World Trade shenanigans: Is China a victim or a perpetrator?

An article in today’s International Herald Tribune strongly defends China against charges from the US that it is failing to adhere to WTO free trade practices, and charges that, “Whole armies of lobbyists and special interest groups are working themselves – and the American public – into a China-bashing frenzy.”

In fact, he says, it is China that is the victim of unfair trade practices, not the US:

China is the victim of unparalleled violations of the principle of nondiscrimination upon which the entire WTO system is built. They threaten literally millions of jobs in China’s manufacturing sector.

The story in agriculture is even more shocking. Having received a large increase in farm subsidies in 2002, U.S. farmers demand that China open up national agricultural markets. According to U.N. figures, government support to U.S. agriculture amounts to around $50 billion a year. China is being asked to expose its farmers to competition from subsidized U.S. agricultural surpluses sold at a fraction of their cost of production. Rapid liberalization would compound rural poverty and exacerbate China’s already extreme rural-urban inequalities.

I’m no expert, but judging from everything I’ve read there is probably plenty of blame to go around. The US has always protected certain industries (cotton, grain) with unfair subsidies, and this really does make a joke of free trade and threaten the livelihood of farmers in poor countries.

On the other hand, China’s no angel of free trade either. Its failure to come up to speed on WTO commitments is legendary, and they seem to be constantly stalling.

Where I definitely take issue with the writer is this bold pronouncement toward the end of the article:

Over the past two decades, China has lifted more people out of poverty more quickly than any country in recorded history. Trade has played a vital role. The danger now is that unfair trade rules will stall China’s progress.

First, it was the Chinese people who lifted themselves out of a poverty that was virtually guaranteed by the backward-looking policies of Mao, that made competition and free trade with the outside world impossible. This great awakening should not be credited to the current government, whose policies of taxes and fees and graft only make free trade more difficult. Deng loosened the reins, and the ever-productive, creative and hard-working people of China ran furiously forward, usually despite Deng, not because of him. So let’s be sure to give credit where it is truly due.

Second, for China to shout out about unfair trade practices toward it is definitely a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. Ask any Western company trying to do business in China about unfair practices! Ask them about the process for getting a business license. Ask them about the fees and the different bureaucrats along the line whose palms must be greased.

So I’m not about to call China the victim and the US the perpetrator. I’m afraid that both are on equally weak footing when it comes to calling foul on the field of fair trade.

The Discussion: No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.