Trade War? 贸易战?

President Obama, on September 11, announced that the United States would restrict imports of Chinese commercial, low-cost tires. This action was foreseeable and foreseen (for example this blog foresaw this action in articles titled Attack On China Rolls On New Tires and Consultations To Settle The Tires Dispute: Too Little Too Late?). President Obama committed to additional tariffs of 35-30-25 percent stepped down over three years; the United States International Trade Commission had recommended 55-45-35 percent over three years. Many analysts called the ITC’s recommendation prohibitive; the Obama rates, according to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk, were derived from an economic model designed to reduce but not prohibit Chinese tires in the U.S. market. The victorious United Steelworkers predicted getting their lost jobs back; most analysts predicted that exports from other countries, not domestic production, would fill in the missing Chinese tires.

Within twenty-four hours, China announced trade remedy investigations into chicken and automobile parts from the United States. Observers were quick to label the announcement as “retaliation” (Inside U.S. Trade headline: CHINA RESPONDS TO TIRES SAFEGUARD WITH NEW AD INVESTIGATIONS), which China denied. China announced a WTO appeal of an adverse decision on the sale and distribution of visual works and music download services almost simultaneously, and a WTO challenge to the tires safeguard decision within days.

Dire predictions, and accusations directed at President Obama, followed quickly. President Obama was accused of breaking the word he gave, and the undertaking of world leaders that he had solicited, at the last meeting of the G-20, to avoid any acts of trade protectionism in the midst of a global recession. He was accused of inconsiderate timing, making his announcement on 9/11, a day that ironically had brought the world together, and less than two weeks before the next G-20 in Pittsburgh, where he would be the host. China complained, expressly, that President Obama seemed prepared to trade off 5000 American jobs for 100,000 Chinese, seeking a superior moral ground. Trade analysts rushed to predict a wave of safeguard actions against Chinese products. After all, if an apparently weak claim could succeed with the Obama Administration, surely stronger claims could prevail, and the standards for relief based on a safeguard action are much lower than for dumping and countervailing duty petitions.

The safeguard action did not require any Chinese violations of any trade rules, and there were no formal allegations of dumping or subsidies in the tires case. Had there been any, the law required them to be disregarded in the decision process. Nonetheless, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard engaged in vitriolic denunciations of Chinese trade practices before, during, and after the President’s decision. He quickly seized leadership in new petitions that did contain such allegations. The Obama Administration said nothing publicly to recognize the difference between the decision on tires and findings of subsidies or dumping, thereby possibly reinforcing an apparent Chinese impression that the proceedings were unfair and ill-timed for global economic recovery. Gerard’s statements (and similar statements from a Union witness, the Alliance of American Manufacturing, at the Trade Policy Committee hearing), seem intended, in their disregard for the law and in their tone, to damage Chinese-U.S. relations. As they were, in the tires case, outside the law, the Obama Administration may need to be sensitive to an overtly warm embrace of the unions.

Did President Obama start a trade war? Is China retaliating? Will the G-20 countries conclude that the U.S. is not committed to free trade, and will they react by seeking to protect their own domestic markets? Will this trade trigger reverse the promising signs of global recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s?

There are no simple answers to these disturbing questions, but it is possible to address some of them without hysteria. There is here much more than may seem apparent, and also a bit less.

The Decision On Tires

All trade disputes begin with domestic politics. The tires dispute began with Candidate Obama’s promises to give meaning to the special China safeguard and to insist upon Chinese adherence to trade laws and agreements, and the critical support he received from the trade unions in his run for the presidency. It was sustained by a continuing anti-Chinese sentiment in Congress, where various bills alleging currency manipulation and other unfair trade sins are introduced almost routinely. And it was advanced by the analytical conclusion of four of the six Commissioners of the International Trade Commission, led by a Chairwoman previously on the staff of the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who found that an increase in Chinese tire imports had disrupted the U.S. market and injured the U.S. industry. The Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, coincidentally but instrumentally, is essential to the President in his efforts to reform health care, his highest priority.

The President’s rationale is uncomplicated. China agreed to the special safeguard. Its requirements were met, at least insofar as the case was presented to the International Trade Commission, the United States Trade Representative, and the Trade Policy Committee. Therefore, it was right and reasonable to apply the law.

There is perhaps another explanation. The gathered political forces made a presidential refusal to act in the tires case impossible. The trade unions and the Democratic Congress would have accused President Obama of representing continuity with the Bush Administration, not the change he had promised. He would have been seen to condone the offshoring of jobs, which the Chinese interests in the case brazenly emphasized as the core of their defense. He would have been seen as “soft” on China. Most important of all, he would have had no subsequent credibility with Congress or a probable majority of Americans on trade. He would never have been able to advance a free trade agenda. Indeed, he likely would never have been granted the trade negotiation authority that, at present, he does not have but needs.

The Timing

The law, Section 421 et seq. of the Trade Agreements Act of 1974 , as amended, required presidential action by September 17. The President could have let the date slip inasmuch as there is nothing in the law to discipline him had he done so. However, President Obama is particularly respectful of the law, and he would have been under unwelcome political pressure had he not acted when the statute required.

The President probably did not want to act while National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo was in the United States, which China may have interpreted as insulting. The Chairman, after all, seems to have raised the issue in meetings with the President, Vice President, and congressional leaders during a visit of more than ten days, exactly during the initial window when the recommendation from the Trade Policy Committee and the Trade Representative had reached the President’s desk.

With the September 17 deadline preceding the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh (beginning exactly one week later) the President surely wanted as much distance as possible between his announcement and the Summit. At the Summit he wanted to discuss the world’s financial institutions, the economic crisis, climate change. He did not want a diversion into a trade war.

Wu Bangguo left for China from Washington on Friday morning, September 11. The President announced his decision that afternoon, which was already the weekend in China. It was the end of the U.S. news cycle for the week. It was as long before the Summit as possible once Wu Bangguo had left, and it met the statutory deadline. It happened to be 9/11, but otherwise there could not have been politically or diplomatically a better time.

The “Retaliation”

China’s nearly simultaneous announcement of antidumping and countervailing investigations could not have been retaliatory in any normal meaning of that term. China’s bureaucracy, like the bureaucracy in any major country, inevitably is large and slow. It could not have arranged to announce antidumping and countervailing investigations on less than twenty-four hours notice. The investigations had to have been planned long before the President’s decision was known.

The Chinese announcement, not the investigations themselves, may have been intended to appear retaliatory, but it, too, had to have been planned. It is probable, therefore, that the President had told Chinese officials during consultations (see Consultations To Settle The Tires Dispute: Too Little Too Late?) when he would make his announcement so that they could prepare. It may even have been agreed that the Chinese would announce the antidumping and countervailing investigations effectively in conjunction with the President’s announcement, so that both sides could posture for their publics but also sweep the dispute away a couple of weeks before the G-20 Summit.

That China has a growing agenda of trade grievances with the United States is not surprising, particularly as a wave of trade remedy petitions has begun to flood agencies in the United States and other countries against Chinese products. As much as China pledges to encourage more domestic consumerism and to reduce reliance on exports (consistent with American requests in the G-20 framework), such a change will not come about quickly. China needs foreign markets to remain open to its products, just as do other countries. China is appropriately aggrieved by the drive to close or limit markets for its goods.

A dispute over chicken has been festering between China and the United States for a long time. China’s domestic industry in auto parts has been troubled, especially in the recession. Both have been likely sources of Chinese trade actions against foreign imports. The timing for these investigations may not have been entirely coincidental, but it would also appear to have been less calculated and calculating than to be called “retaliation.”

Within a week of these “retaliatory” Chinese actions, three more antidumping and countervailing duty petitions were filed in Washington against Chinese products. No one suggested that these petitions were part of a new trade war, or were retaliatory. Instead, they were understood to be part of the normal course of trade relations between China and the United States, where China is still a major producer of goods that Americans want to buy and American manufacturers and, more significantly it seems, American trade unions, want to keep out. Notwithstanding the grand objectives of the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, to make China more a consumer society and less export-driven, while making Americans greater savers with a reduced compunction to buy, the life of the two countries goes on, and with it the rhythm of American trade complaints against Chinese products.

The Maturing Of China

Although life goes on, there are unmistakable changes, precipitated in part by the global recession, but also by the maturing of China in the international system. China made significant sacrifices to join the WTO, including negotiating compromises that created exposure to the special safeguard that produced President Obama’s tires decision. China has been exposed to the WTO disciplines, and nine Chinese actions have been challenged in cases filed in the WTO against Chinese practices. However, China during the last twelve months alone has launched four cases against others. China has begun to recognize the WTO not only as a forum where it might be brought to judgment, but also one where it may challenge others.

China’s growing engagement in the WTO is part of its growing engagement more generally, whether in the G-8 or the G-5, the G-20 or the International Monetary Fund. China is growing into a new role, still a developing country, but one with a voice to be heard. Rather than characterize China’s use of trade laws as “retaliation,” these actions more properly can be seen as maturation, China’s willingness, ability, even determination to act like other countries participating at comparable levels in the world’s trading system.

China is now neither first nor last in the invocation of trade remedies and dispute settlement. It is one among few, but it is more inside the norms of international organizations than out.

These developments signal more than mere maturation. They also signal that China accepts the legitimacy of international institutions, and their disciplines. China accepts full international citizenship, claiming its rights as well as its responsibilities. Instead of finding fault or danger or risk when China exercises these rights, it is probably wiser to find relief as China integrates into the global economy and polity. It was not so very long ago when China was an effective member of neither.

The Next Road For Tires

There is no forum other than the WTO where China can appeal the Section 421 safeguard decision. Nonetheless, China is likely to be disappointed there. Were it to win, it would not be a victory that could be finalized soon enough to impact the tires trade (especially as all WTO relief is prospective), nor to head off other safeguard actions much before the expiration of Section 421 at the end of 2012. China, therefore, should not permit the safeguard actions to create an illusion about the WTO, nor exaggerated expectations.

The tires decision may also have limited effect encouraging other safeguard actions. It took seven months from the filing of the petition to reach presidential decision, which means that “full” relief (three years) requires beginning a case with at least 43 months left in the statute. It is no longer possible to bring any safeguard action under this provision of the law and obtain a result that could yield even three years of relief, as only 39 months of legal authority remain. With every passing day, the potential length of time for relief diminishes because of the law’s mandatory expiration.

It would be more prudent and effective for Chinese interests to continue pressing for reconsideration in the White House, where the statute directs everyone after a year. Were the first year of relief to produce American jobs, a continuing challenge to the President’s decision likely would be futile, but should the predictions of the economists engaged by the Chinese side prove correct, such that safeguard relief does little or nothing for American jobs, the President might be willing to rethink, just as President Bush was forced to do after two years of steel safeguards. In the latter, even as the President was driven to give up the relief, there was a significant recovery in the domestic industry. Without any recovery in the tires industry, the likely scenario, the President would be that much less likely to continue the relief in a form harmful to China.

奥巴马总统于9月11日宣布美国将限制中国产商用低价轮胎出口至美国。这一决定已被广为预见、并不出人意料(如本博客文章Attack On China Rolls On New Tires and Consultations To Settle The Tires Dispute: Too Little Too Late?)。奥巴马总统决定在未来三年内分别向中国轮胎征收百分之三十五、三十和二十五的额外税率,美国国际贸易委员会此前则建议追加百分之五十五、四十五和三十五的税率。许多分析员都认为美国国际贸易委员会的建议将把中国产品排除在美国市场之外。根据美国贸易谈判代表柯克,奥巴马总统的方案建立在一个将降低但不排除中国轮胎出口到美国的经济模型之上。胜利的美国钢铁工人联合会预计将赢回失去的就业机会,然而大多数分析家认为其他国家生产的轮胎将填补中国轮胎原先占有的市场份额,而非美国本土生产的轮胎。

不到24小时,中国就宣布对美国禽类产品和汽车零部件展开贸易救济调查。观察家立即把这一声明贴上“报复”的标签(《美国贸易内幕》刊登了题为《中国以反倾销调查回应轮胎特保案》的文章),中国政府予以否认。几乎同时,中国宣布将在世贸组织上诉不利于中国的、有关视听产品下载服务销售和分销的裁决,稍候又向世贸组织上诉轮胎特保案裁决

耸人听闻的预测以及针对奥巴马总统的指责随即而来。奥巴马总统面临违背承诺的指责,违背在他推动下、各国首脑在上届G-20会议上做出的、为避免全球经济衰退而回避贸易保护行动的承诺。他还面临宣布这一决定时机不对的指责,在9/11这一把全世界团结在一起的日子宣布裁决、在匹兹堡G-20首脑会议即将举行之际,更何况美国还是东道国。中国公开抱怨奥巴马总统准备用十万个中国就业机会换取五千个美国工作,争取道德制高点。贸易专家急忙预测一系列针对中国产品的保障案件将立即到来。总而言之,如果一个软弱无力的指控能得到奥巴马政府的支持,那么更强有力的指控一定将赢得胜利。而且采取保障救济的标准比反倾销、反补贴调查低得多。

在贸易保障调查中不需要证明中方违背了贸易规则,在本案中没有任何反补贴或反倾销指控。即使有不正当贸易行为,法律规定在裁决时无须考虑这些行为。但是,美国钢铁工人联合会主席Leo Gerard在总统宣布决定前后公开诋毁中国的贸易行为,他还立马带头在新的申诉中包括这些指控。奥巴马政府没有公开评论轮胎特保案决定与反倾销、反补贴裁决之间的差别,因此更强化了中方认为这一裁决不公且时机不当的印象。Gerard的评论(以及钢铁工人联合会证人美国制造业联盟在贸易政策委员会听证会上的发言)显示他们置法律于不顾、破坏中美关系。观察他们在轮胎案中的表现,奥巴马政府应注意工会热情的拥抱。

奥巴马总统真的展开一场新的贸易战吗?中国是否采取了报复行动?G-20成员国是否得出美国并不坚信自由贸易的结论,并采取行动保护本国市场呢?这一案件是否会影响刚刚开始的全球经济复苏、使自1930年代以来最严重的经济危机又走下坡路呢?

这些令人不安的问题并没有简单答案,但是不用歇斯特里就可回答其中一些问题。有些并不显而易见,有些却明白无误。

轮胎案裁决

所有的贸易纠纷都源自国内政治。轮胎案起源于奥巴马在竞选美国总统时承诺将赋予针对中国产品的特保条款意义、督促中国遵守贸易法及协定,以及工会支持为他赢得选举起的关键性作用。同时,国会内的反华情绪也起到一定作用,国会指控中国操纵汇率及采取其他不正当贸易行为似乎已成为惯例。美国国际贸易委员会六位委员中、包括主席在内四位委员的研究结论起到了推波助澜作用,这位主席曾为参议员金融委员会民主党主席的工作人员。这四位委员认定中国轮胎出口增长已经扰乱美国市场、使美国产业受损。参议员金融委员会的这位民主党主席恰好在总统的医疗改革中起关键作用,而医疗改革是总统的首要任务。

总统的逻辑并不复杂。中国接受了特殊保障条款。条款规定的要求已经达到,至少这一案件已由国际贸易委员会、美国贸易代表办公室和贸易政策委员会审核。因此,实施这一法律是正确且合理的。

或许还有一种解释。种种政治力量使得总统在轮胎案中否决贸易救济行动不切实际。工会和民主党国会已经指责奥巴马总统沿用布什政府政策,而非承诺的改革。如不批准救济行动,那么奥巴马将被认为对本土工作流失漠不关心,在本案中中方抗辩的立足点就是就业这一点。他将被认为对中国太“软弱”。最重要的一点,他将失去国会乃至大多数美国民众在贸易问题上的信任。他将无法推动自由贸易。他现在没有但却需要国会授予贸易谈判的权利,如果不这么做,他将永远无法得到授权。

时机

修订后的《1974年贸易协定法案》第421条要求总统在9月17日之前采取行动。总统可以错过这一截止日期,因为法律中不包含惩罚条款。但是,奥巴马总统特别尊重法律;如果不依法行事,他将面临许多不利的政治压力。

总统或许是希望避免在全国人大常委会委员长吴邦国访美期间采取行动,因为中方可能会视此为侮辱。在十多天行程中,吴邦国委员长在与总统、副总统和国会领导会晤时多次提到轮胎案,这恰好是贸易政策委员会和美国贸易代表办公室提交的意见抵达白宫、总统可作出决定这一时间段的初期。

9月17日这一截止日期恰好在匹兹堡G-20首脑会议召开前一周,总统当然希望能尽量提前宣布。在首脑会议上,奥巴马希望讨论全球金融体系、经济危机和气候变化。他不希望将话题转至贸易战。

吴邦国于9月11日(周五)上午离开美国返回中国。总统在这天下午宣布决定,此时中国已是周末。对于美国媒体而言,这是一周新闻的尾声。同时这也是吴邦国委员离美后、距离G-20首脑会议最远的时间点,且符合美国法律规定。这一天恰好是9月11日,但是从政治、外交角度而言的最佳时机。

报复

中国几乎同时宣布对美国产品展开反补贴、反倾销调查,但这并不是报复。中国的官僚体系和其他国家的官僚体系一样,只不过更大更慢。中国不可能在不到24小时就做好准备、宣布展开调查。这些贸易调查早在总统宣布决定前就已经开始酝酿了。

中国的声明可能显得这些贸易调查是报复行径,而不是这些调查本身。所以,总统可能在中美磋商过程中(见Consultations To Settle The Tires Dispute: Too Little Too Late?一文)告诉中方他准备如此宣布,希望中方做好准备。可能美方也默许中方将于这一时间宣布展开贸易救济调查,这样双方都可尽早在G-20首脑会议召开前对国内公众有所交待。

在贸易领域,中国对美国不满的清单越列越长并不令人奇怪,尤其是当中国产品在美国和其他国家面临一波接一波的贸易救济案。虽然中国承诺鼓励国内消费、减少出口依赖(这与美国在G-20首脑会议的要求吻合),但这一变化不会很快到来。中国需要海外市场继续对中国产品敞开大门、享受和其他国家产品同等的待遇。中国对单单针对中国产品的市场限制理所当然有所不满。

中美鸡肉产品纠纷持续已久。中国国内的汽车零部件产业陷入困境,尤其是在经济衰退中。这是中国采取贸易行动的源泉。这些调查展开的时间可能并非完全巧合,但也不一定是精心策划的“报复”。

在中国宣布报复行动后短短一周内,美国企业针对中国产品递交了三份反补贴、反倾销申诉。没有人认为这些申诉是新一轮贸易战的一部分、或是报复。恰恰相反,它们被认为是中美正常贸易的一部分。中国是美国希望购买的产品的主要生产国,但是美国生产商以及(尤其是)美国工会希望把这些产品排除在美国市场之外。匹兹堡G-20首脑会议的宏伟目标包括鼓励中国向消费型经济发展、减少出口依赖,同时鼓励美国减少消费、增加储蓄,两个国家的命运在美国对中国贸易政策的抱怨声中延续。

日趋成熟的中国

虽然命运在延续,全球经济衰退以及中国的成长也带来许多变化。中国为加入世贸组织作出许多牺牲,包括谈判妥协最终导致特保条款及轮胎救济行动。中国已经多次面临世贸组织的管理,迄今为止中国因为九项贸易举动成为多个世贸案件的辩护方。同时,中国在过去一年里也向世贸组织递交了四份申诉。中国已经意识到世贸组织不仅是她面临指控的法律论坛,同时也是挑战其他国家的场所。

中国更积极地参与世贸组织活动是她积极参与国际舞台的一部分,其他场所还包括在G-8, G-5,G-20及国际货币基金组织。虽然仍为发展中国家,但是中国已经逐渐扮演新角色,是世界需要倾听的声音。与其简单地把中国使用贸易法视为“报复”,这些行动更应当被视为成熟的表现,中国愿意、有能力、甚至决心和其他国家一样行事、在同一平台参与世界贸易体系。

中国既不是第一个、也不是最后一个使用贸易救济和纠纷解决机制的国家。她是使用这一机制少数国家之一,但至少中国已经成为国际组织内的一员、而不是徘徊在组织之外。

这些发展不仅显示中国已更加成熟,同时亦显示中国已经承认国际组织的合法性并接受管理。中国已经接受国际国籍,维护自己的权利并履行自己的职责。与其寻找中国在履行职责时犯的错误、带来的危险,更明智的做法是对中国融入全球经济和政治长舒一口气。不久前,中国还不是有影响力的成员。

轮胎的另一条道路

世贸组织是中国唯一可以上诉421条款特保决定的场所。但是,在那里中国很可能会感到失望。即使中国胜诉,这一胜利也遥遥无期、无法影响轮胎贸易(更何况世贸裁决针对未来),更无法阻止在2012年底421条款失效前面临更多特保案件。因此,中国不应当允许特保行动以造成对世贸组织的错觉,更不应该夸大期望。

轮胎案的裁决可能不会激发其他特保案件。从递交申诉至总统裁决需要7个月,这说明如想寻求全面特保救济(横跨3年)应当在这一法律条款失效前43个月启动案件。现在距离这一条款失效仅剩39个月,因此已经不可能通过特保案获得全面救济。因为这一条款在2012年底失效,随着时间一天天推移,美国企业可享受救济的时间也一点点减少。

更谨慎和有效的做法是中国应当继续向白宫施压、要求重新考虑,因为这是法律规定一年后应采取的行动。如果第一年的贸易救济的确为美国带来更多就业机会,那么挑战总统的决定将毫无意义;但如果中方聘请的经济专家的预言正确——贸易救济对美国就业没有或只有极小影响,那么总统可能愿意重新考虑,就像布什总统在钢铁保障生效后两年被迫放弃这一贸易救济。在钢铁保障案中,虽然总统被迫放弃救济行动,但是国内产业已经复苏。如果轮胎产业没有恢复,最可能的情况是奥巴马总统更不可能维持这一危害中国的救济行动。

(翻译:朱晶)