Return to days of tariff barriers

K R Sudhaman

Globalisation was at cross roads at the turn of the century due to East Asian currency meltdown and the failure of Seattle WTO ministerial in 1999. There was an UNCTAD meeting in Bangkok in the early part of 2000 to put globalization back on track. At the concluding news conference of the UNCTAD meeting, a reporter observed that as per Hindu philosophy, only thing that is certain in this universe is death and has it become a certainty for globalization.
But pat came the reply from UNCTAD that globalisation was irreversible and that the world will become one global village one day. Immediately thereafter in 2001, Doha Development Round was launched at the WTO ministerial, providing new lease of life to globalization. More than a decade and a half later, Doha Development round negotiations are yet to be completed and DDA missed several deadlines. Globalization is again at cross roads with increasing protectionism, regionalism and bilateral free trade agreements.
Globalisation has helped world trade to grow manifold and several industrialized economies and emerging economies, including India, have greatly benefitted. China in particular is the major gainer. With the global recession and jobless growth, globalization is being challenged, particularly by industrialized nations, which is questioning the very concept of laissez-faire, totally open economy. Today it is the industrialized nations which are dragging their feet, threatening the very concept of open and free trade.
U. S President Donald Trump is clearly spearheading this reversal in economic thinking that had the potential to derail global economic recovery, which was fragile for nearly a decade due to the unprecedented recession.
Trump is championing the causes of domestic economic protection, instead of freedom. His anti-immigration policy is unwarranted and this is not going to help in reviving US sagging industrial growth. In fact, the better way would be to encourage domestic industries to become more competitive and efficient to take on the competition from China, Germany and EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Mexico.
When India began economic liberalization process, it was the so-called Bombay Club comprising the then leading Indian Industrialists who opposed reforms, particularly the new and open Industrial policy, saying India would be flooded with foreign goods and that Indian industry will die. The fact was they were afraid of competition as they were making undue profit with obsolete technology as the command economy protected their inefficiency. With reforms some of those industries, which did not change and became competitive, had a natural death. But new, vibrant and competitive industry came into being. The new generation industry has not only survived but also thrived and faced the challenges of competition. Even some of the public sector undertakings, which changed with the time, thrived in a competitive environment
President Trump’s latest announcement, imposing hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminum — selectively, on some countries — to protect US producers is certainly a regressive step.
Trump’s trade war, though dangerous, is triggered by its huge trade deficit, particularly with China. This resulted in Trump announcing a 25 per cent hike in import duty on steel and 10 per cent in aluminum. U.S global trade is valued at $5 trillion and the trade deficit is over $500 billion, which is mostly with China. Economists fear that this steep hike in import tariff could damage the U.S economy by raising costs for U.S manufacturers and consumers while prompting its trading partners to impose their own levies on U.S. exporters. With other countries planning retaliatory measures, the prospect of a global trade war looms large.
Of course Trump has exempted from this tariff hike U.S neighbouring countries like Canada and Mexico, which account for nearly 10 million tonnes of steel exports to U.S. Brazil, which accounts for almost 5 million tones exports to U.S might be affected.
India exports just 0.85 million tonnes of steel to U.S. United States accounts just 2 per cent of India’s steel exports and 6 per cent of total aluminum exports. Although the short-to-medium term impact could be minimum, India could witness dumping by U.S-hit exporters like South Korea and Russia. China too could resort to dumping and this may come at a time when Indian steel industry is in the process of recovery after a few years of slowdown. Also the possible diversion of 6.4 million tones of steel and 3.7 million tones of aluminum to the global market will drive down prices, affecting domestic realization of homegrown producers.
In sum, Trump’s action is not a good move as this would put global trade and economy to jeopardy besides hitting hard globalization, which was slowly taking firm root. Free and open economy is any day better than restrictive economy and protectionism. The past experience clearly suggests that restrictive practices did not help any economy in medium to long term. One only hopes Trump realizes his mistake and mends his ways for the benefit of U.S as well as global industry. (IPA)

Monday, 2 April, 2018