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Tuesday March 23, 2010 - 22:52:03 GMT
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China's March Trade "Deficit"

My ears perked up when I read today that China’s Premier Wen Jianbao said China would run a trade deficit of around $8bln and its first in 72 months…he was quoted as saying “To be honest, I was happy when I learned of the situation.”  Like this is the adjustment process in work without any adjustment in USDCNY in nearly 2 years.  And it turns out that the main factors driving an alleged trade deficit in March are seasonal – late start to the Chinese New Year and factory closures tying up commerce…it has little to do with any jump in import demand or a large drop in exports.  At the same venue (speech to foreign business people in Beijing), Wen said he did not want any currency or trade wars.   Frankly of China starts running monthly deficits I would be very suspicious of the figures and would want to aggregate bilateral trade balances for the same months from China’s major trading partners – like the US and see how China data match up with US data over time. 


While a large rise in the yuan is no ticket to trade balancing, it is a starting point and will aid adjustment over time.  The issue here is whether China wants to snub pressure from G20 and continue with its grossly undervalued currency, or be a responsible (and increasingly powerful) member of the global community and play be a higher standard of rules of the road for commerce…including not forcing Google to block some searches to preserve the state apparatus of the CCP.  Not sure why anyone can argue that the US is getting the best of the trade relationship with China?  While I am not suggesting a closed economy or sanctions to prevent imports from China, I can’t help but believe that US firms have very little access to China’s consumers on terms any other than those dictated by the CCP and its bureaucrats. 


Schumer and Graham today announced a fast track for their bill to make naming China’s currency misaligned a lot easier than naming China a currency manipulator and cited a study from Economic Policy Institute that blames the fixed yuan and closed markets for the loss of 2.4 million US jobs.   Perhaps this overstates job losses from outsourcing and uncompetitive exchange rates (real issue is low wages in China which the currency reval would partly address).  Perhaps not.  But one thing is clear the US trade deficit with China has gone from $83bln in 2001 to a record $268bln in 2008 and then in the face of collapsing global trade fell to $226bln in 2009 (see EPI)…if a collapse in global trade and a spike in US household savings only gets the bilateral trade gap down 16%, there is a massive structural problem in this relationship.  Sure consumers get low priced consumer goods…but this is also deflationary and with China buying massive quantities of US gvt debt, this trade divide also keeps US interest rates lower than they would otherwise be which played a role in causing the credit crisis…cheap financing for mortgages and all sorts of other stuff.  To think of this relationship as an equilibrium is ludicrous…it is a serious distortion and nothing is really changing it much…not even the worst recession since the 1930’s globally. 


China and the US meet this week in Washington (Chinese trade official). US Treasury reports on FX to Congress April 15 and has another opportunity to name China a currency manipulator (don’t count on it).  And most importantly the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in Beijing in late May is on the horizon.  If something concrete is not accomplished in the next few months on US-China trade, Congress will own this dispute and things could get ugly fast. 


David Gilmore




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