trade

Could the UK go it alone in the cut-throat world of global trade?

Iain Mansfield, the 30-year-old British diplomat awarded a €100,000 prize by the eurosceptic Institute of Economic Affairs for his plan for a British exit from the EU, certainly thinks so. At the centre of his plan is the case for the UK to go it alone in negotiating trade agreements with big players like China and the US. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
In 1996 a friend of mine called Jim Rohwer published a book called Asia Rising. A few months later, Asia crashed. The financial crisis of 1997 made my colleague’s book look foolish. I thought of Jim Rohwer (who died prematurely in 2001) last week as a I listened to another Jim – Jim O’Neill, formerly of Goldman Sachs – defending his bullish views on emerging markets in a radio interview.

Dalian port, China (Getty)

Friday’s GDP data out of China (the economy grew at an annual rate of 7.8 per cent in the third quarter of this year) has illustrated what many economists see as the “new normal”. China is growing slower than it once did. But, given its increasingly outsize role over the past two decades what does that mean for global trade? Together with Valentina Romei from our stats department and the helpful people at the WTO we have been running some of the numbers. Here are a few interesting points to pass on…

China is now the world’s biggest trading nation…

According to Coleman Nee, one of the data gurus at the WTO, China overtook the US as the biggest trader in the world (exports + imports) in the first half of this year. Read more

There’s been a lot written in the FT and elsewhere about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Here are five reasons you should care about this trade pact:

1. This is a big deal.

If, or when, it is finalised the 12-country Pacific Rim deal will cover countries responsible for almost 40 per cent of global GDP and involved in more than a third of global trade.

This chart is taken from a June 2013 report by the US Congressional Research Service. Some $18tn in goods is traded around the world each year these days. The countries in the TPP (The current “TPP 12”: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam) accounted for 36 per cent of that total in 2011.

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Gideon Rachman

Barack Obama with Mahmoud Abbas at the UN (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Image)

“Let there be no doubt: in the Asia-Pacific of the 21st century, the United States of America is all in”, declared Barack Obama in a speech to the Australian parliament in November 2011. But Asians might be excused for having a few doubts about that now that Obama has cancelled half of his upcoming trip to Asia – so that he can stay at home and concentrate on his budget fight with Congress. For the moment, the president is still planning to travel to the Apec summit in Bali. But even that promise is under review, depending on what’s happening in Washington. It would be acutely embarrassing if Obama cancelled the trip to Apec, since it would be the third time he has failed to show up for a scheduled trip to Indonesia. Previous efforts to visit the country that he lived in as a child were cancelled – in March 2010 and then again in June of that year – because of an argument, first over health-care and then over BP. Read more

It’s no secret that the US is at the centre of global trade. But how is what it trades with the world changing? The US International Trade Commission, the independent government agency which investigates anti-dumping cases in the US and also acts as a trade data clearinghouse, this week put out its annual “Shifts in US Merchandise” report. Here’s four things in the report worth thinking about:

1. Americans love their cars and their iPhones. They were the biggest contributors to the $10bn widening of the US trade deficit in 2012. Read more

Ahead of the meeting between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in California, now dubbed the “shirt-sleeves summit”, here is a sample of what’s being talked about in the press.

♦ Sunnylands, the 200-acre estate close to Palm Springs, has played host to quite a line up of leaders, including the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Thatcher and Kissinger. It seemed the ideal spot for the ‘getting-to-know-you’ summit, with both its long ties to Hollywood and its renowned collection of Chinese enamelled metalwork dating from the Ming dynasty.
History looms larger for those who lost, writes David Pilling, contrasting the two centuries of optimism since the American revolution with the period of imperial collapse that followed China’s rebellion. A sense of boiling injustice mixed with certainty about one’s position in the global hierarchy makes for a potent brew ahead of the meeting.
♦ The summit could define US-China relations for years to come, says the Washington Post. A principal goal of the meeting will be to build individual trust where strategic distrust exists between the two countries.
♦ But Xi is not ready for a touchy-feely meeting, says Foreign Policy. Surely the US is rewarding China when it should be censuring it?
♦ Washington Wire have done a jaunty précis of Lawrence Summers’ proposed agenda for the Summit, including tackling China’s trade surplus, China’s somewhat anti-competitive business practices and a rethink of the global financial system.
♦ Russell Leigh-Moses at the Wall Street Journal warns of the potential pitfalls looming in Sunnylands: “Xi needs to maintain his approachability for the US while being mindful of those in China who think that now is the moment to press Washington on a whole host of issues, especially where China’s military rise is concerned. Xi’s been more forceful than nuanced here in China; he will need to be precisely the opposite in California.” Read more

Esther Bintliff

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars Bridge, London, March 1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

Fire at Albion Mill, Blackfriars, London,1791. Painting by T. Rowlandson

The history of mass manufacturing is stitched through with accidents and peril. The first factories, which powered the industrial revolution in 18th century Britain, brought death and injury to many workers, including children. Mill fires in the UK were so common that some industrialists bought their own steam fire-engines in an effort to bring down insurance premiums.

The factory model spread fast. By the 19th century, the word ‘sweatshop’ had begun to enter popular parlance, with Charles Kingsley referring to ‘sweaters’ – or garment workers – in his 1850 tract ‘Cheap Clothes & Nasty’ (“Men ought to know the condition of those by whose labour they live”, he warned). Meanwhile, in the US:

“The term ‘sweatshop’… was meant to describe “sweated labor,” work that a big clothing manufacturer contracts out to a smaller firm… The labor was “sweated” because of the conditions of the factories – cramped, crowded, and full of damp heat from the steam-driven pressers.” – Bill Buford, ‘Sweat is Good’, The New Yorker

How did things get better? Safety standards encoded in law, industrial design improvements, the growth of unions, and public outrage helped bring change to the factories of western economies. But all too often, the impetus for reform seemed to require the catalyst of a terrible accident.

Today, the majority of factory accidents (though not all) take place in the developing and newly industrialized world – places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and India. The death of more than 200 people this week in a factory on the outskirts of Daka is a challenge both to the Bangladeshi government, and to western retailers.

The cost of change, to some observers, seems prohibitive – but if passed on to western consumers, it might actually be tiny. Jason Motlagh and Susie Taylor report: “An analysis by WRC estimates the garment industry would have to spend some $3 billion over five years to bring Bangladesh’s roughly 4,500 factories up to Western standards. That amounts to less than 10 cents a garment.”

*****

Here are five of the worst factory accidents. There are many, many more. You will notice that we’ve focused on recent decades, but only because these were the best documented online. You may also notice that there are certain factors that the worst incidents have in common. The most frequent is locked doors.

1) May 25, 1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York

Firefighters at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, March 25, 1911. Photographer: Brown BrothersDeath toll: 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, mostly women.

The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter a few weeks after the fire. You can read a transcript of the proceedings of the case via Cornell University. The chief prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Charles S. Bostwick, pulled no punches.

“Others ran to the Washington place door. One of these was Margaret Schwartz, now dead. And it is for her death that these defendants are now on trial.

Gentlemen of the jury, that door was locked. Those who ran to that door cried out ‘That door is locked. My God, we are lost.’ They were lost. That locked door barred their escape.”

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Gideon Rachman

Over the past year, there have been security and war scares all over East Asia – but Taiwan, the traditional hot spot, remained strikingly cool. In recent months, Japan and China have jostled over their disputed islands and the North Koreans have threatened America and the South with nuclear weapons. By contrast, Taiwan has not been at the centre of a good war scare since the Straits crisis of 1996. Visiting the island, a few weeks ago, I was told by a senior member of the security establishment that – “We look like an island of calm in a boiling sea.”

Perhaps the Taiwanese were feeling left out? Because, together with China, they have succeeded in creating some waves over the past week. First, the Taiwanese government staged its first live-fire security exercise since 2008. And this event was swiftly followed by the revelation that China has deployed missiles near the island that are capable of threatening American aircraft carriers. This is significant, because the carriers are the basis of American power in the Pacific. And, in the Straits crisis of the mid-90s, it was the dispatch of US carriers to the area that signalled that America was taking a tough stance. Read more

Esther Bintliff

Half of all world exports are from the US and Europe. Added together, the two constitute the largest, wealthiest market in the world, accounting for over 54% of world GDP in terms of value and 40% in terms of purchasing power. There are many reasons why a trade deal between the two makes sense in the minds of both policymakers and business-owners (a successful pact would boost growth and jobs in both regions, and offer the US and EU a better chance of standing up to an increasingly powerful China, for example).

So why are negotiators working on the deal probably in for the long haul? One reason is that there are some culturally sensitive areas for both regions – in particular, agriculture and food. Here are some potential sticking points:

For US exporters trying to get their products into the EU –

For EU exporters trying to get their products into the US –
  • Buy America. The US fiscal stimulus of 2009 restricted bidding on iron and steel contracts so that only US producers could take part, or producers from countries with a ‘reciprocal government procurement agreement’

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