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U.S. leaders keep showing us that they remain “The Gang That Can’t Think Straight” when it comes to international economic policy. Just look at yesterday’s Treasury Department report on exchange rate policies around the world – the department’s biannual assessment of whether America’s trade competitors are artificially keeping their currencies low to reap trade advantages. No countries were officially accused of this form of protectionism, but several had a Treasury finger wagged their way, including recent free trade agreement partner South Korea.

According to the report, although the Koreans have made international promises to refrain from competitive devaluations, the “sustained” rise in Seoul’s reserves and the country’s net forward position indicates that they have intervened on net to resist won appreciation.” For good measure, Treasury noted Korea’s rising goods trade surplus with the United States and a July, 2014 International Monetary Fund judgment that the won “remains undervalued.”

In other words, Korea isn’t manipulating, but it looks suspiciously close. As a result, “Treasury has intensified its engagement with Korea on these issues. We have made clear that the Korean authorities should reduce foreign exchange intervention, limiting it to the exceptional circumstance of disorderly market conditions, and allow the won to appreciate further.”

Of course, here’s the rub: Seoul is completely free for all intents and purposes to ignore this “engagement.” For Korea’s currency interventions may clash with the international obligations it’s assumed (as in the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund). But they don’t flout the only such commitment that could plausibly be enforced – that trade deal (KORUS) with the United States. After all, consistent with Washington’s reigning bipartisan consensus (especially between the last two presidents, and apparently now including Fed chair Janet Yellen), that enforceable currency manipulation bans don’t belong in trade deals, KORUS ignored the issue.

This gaping and damaging (by Treasury’s own admission) disconnect has big future implications as well. The president also staunchly opposes including an enforceable currency manipulation ban in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement he’s seeking. This deal would already include countries widely accused of past manipulation: Japan (chided in the new Treasury report for its heavy reliance on yen weakening monetary policies to boost growth), Malaysia, and Singapore. Among likely follow-on countries: leading exchange-rate protectionist China, Korea, and Taiwan (which also just came onto Treasury’s manipulation radar).

Nor is the problem confined to East Asia, in the administration’s own view. President Obama is pursuing a lower-profile trade agreement with the European Union – even though Treasury’s report charges the Eurozone with a Japan-like easy money-led growth policy.

To be sure, the new Obama Treasury Department report doesn’t flag these or any other foreign currency policies as significant direct threats to America’s welfare – even though the rising trade deficits to which they contribute subtract from the gross domestic product’s expansion at a time when the nation remains growth-starved. But it does emphasize the potential for major indirect harm, warning that the world economy is once more becoming overly reliant on the United States as an engine of demand, and that “Doing so will not lead to a pattern of strong, sustainable and balanced global growth….” It should have added “and indeed helped set the stage for the last financial crisis and sorely inadequate New Normal that’s emerged in its wake.”

At the same time, the administration keeps insisting that new trade deals with net export-led regions will not only help speed up the historically weak U.S. recovery, but spur greater world-wide growth, too. Instead, as its own new foreign currency report makes painfully clear, it’s much likelier that if this approach to globalization succeeds:

>The United States will be more closely integrated than ever with economies determined to grow at its expense.

>It will have virtually no internationally authorized way to respond effectively.

>Therefore, slow-growth, lousy wages, surging debts, and greater financial instability will mark its future – if it’s lucky enough to avoid a new crash.

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