The Duran: US-Mexico Deal

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tariff deal reached between the United States and Mexico to “stem the tide of migration”. Donald Trump announced that the tariff threat in response to a surge in illegals from Mexico to the US has been suspended. Both men emphasize this fine detail. For its part, the Mexican Government has agreed to restrain migration through its territory and toward the Southern Border. House leader Nancy Pelosi had her own thoughts on Trump’s big PR win, saying: “Threats and temper tantrums are no way to negotiate.” Christoforou and Mercouris also discuss the past trade relationship between the US and China, pointing out that while American blue collar workers suffered as China’s trade surplus with the US grew, the US political establishment saw this and did nothing.

My Comment: Alexander Mercouris is exactly right that US elites [republicans and democrats] did nothing to protect blue collar workers from cheap Chinese imports. This graph clearly illustrates this, and, like Mercouris pointed out, it wasn’t China’s fault. Big US capital was happy to profit.

As the Chinese were selling more and more net wealth to the US in exchange for US dollars, this not only impacted the quantity of trade, but also the composition of trade, the makeup of domestic industry, its associated labor segment and remuneration. It’s also important to note that, even with fewer labor inputs, US manufacturing output did grow over time.

And despite Trump’s bogus claims that the economy is booming like never before, the country’s output capacity has yet to recover to pre GFC levels. This next graph shows us that.

The relative good economy now is due to private debt growth, not anything else. By the by, dollar reserves obtained by China [earned through trade and unearned via interest from US treasury bonds] even though being owned by the Chinese central bank, these dollar accounts sit at the Federal Reserve’s ledger. In case of serious conflict or just whim [like in the case of Venezuela], the US central bank can freeze these accounts or delete them outright, which would deny China’s ability to use these funds to purchase output [from vendors legally allowed to sell to Chinese firms]. No amount of tariffs, however, can replace domestic investment in infrastructure, R&D, and education.

Many people think the Chinese got the competitive advantage because they allowed foreign capital to come in, rape the environment, neglect workers’ rights and labor conditions and pay them slave wages. But there are other countries on the globe that do the exact same things, yet they are not manufacturing powerhouses. The key difference is that the Chinese state invested in education and infrastructure, including hospitals. And at long last, it seems the Chinese leadership is determined to focus more on domestic consumption, rather than exports.

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Syrian Tariffs Must Fall!

by Serban V.C. Enache

In November of last year, the Naseeb border crossing between Syria and Jordan was reopened, providing Lebanese exporters a land route for their output. Despite this, political quarrels between Damascus and Beirut and high tariffs rendered the border crossing unusable or unprofitable to say the least.

Syria is key for Lebanon’s access to foreign markets. The tiny country is confined between its neighbours: the conflict-weary Syria and the sealed border with a hostile Israel. Thus, border crossings into Syria and then out into other countries are required for land-bound exports. Lebanon’s exports collapsed from a peak of 78 percent of GDP in 2008 to as low as 36 percent in 2017, as the [outside-manufactured] Syrian civil war raged on. Exports by land would be cheaper and faster, a five day trip as opposed to a trip lasting 25 days. According to customs officials, before the Naseeb border crossing was closed, over 250 trucks a day headed out from Lebanon to markets in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and the Gulf. When it closed, that volume dropped to about 300 trucks a month, and that was on a good month, bound only for Syria.

Sadly, the Naseeb crossing’s reopening last year brought with it high transit tariffs, imposed by Syria and Jordan on trucks heading to the Gulf – thus making Lebanese sea-bound exports more appealing via the Suez Canal, despite the longer route, for the Lebanese Government also provides subsidies to merchant ships.

Lebanon’s political leaders are divided between supporters and opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. This month, however, fruitful talks were held. The Syrian Government agreed to lower tariffs on Lebanese products entering Syria, and to reactivate [accords signed in 2010] and establish new agriculture agreements between the two countries. While the announcement comes as good news, the Syrian government has yet to disclose its new tariff rate.

The Future Movement, along with the Lebanese Forces, and the Progressive Socialist Party, strongly reject direct ties with Assad’s regime until a political solution to the conflict is reached. While Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and the Free Patriotic Movement support direct talks with him in order to establish the return of Syrian refugees and improve the Lebanese economy.

The country’s president, Michel Aoun, visited Moscow last month to have talks with Putin on geopolitical subjects and to discuss bilateral business agreements. Since the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon [Assad withdrew remaining troops from Lebanon in 2005], Michel Aoun has been seeking to improve his country’s relationship with Syria. He has treated all Lebanese parties as potential partners, including Hezbollah.

It makes no sense for Assad to reopen the crossing and then to impose punitive tariffs on transit. Either you want to reopen trade or not. Keeping such a high tariff is not good policy, it’s not even in the category of protectionism. I wish to invoke the wisdom of Vattel’s The Law of Nations concerning the matter of trade. Every word Vattel writes conveys precious meaning, which should be put in practice.

“Every nation ought, therefore, not only to countenance trade, as far as it reasonably can, but even to protect and favour it. The care of the public roads,—the safety of travellers,—the establishment of ports, of places of sale, of well-regulated fairs,—all contribute to this end. And where these are attended with expense, the nation, as we have already observed, may, by tolls and other duties equitably proportioned, indemnify itself for its disbursements. […]

Freedom being very favourable to commerce, it is implied in the duties of nations, that they should support it as far as possible, instead of cramping it by unnecessary burdens or restrictions. Wherefore those private privileges and tolls, which obtain in many places, and press so heavily on commerce, are deservedly to be reprobated, unless founded on very important reasons arising from the public good.
Every nation, in virtue of her natural liberty, has a right to trade with those who are willing to correspond with such intentions; and to molest her in the exercise of her right is doing her an injury.

The home trade of a nation is of great use; it furnishes all the citizens with the means of procuring whatever they want, as either necessary, useful, or agreeable: it causes a circulation of money, excites industry, animates labour, and, by affording subsistence to a great number of people, contributes to increase the population and power of the state.

The same reasons shew the use of foreign trade, which is moreover attended with these two advantages:—1. By trading with foreigners, a nation procures such things as neither nature nor art can furnish in the country it occupies. And secondly, if its foreign trade be properly directed, it increases the riches of the nation, and may become the source of wealth and plenty. […]

Nations are obliged to cultivate the home trade,—first, because it is clearly demonstrated from the law of nature, that mankind ought mutually to assist each other, and, as far as in their power, contribute to the perfection and happiness of their fellow-creatures: whence arises, after the introduction of private property, the obligation to resign to others, at a fair price, those things which they have occasion for, and which we do not destine for our own use. Secondly, society being established with the view that each may procure whatever things are necessary to his own perfection and happiness,—and a home trade being the means of obtaining them,—the obligations to carry on and improve this trade are derived from the very compact on which the society was formed. Finally, being advantageous to the nation, it is a duty the people owe to themselves, to make this commerce flourish.

For the same reason, drawn from the welfare of the state, and also to procure for the citizens every thing they want, a nation is obliged to promote and carry on a foreign trade.

[…] from all which it follows, that a nation has a right to procure, at an equitable price, whatever articles it wants, by purchasing them of other nations who have no occasion for them. This is the foundation of the right of commerce between different nations, and, in particular, of the right of buying. We cannot apply the same reasoning to the right of selling such things as we want to part with. Every man and every nation being perfectly at liberty to buy a thing that is to be sold, or not to buy it, and to buy it of one rather than of another,—the law of nature gives to no person whatsoever any kind of right to sell what belongs to him to another who does not wish to buy it; neither has any nation the right of selling her commodities or merchandise to a people who are unwilling to have them.

Let us only observe, that nations, as well as individuals, are obliged to trade together for the common benefit of the human race, because mankind stand in need of each other’s assistance: still however, each nation remains at liberty to consider, in particular cases, whether it be convenient for her to encourage, or permit commerce; and as our duty to ourselves is paramount to our duty to others,—if one nation finds herself in such circumstances, that she thinks foreign commerce dangerous to the state, she may renounce and prohibit it.”

Since Assad reopened the Naseeb crossing, he doesn’t view foreign commerce as a threat. The tariff in my opinion should be slashed to zero for a simple reason: Jordan and Lebanon and Syria are on equal grounds in terms of economic development. It’s a case of comparing apples to apples, rather than oranges to apples [say, the US vs Mexico]. And the cost of maintaining roads and safety can be successfully borne by the Governments involved without such taxes or tolls being levied. Friedrich List, an exponent of the Historical School and a protectionist, did not oppose free trade among nations with comparable levels of development, more so, he supported it.

The punitive Syrian tariffs are hurting Syria and they’re hurting Lebanese farmers and businesses the most. I’ll end this article with this magnificent performance from 2003 by Julia Boutros. Two songs with English subtitles that inflame the soul with hope.

Trump’s Art of the Deal – Trade Wars

Tariffs are a means to an end

by Serban V.C. Enache

China vowed to counter Trump’s announcement of 200 billion dollars worth of tariffs on Chinese exports to the US. If the US loses less than China, that’s called “winning” in Trump’s view. I have written in the past about protectionism, the Historical School, and the role tariffs played as a policy instrument for the development of manufacturers and overall industrialization. However, I always stressed that context is the ultimate factor in decision making. There is no policy to be followed religiously irrespective of circumstance. Continue reading “Trump’s Art of the Deal – Trade Wars”

The Sovereign Nation State

Political vs Cosmopolitical Economy

by Serban V.C. Enache

The Globalist View on Statehood

Globalist premise. Most products have developed a complex geography – with parts made in different countries and then assembled somewhere else (goods of trans-national origin). Markets when left alone will allocate resources optimally, thus leading to efficiency and low prices. This, of course, requires the free movement of capital, commodities, and labor. All barriers – like capital controls, trade unions, welfare programs, minimum wage laws, nationalized services etc – will distort prices and lead to malinvestment (waste). Continue reading “The Sovereign Nation State”