on the export of rare earth minerals – or enrich a small authoritarian elite, their use is actively discouraged by many industrialised countries. However, export taxes can also incentivise producers/exporters to process raw materials domestically into higher-value goods or components (that can be exported without additional charges). If used correctly, export taxes can thus promote the economic development and industrialisation of developing countries. Existing WTO rules do not discipline Members’ application of export taxes and only few countries have agreed to binding constraints on the use of export taxes during their WTO accession.

The EPAs between the EU and regional groups made up of African, Carribean and Pacific countries would limit the ability of governments to use export taxes considerably. For example, Article 13.1 of the EPA between the EU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declares: “No new duties or taxes on exports or charges with equivalent effect shall be introduced, nor shall those currently applied in trade between the Parties be increased from the date of entry into force of this Agreement.” According to Article 13.3, African members can impose export charges only “in exceptional circumstances, on a temporary basis and after consulting the European Union Party […] and with equivalent effect” of existing export charges.

But can export taxes be effective in promoting economic development? And if so, are there good examples that should discourage us from restricting their use? A brief look at the development of the Ethiopian leather industry suggests some benefits from the use of export taxes:

In February 2008, Ethiopia introduced a 150 percent tax on the export of raw and semi-processed animal hides and skins. This was meant as an instrument to encourage industries engaged in the preparation of raw hides and skins for export to shift to more advanced processing stages. Consequently, exports in raw hides and skins dropped significantly in 2009 and remained low, but exports in processed goods (“tanned or crust hides and skins”) almost doubled until 2011. In 2012, the Ethiopian government added a further 150 percent tax on the export of crust leather, i.e., leather that has been tanned, dyed and dried, but not finished. Again, this resulted in a signficant drop in exports of the affected products and the transformation of the leather industry to perform more advanced tasks in country.

The figure below summarises this development. It is based on data collected by the International Trade Centre for product group 41 (raw & semi-raw leather) and product group 42 (manufactured leather products). In Figure 1, I aggregate the different product types into four categories: (i) “raw hides” describes the most basic products, i.e., raw hides and skins (HS 4-digit: 4101-4103); (ii) “tanned hides” constitutes tanned or crust hides and skins” (HS 4-digit: 4104-4106); (iii) “prepared leather” represents more advanced leather processing (HS 4-digit: 4107-4113); and (iv) “manufactured leather products” are all finished leather products in product group 42.

Figure 1 – Ethiopian leather exports to all trade partners

EthiopiaExportsToWorld

Source: own calculation based on ITC data

Overall, the most drastic changes in the distribution of exports seem to occur in close temporal connection with the introduction of export taxes, as indicated by the two dashed vertical lines. The quick second transformation of exports in tanned hides to prepared leather from 2011 to 2012 suggests that the creation of this tax was better communicated and affected industries anticipated the costs. In addition, the adoption of this final processing step might have been much less demanding than the initial transformation. In parallel, exports in manufactured (finished) leather products started to increase from 2011. The same effects are visible in the trade relationship with the EU, see Figure 2.

These findings suggest that export taxes were used effectively to transform the Ethiopian leather sector from an industry focused on the preparation of raw skins to more advanced processing stages, while increasing the overall value of exports and encouraging the production of finished products. Of course, it is likely that other factors such as the growth in external demand, foreign investment and other policy interventions affected the transformation. The magnitude of the effects and temporal connection nevertheless suggest a considerable (positive) effect of the exports taxes on the economic development of the Ethiopian leather industry.

Trade agreements that are too restrictive of this and similar policy instruments might thus undermine national development strategies in the long run. Thus, it will be crucial for all members to the EPAs, the EU and its partners, to actively use review clauses such as Article 13.4 of the ECOWAS-EPA, which allow for regular reality-checks and revisions to the agreements “taking full account of their impact on the development and diversification of the economy of the West Africa Party” or other developing partners.

Figure 2 – Ethiopian leather exports to the European Union

EthiopiaExportsToEU

Source: own calculation based on ITC data

A brief addition:

Below I complement my assessment of the impact of export taxes on Ethiopian leather exports by also including exports of shoes with a leather component. These products are included in product category 64 (footwear), so I select all shoes with some leather content based on the HS 6-digit level. (This equals all product lines in category 6403, as well as line 640420 and 640510.)

I find that exports of leather shoes broadly mirror the growth rate in exports of other more advanced leather products. Ethiopian exports in shoes with leather content consequently increased specifically between 2011 and 2013, i.e., the time period where the government introduced export taxes on processed leather. This correlation, which also can be observed for the exports of other finished leather products, suggests that export taxes may have encouraged the domestic production of more advanced leather products.

Figure 3 – Ethiopian leather exports to all trade partners (incl. leather shoes)

EthiopiaExportsToWorldwithShoes

Source: own calculation based on ITC data

Ethiopia also recovered from the slight decrease in the exports of leather shoes after 2013 in 2016, when exports more than doubled to about $39 million.

An Example of the Successful Use of Export Taxes and Its Value for North-South Trade Negotiations

A Conflicts-Law Response to the Precarious Legitimacy of Transnational Trade Governance

I am currently working on the revision of a research article on the tensions between new deep and comprehensive trade agreements – read as: CETA, TTIP – and democratic politics. It includes some important findings of a joint research project with Professor Christian Joerges of the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin. We already made the first draft available via SSRN in November 2016 in the Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, King’s College London Research Paper Series. The final version will be published in the forthcoming Research Handbook on the Sociology of International Law edited by Moshe Hirsch and Andrew Lang. 

The new title (above) and new abstract: 

“This paper discusses the fundamental tensions between economic globalisation and democratic politics in the field of international trade. New bilateral and regional trade agreements increasingly incorporate other “trade-related” policy areas and threaten to constrain state action and democratic politics. The move towards deeper and more comprehensive trade deals has greatly accentuated grievances and is of exemplary importance in the realms of transnational governance. This article examines the decoupling of these agreements from national and democratic control and the resulting legitimacy impasses of transnational governance based upon the theoretical frameworks of Karl Polanyi and Dani Rodrik. Arguing that politics is not a mistake that gets in the way of markets, we submit our own conceptualisation of transnational legitimacy. In doing so, we suggest a new type of conflicts law which does not seek to overcome socio-economic and political diversity by some substantive transnational regime, but responds to diversity with procedural safeguards, thus ensuring space for co-operative problem-solving and the search for fair compromises.”

A Conflicts-Law Response to the Precarious Legitimacy of Transnational Trade Governance

International trade after the US election

The result of the US presidential election in mind, Prof. Dr. Christian Joerges and I take a look at the future of US trade policy and its consequences for the European Union and the global trade regime. This article was originally posted on the Hertie School research blog and the UCL Brexit Blog.

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Donald Trump’s astonishing election victory Tuesday night shows the appeal of populists who give voice to the anger of the real and self-perceived losers of globalisation. Rejecting the standard view that countries benefit from free trade, he argued that elites either blundered or conspired to send jobs out of the United States, while leaving “millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.”[1] Electoral convenience or not, no candidate for either main US party since the Great Depression has campaigned as fervently to roll back free trade. The election of Donald Trump amounts to a revolt against economic globalisation in a nation that has long been its leading advocate. This adds to deep uncertainty about the future of global trade, which had already suffered a blow with Brexit.

Growing anti-trade sentiments in the US and Europe increasingly reflect public concerns that modern trade policy has undermined democracy. Agreements like the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Obama administration’s flagship trade deal, acted as a catalyst for a debate on broader societal concerns surrounding the role of the state in creating and overseeing globalising markets, redistributing the gains from international trade and holding the precarious balance between different interest groups. In Europe, these conflicts recently culminated in strong resistance from Belgium’s Wallonian region to the EU-Canada trade agreement – a political disaster set to haunt future negotiations with Europe.

The failure of Western governments in managing globalisation’s domestic disruptions has led to frustration and uncertainty among the losers of an open economy and, in turn, created spaces for populist demands. Trump’s trade policy largely remains a mystery, save for his threats to tear up existing legal arrangements by the score, but his rumblings about the real and imagined ills of international trade will now have a lasting impact. Obsessed with the nation’s trade deficit, he announced to abandon the TPP and to demand the renegotiation of existing trade pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he described as “the worst trade deal in history”. He also vowed to impose tariffs on imports from countries that enjoy “unfair advantages” and bring trade cases against China, in particular.[2]

Are we thus witnessing a drastic revision of the US commitment to free trade and its leading role in the move towards mega-regional trade agreements? This depends on whether cooler heads will prevail in the new administration. The candidate himself described his priorities in only the most hyperbolic terms; the crucial question is who will agree to come on board to sort out a clear policy. Trump faces a public that is increasingly wary about US participation in the global economy[3], which makes it more difficult to backtrack on his remarks. Given his unrealistic stances on other issues, it seems likely that Trump ditches agreements with high symbolic value such as TPP.

What will succeed the contested TPP and lingering TTIP and what will be the effect on global trade governance? Trump expressed a preference for bilateral “deals” instead of holding complex negotiations with country groups, which would constitute a break with the current trend towards both more elaborate agreements and more signatories. Overall, the uncertainty will incentivize US partners to look for alternative markets and could lead to new bilateral and regional agreements that exclude the US. Despite the EU’s campaign to keep TTIP alive[4], it will be low on the new administration’s agenda. While US citizens see the agreement as less problematic than TPP, slow progress in the negotiations and European grievances seem to have dispelled expectations.

Trump’s triumph should teach us about the importance to reconcile free trade with domestic policies that protect citizens from its disruptions and ensure that costs and benefits are fairly shared. It is certainly tempting to make trade the scapegoat for all our economic ills, but this narrative puts the blame for stagnant wages and rising inequality on only one piece of a larger picture. Harvard economist Dani Rodrik got it right: “Instead of decrying people’s stupidity and ignorance in rejecting trade deals, we should try to understand why such deals lost legitimacy in the first place. I’d put a large part of the blame on mainstream elites and trade technocrats who pooh-poohed ordinary people’s concerns with earlier trade agreements.”[5]

If large sections of society start to associate trade with inequality, insecurity and diminished aspirations, the social consensus in favour of open markets will crumble rapidly. To preserve the legitimacy of international trade, its link to democratic policy-making and commitment to the protection of domestic social norms and social cohesion must be strengthened. Reconciliation has to entail reforming the way in which societal preferences are articulated and how the goals of trade policy are defined. Most importantly, free trade has to be complemented by fair domestic distributional policies that limit its disruptive potential and thus mitigate the populist backlash to globalisation.

This article is based on one of our recent research articles; a draft version is available here.

International trade after the US election