EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

The EU is the first major partner to strike a trade pact with Mercosur, a bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement concluded today will cover a population of 780 million and cement the close political and economic relations between the EU and Mercosur countries. It represents a clear commitment from both regions to rules based international trade and will give European companies an important head start into a market with an enormous economic potential. It will anchor important economic reforms and modernisation undergoing in Mercosur countries. The agreement upholds the highest standards of food safety and consumer protection, as well as the precautionary principle for food safety and environmental rules and contains specific commitments on labour rights and environmental protection, including the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and related enforcement rules.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I measure my words carefully when I say that this is a historical moment. In the midst of international trade tensions, we are sending today a strong signal with our Mercosur partners that we stand for rules-based trade. Through this trade pact, Mercosur countries have decided to open up their markets to the EU. This is obviously great news for companies, workers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic, saving over €4 billion worth of duties per year. This makes it the largest trade agreement the EU has ever concluded. Thanks to the hard and patient work of our negotiators, this is matched with positive outcomes for the environment and consumers. And that’s what makes this agreement a win-win deal.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström added: “Today’s agreement brings Europe and South America closer together in a spirit of cooperation and openness. Once this deal is in place, it will create a market of 780 million people, providing enormous opportunities for EU businesses and workers in countries with whom we have strong historical links and whose markets have been relatively closed up to now. The agreement will save European companies over €4 billion in duties at the border – four times as much as our deal with Japan – whilst giving them a head start against competitors from elsewhere in the world. It also sets high standards and establishes a strong framework to jointly address issues like the environment and labour rights, as well as reinforcing sustainable development commitments we have already made, for example under the Paris Agreement. Over the past few years the EU has consolidated its position as the global leader in open and sustainable trade. Agreements with 15 countries have entered into force since 2014, notably with Canada and Japan. This agreement adds four more countries to our impressive roster of trade allies.”

Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “The EU-Mercosur agreement is a fair and balanced deal with opportunities and benefits on both sides, including for Europe’s farmers. Our distinctive, high quality EU agri-food products will now get the protection in Mercosur countries that they deserve, supporting our market position and growing our export opportunities. Today’s agreement also presents some challenges to European farmers and the European Commission will be available to help farmers meet these challenges. For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure that there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers.”

Main features of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement:

The EU-Mercosur region-to-region agreement will remove the majority of tariffs on EU exports to Mercosur, making EU companies more competitive by saving them €4 billion worth of duties per year.

  • As regards EU industrial sectors, this will help boost exports of EU products that have so far been facing high and sometimes prohibitive tariffs. Those include cars (tariff of 35%), car parts (14-18%), machinery (14-20%), chemicals (up to 18%), pharmaceuticals (up to 14%), clothing and footwear (35%) or knitted fabrics (26%).
  • The EU agri-food sector will benefit from slashing existing Mercosur high tariffs on EU export products, chocolates and confectionery (20%), wines (27%), spirits (20 to 35%), and soft drinks (20 to 35%). The agreement will also provide duty-free access subject to quotas for EU dairy products (currently 28% tariff), notably for cheeses.

Mercosur countries will also put in place legal guarantees protecting from imitation 357 high-quality European food and drink products recognised as Geographical Indications (GIs), such as Tiroler Speck (Austria), Fromage de Herve (Belgique), Münchener Bier (Germany), Comté (France), Prosciutto di Parma (Italy), Polska Wódka (Poland), Queijo S. Jorge (Portugal), Tokaji (Hungary) or Jabugo (Spain).

The agreement will open up new business opportunities in Mercosur for EU companies selling under government contracts, and to service suppliers in the information technology, telecommunications and transport sectors, among others. It will simplify border checks, cut red tape and limit the use of export taxes by Mercosur countries. Smaller companies on both sides will also benefit thanks to a new online platform providing easy access to all relevant information.

While delivering significant economic benefits, the agreement also promotes high standards. The EU and Mercosur commit to effectively implement the Paris Climate Agreement. A dedicated sustainable development chapter will cover issues such as sustainable management and conservation of forests, respect for labour rights and promotion of responsible business conduct. It also offers civil society organisations an active role to overview the implementation of the agreement, including any human rights, social or environmental concerns. The agreement will also provide for a new forum to work closely together on a more sustainable approach to agriculture and, as part of the political dialogue under the Association Agreement, address the rights of indigenous communities. The agreement also safeguards the EU and Mercosur’s right to regulate in the public interest and preserves the right to organise public services in the way they consider appropriate.

EU food safety standards will remain unchanged and all imports will have to comply with the EU’s rigorous standards, as is the case today. The agreed food safety, and animal and plant health provisions will reinforce cooperation with the authorities of the partner countries and speed up the flow of information about any potential risks through a more direct and efficient information and notification system. In this way, the agreement will increase our efficiency in ensuring the safety of the products traded between the EU and Mercosur countries.

The trade agreement reached today is part of a comprehensive new Association Agreement under negotiation between the EU and Mercosur countries. It is composed of a political and cooperation pillar – on which negotiators already reached a general agreement in June 2018 in Montevideo – and the trade pillar. Beyond trade, the agreement will enhance political dialogue and increase cooperation in areas such as migration, digital economy, research and education, human rights, including the rights of indigenous people, corporate and social responsibility, environment protection, ocean governance, as well as fight against terrorism, money laundering and cybercrime. It will also offer increased possibilities for cooperation at multilateral level. The Association Agreement will complete the network of Association Agreements in the Americas and consolidate the relations with the important partners in the region, supporting EU positions on many global issues.

UK signs free trade agreement with South Korea

Great Britain has secured its first post-Brexit trade deal after signing an in-principle free trade agreement with South Korea.

The agreement, which International Trade Secretary Liam Fox signed with his South Korean counterpart Yoo Myung-hee in Seoul, seeks to maintain existing trade arrangements with the country after Brexit.

The Financial Times says it “comes amid growing uncertainty over bilateral trade conditions after the UK leaves the world’s single largest economic bloc”. The BBC adds that the agreement is “designed to provide stability under a no-deal Brexit”.

The Korea Times explains that there have been “concerns” that South Korean companies “may no longer enjoy the benefits” of current arrangements if the UK crashes out without a deal.

Great Britain and South Korea will largely maintain the trade terms that are in the current deal between Seoul and Brussels, which took effect in July 2011.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement that the deal includes keeping zero-tariffs on South Korean exports such as auto parts and automobiles.

After the talks, Britain and South Korea also vowed to expand cooperation in emerging technologies such as hydrogen and nuclear energy.

Seoul’s trade minister Yoo Myung-hee said: “The deal is significant as it eased uncertainties sparked by Brexit, amid the already challenging environment for exports on the escalating trade row between Washington and Beijing.”

The two countries plan to ratify the deal before October 31st, the new deadline for Brexit.

Although the UK is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner among the EU members, it is its 18th-largest trading partner, accounting for less than 2% of South Korea’s overall trade.

Last year, South Korea’s exports to the UK were worth $6.36bn. The Asian country exports mostly cars and ships to Britain. Going the other way, the UK exports crude oil and automobiles to South Korea.

JAN PHOTO

Griffith Business alumnus becomes Trade & Investment commissioner

Griffith Business School alumnus Julie-Anne Nichols has been announced as Queensland’s new Trade and Investment Commissioner for China.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Ms Nichols, who holds a Bachelor of International Business and a Graduate Diploma in Mandarin Chinese Language from the University, has exceptional experience as a leader and stakeholder liaison with the Asian business landscape that will serve her well in the key role.

“Ms Nichols has been the Queensland Trade and Investment Commissioner in Hong Kong since February 2017 and was previously the Senior Trade Commissioner for Austrade in Guangzhou and in Singapore, so her experience across Asia is outstanding,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“She is well placed to represent Queensland’s interests in trade and investment across all industries and has an extensive knowledge of the Chinese market.”

Acting Pro Vice Chancellor (Business) Professor Fabrizio Carmignani congratulated Ms Nichols on her appointment, which will see her work to improve trade and investment ties between Queensland and China.

“We are proud to hear that one of our remarkable Griffith Business School alumni has climbed to such tremendous heights in the international trade and investment sector,” Professor Carmignani said.

“As a university with historically strong ties to the Asia region, it is deeply rewarding to see Julie-Anne living the Griffith value of engaging with our northern neighbours to achieve meaningful outcomes and impacts for the state of Queensland at large.

“We wish Julie-Anne all the best in her new and exciting role, and will be watching eagerly as she continues to move from strength to strength in her career.”

Ms Nichols has been a resident of China for a decade, during which time she has overseen several teams working across eastern China and north-east Asia.

One of her first duties, according to the state government, will be to oversee the 30th anniversary of the Queensland Government Sister-State Agreement with Shanghai Municipal Government, being commemorated this year.

Trade War PHOTO

China slams US “blackmailing” as Trump issues new trade threat

US President Donald Trump threatened to impose a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods and Beijing warned it would retaliate, in a rapid escalation of the trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trump’s latest move, as Washington fights trade battles on several fronts, was unexpectedly swift and sharp.

It was retaliation, he said, for China’s decision to raise tariffs on $50 billion in US goods, which came after Trump announced similar tariffs on Chinese goods on Friday.

“After the legal process is complete, these tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced,” Trump said in a statement on Monday.

The comments sent global stock markets skidding and weakened both the dollar and the Chinese yuan on Tuesday. Shanghai stocks plunged to two-year lows.

China’s commerce ministry said Beijing will fight back with “qualitative” and “quantitative” measures if the United States publishes an additional list of tariffs on Chinese goods.

“Such a practice of extreme pressure and blackmailing deviates from the consensus reached by both sides on multiple occasions,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The United States has initiated a trade war and violated market regulations, and is harming the interests of not just the people of China and the US, but of the world.”

US business groups said members were bracing for a backlash from the Chinese government that would affect all American firms in China, not just in sectors facing tariffs.

Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the US-China Business Council in Beijing, said China would undoubtedly “begin looking at other ways to enforce action against U.S companies that are operating in the market.”

Some companies have reported Beijing is meeting with Chinese businesses to discuss shifting contracts for US goods and services to suppliers from Europe or Japan, or to local Chinese firms, Parker said.

Washington and Beijing appeared increasingly headed toward open trade conflict after several rounds of talks failed to resolve US complaints over Chinese industrial policies, lack of market access in China and a $375 billion US trade deficit.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said his office was preparing the proposed tariffs and they would undergo a similar legal process as previous ones, which were subject to a public comment period, a public hearing and some revisions. He did not say when the new target list would be unveiled.

“As China hawks, like Lighthizer and (Peter) Navarro, appear to have gained power within the Trump administration lately, an all-out trade war now seems more inevitable,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market analyst at Mizuho Securities in Japan.

Tit-For-Tat

On Friday, Trump said he was pushing ahead with a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese products, prompting Beijing to respond in kind.

Some of those tariffs will be applied from July 6, while the White House is expected to announce restrictions on investments by Chinese companies in the United States by June 30.

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology. Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong,” Trump said.

Trump said if China increases its tariffs again in response to the latest US move, “we will meet that action by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”

Trump said he has “an excellent relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and they “will continue working together on many issues.”

But, he said, “the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

Cooling Chinese Economy

The intensifying trade row threatens to put more pressure on the already cooling Chinese economy, risking an end to a rare spell of synchronized global expansion and collateral damage for its export-reliant Asian neighbours.

China’s central bank unexpectedly injected 200 billion yuan ($31 billion) in medium-term funds into the banking system on Tuesday in a move analysts said reflected concerns about liquidity but also the potential economic drag from a full-blown trade war.

China imported $129.89 billion of US goods last year, while the US purchased $505.47 billion of Chinese products, according to US data.

Derek Scissors, a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said that means China will soon run out of imports of US goods on which to impose retaliatory tariffs.

China was unlikely change its industrial policies in response to the US trade threats, he said. That could take a long and painful trade fight.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, China will back off its industrial plans only when US trade measures are large and lasting enough to threaten the influx of foreign exchange. Not due to announcements,” he said. – Reuters

Maritime Trade PHOTO

The calm before the storm in International Trade?

A narrowing in the trade deficit in back-to-back months means good things for Q2 GDP, but this report is not yet capturing the extent of the steel and aluminum tariffs and survey data about trade is signaling a warning.

Trade Poised to Boost Second Quarter GDP

As the second quarter began, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed as exports increased 0.3 percent while imports declined 0.2 percent in April. After having widened for six consecutive months and now having narrowed in back-to-back months, trade is positioned to be additive to GDP in the second quarter, perhaps substantially so.

Our latest forecast published earlier today (prior to this morning’s trade report) looks for trade to add seven tenths of a percentage point to headline GDP in the second quarter. If that is indeed the contribution from net exports, it would mark the biggest quarterly boost to GDP from trade in more than four years.

Given the preoccupation that financial markets have had with tariffs and the potential for a broader trade war, might the flattering trade numbers be a salve for worried markets that there is nothing to fear in protectionist trade policies? Not so fast, keep in mind that this data is only through April and the broader extension of tariffs to our NAFTA trading partners and Europe was not effective until June. So the only impact observable for those countries in today’s report (and next month’s as well) would be to the extent that those countries scaled back in anticipation of eventual tariffs.

It is also useful to remember that international trade figures evolve with long lead times and a glacial pace. It takes a long time to build trust, relationships and global payment infrastructure between trading partners, and it remains to be seen if those bonds can be broken down more quickly. On that basis, it is unclear how long the shadow of tariffs will be cast on trade dynamics in coming years.

Steel and Aluminum Imports

If there is a storm coming, this might be the calm before it. Imports of iron and steel mill products increased $228 million in April alone and have increased more in the first four months of 2018 than they did in the same period of 2017. Meanwhile imports of bauxite and aluminum increased $44 million in the month. In the first four months of the year, the United States has imported better than half a billion dollars (or roughly 20 percent) more in bauxite and aluminum products than it did during the same period in 2017.

Softening in the Soft Data

U.S. manufacturers still report expansion in both exports and imports, but not to as broad an extent as they were just a few months ago. In the past three months, the ISM imports component has slipped 6.4 points, the largest slowing over a 3-month period since 2014, and the ISM exports component has come down 7.2 points, the biggest 3-month slowdown for this series since 2012.