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The Financial Times‘ Alan Beattie just left no doubt in this post that he opposes adding enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation to trade agreements like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What I hope he does next is examine the implications of his currency rigidity for the entire international trade system – because they are immense. In fact, these implications are actually most momentous for those who agree with Beattie.

According to the author, trade remedies and currency policy “have generally been kept apart” under the post-World War II economic order “for several reasons,” notably that “the precision demanded by the former cannot reasonably be supplied by the latter.”

That’s a reasonable judgment, although Beattie has not yet explained in detail why a proposal by the Peterson Institute’s C. Fred Bergsten, for example, to create some precision is completely unpromising. More important, however, is the unmistakable reality implicitly acknowledged by Beattie that, although they have “generally,” been kept apart from trade remedies, currency policy has never been kept totally apart – or even close. Indeed, even the most casual look beyond current controversies makes clear that currency-related concerns were at the heart of worldwide efforts to create a global economy superior to that of the pre-1939 period.

After all, what are now routinely called beggar-thy-neighbor currency devaluations were a major form of the worldwide burst of protectionism that World War II’s victor governments passionately believed worsened the Great Depression and helped trigger cataclysmic conflict. It’s true that the world trade regime that initially emerged after the war had no significant currency-related responsibilities. But that’s not to say that currency and trade were assumed to be unrelated. The Bretton Woods system authorized a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) to foster the exchange-rate stability, and to prevent balance of payments crises, in order to facilitate and maintain trade. At the same time, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor regime to today’s World Trade Organization (WTO), in its Article XV set out rules on exchange-rate arrangements.

The end of Bretton Woods and of fixed exchange rates (partly resulting from U.S. complaints about Germany’s allegedly undervalued deutschemark), along with the advent of oil price shocks, took the spotlight off currency issues. But their fundamental importance remained unchanged. By the mid-1980s, the emergence of worrisome trade and current account imbalances forced the world’s major trading powers, at America’s instigation, to arrive in 1985 at the so-called Plaza Accord, which readjusted the currency misalignments regarded as their main cause. No doubt that’s why the World Trade Organization, which came into existence shortly after the Plaza Accord, outlawed “exchange actions” that “frustrate the intent” of its trade liberalization terms (although the organization’s dispute-resolution system is legally obliged to address such issues in consultation with the IMF and based on IMF findings).

Nowadays, all serious analysts agree that exchange rates powerfully influence trade flows. There’s less agreement – but still an impressive consensus – that in recent decades, China and other (mainly Asian) countries have artificially undervalued their currencies to create trade advantages. In addition, there’s broad agreement among major scholars, as I have repeatedly noted, that unprecedented post-World War II global trade and investment imbalances that were strongly associated with manipulator countries (especially China) and their leading export markets (especially the United States) set the stage for the 2008 financial crisis – and its painful, ongoing aftermath.

That is, currency transgressions still strike at the heart of any viable world trading system. As a result, a trade system that simply decides to punt on currency-related abuses because, as Beattie claims, they’re so difficult to define seems as dangerous as a financial regulatory system that punts on insider trading because it’s so difficult to prove. If such regimes can’t respond adequately – as the financial crisis’ eruption teaches – the proper reaction is not to throw in the towel, much less to vilify attempts to respond. It’s either to keep seeking solutions within those systems, or recognize that the regimes are fatally flawed, and put into effect alternatives until better regimes can be created.