Europe retaliates and the transatlantic split widens

US President Donald J. Trump meeting EU leaders
Source image via EPA

The European Union (EU) retaliatory tariffs on a series of American goods, including peanut butter, motorcycles, bourbon, orange juice, sweetcorn and others, kicked in on June 22. The imposed duties on American products are worth $3.3bn in a tit-for-tat response by Brussels to the Trump administration’s unilateral imposition of tariffs on aluminum (10%) and steel (25%) back on March 23.

The EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said that “the rules of international trade, which we have developed over the years hand in hand with our American partners, cannot be violated without a reaction from our side.” She argued that the EU was “left with no other choice” to impose tariffs on US products. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said that the decision by the US to impose tariffs “goes against all logic and history.” In addition to the immediate tariffs, the EU seized the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge the US measures.

The US under President Trump is not at its first spike of tariffs on targeted foreign goods based on national security ground. Aside from the steel and aluminum tariffs, the US imposed a 20-30% tariff on washing machines and solar panels last year. It is as well discussed to impose a 25% tariff on over 800 Chinese goods. Trump seems to believe that the world is taking advantage of the US and that free trade is not being fair to the US. His sole argument is based on the reading of the US trade balance. If there is a trade deficit, the US is losing; if there is a surplus, the US is winning. Trade policies are more complex than what it is being portrayed in a tweet. The world, in particular US allies, has already responded to US ensuing the tariffs on steel and aluminum as listed in the table below.

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 4.51.57 PM
Source: Amy Cheng, Humza Jilani, Keith Johnson, Amy Mackinnon. 2018. “State of the Trade Wars Tracking U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs — and the retaliatory measures other countries are taking.” Foreign Policy. June 21. (here)

Tariffs on auto imports?

In a very trumpian fashion, the American president went on on Friday by threatening to impose a 20% tariff on all U.S. imports of European Union-assembled cars. His message, via twitter, read “If these Tariffs and Barriers are not soon broken down and removed, we will be placing a 20% Tariff on all of their cars coming into the U.S. Build them here!” The threat of imposing tariffs on cars is not new as a month ago he instructed the Department of Commerce, led by Wilbur Ross, to launch a probe into whether auto imports pose a national security threat.

Trump and his associates have used overtime the Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 in order to increase tariffs on ground of national security. The same rationale will potentially be used for tariffs on auto imports. The justification and connection between national security and tariffs was made by Wilbur Ross during a recent interview, wherein he said “National security is broadly defined to include the economy, to include the impact on employment, to include a very big variety of things.” He continued claiming that “Economic security is military security. And without economic security, you can’t have military security.” However, most of the tariffs are affecting traditional US allies, which happen to be NATO members and closely working on defense and security cooperation. Mr. Ross’s justification does hold any serious ground and is simply trying to hide basic protectionist policies being national security.

Congress could regain the control of decision-making on tariffs if the Republican establishment, holding the majority in the House and Senate, were committed to free trade and sound economic and trade policies. Earlier in June, republican and democrat lawmakers mentioned a plan to introduce a legislation that would force President Donald Trump to obtain Congress’ approval before imposing tariffs on national security grounds. Until the midterm elections, it is difficult to imagine the approval of such legislation by the Congress.

The current rates of tariffs for imports between the US and the EU are divided into two categories: for cars, 2.5% US import tax compared to 10% EU import tax; and for light trucks and SUVs: 25% US import tax compared to 10% EU import tax. The American president always focuses on the tariffs for cars and never on light trucks. He has been picking on Germany and its successful automobile industry. But he has failed to recognize the investments made by the three leading german companies in building assembly plants in South Carolina (BMW and Daimler), Alabama (Daimler), and Tennessee (Volkswagen). In 2017, 38% of 854,000 cars build in the US were sold in the US and over 500,000 were exported. With regards to employment, 116,500 jobs in US were connected to german auto-makers: 36,500 working at auto-maker plants and 80,000 as suppliers.

What would the impacts be for the US if the US president were to impose such tariffs? The Peterson Institute recently released a report on the potential impacts of a 25% proposed tariffs in auto imports. The report argues that the production in the industry could drop by 1.5% and that it could cause 195,000 US workers to lose their jobs over a 1-to-3 year period. In case of retaliation in-kind with tariffs by foreign countries on the same products, production would fall 4%, 624,000 US jobs would be lost, and 5% of the workforce in the auto and parts industries would be displaced. The ripple effects of such tariffs could have disastrous consequences for states hosting assembly plants in the long-term. The latest risk assessment by Airbus addressed to the UK government regarding the uncertain future around Brexit should be carefully read by US lawmakers and Trump associates when deciding on imposing tariffs or not. Multinational corporations hold quite a strong leverage in the decision-making process of trade policies.

Rocky transatlantic relations

Again, as argued in previous analyses, the future of transatlantic relations appears unstable and rocky. Several points shall be addressed reflecting on US treatment of historical allies and the future of the liberal order. First, The Trump administration has demonstrated over and over its decision to split with and humiliate America’s traditional allies. The message addressed by the American president and members of his cabinet, in particular Peter Navarro, towards the Canadian prime minister post-G7 meeting as well as the continuous undermining of the German chancellor illustrate Trump’s modus operandi. Per Wess Mitchell, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, the Trump administration is implementing a “strategic renovation” with traditional allies. President Trump has made a point to undermine his German counterpart, Angela Merkel. She was one of the closest partners of President Obama, is leading the most stable and largest European economy, and has not shied away to defend the liberal order. The appointment of Mr. Grenell as US Ambassador to Germany, who has broken protocol on two occasions, confirms it. Mr. Grenell in an interview with Breitbart said “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.” The Trump administration is seeking to undermine and destabilize the German chancellor.

http_com.ft.imagepublish.upp-prod-us.s3.amazonawsBy looking at the trends and rhetorics (which can shift very quickly as demonstrated by the change of position by Trump towards the North Korean dictator), a trade war is quite an eventuality. For the EU, trade has been the core dimension of its external policy and international presence. The EU sees multilateralism and free trade as one of its most successful policies. Furthermore, the EU is at a crossroad with the continuous rise of populist forces gaining traction in core EU countries, such as recently Italy. The EU ought to defend its interests and cannot cave in to foreign pressures, otherwise it would play in the hands of the Orban, Salvini and Le Pen of Europe. And last, the European market is one of the richest, largest, developed and influential in the world. By the weight of its market, the EU shall not shy away from direct confrontation with the US. As per Charlemagne of The Economist, the EU has three strategies in hand to chose from: capitulation, resilience, and containment. Resilience is the most likely strategy at this period of time.

Lastly, the main issue with regards to trade is China, and it has remains unaddressed. Both the US and the EU agree with the fact that China, since joining the WTO in 2002, has not played by the rules. The US could have worked with the EU and utilized the common procedures and processes, the international trading system. However, Trump said it on the campaign trail, and is now doing it while in office, the rules-based global trading system is being portrayed as the cause of American demise. Trump wants a trade approach based on bilateral deal-making, transactional relations and only fair for the US. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council said in Canada, “the rules-based international order is being challenged, quite surprisingly… by its main architect and guarantor, the US.” For instance, Trump refused to sign the G-7 communiqué. For the EU, the liberal order and rules-based trading system are critical for its functioning. Cecilia Malmstrom said this clearly, “The E.U. has a responsibility to stand up for open global trade.”

The American president seems more at ease surrounded by dictators and authoritarian leaders than with traditional American allies. The affronts to the liberal order and America’s allies are beginning to add up considering his policy choice to leave the TPP, Paris deal, the Iran deal, relocate the US embassy in Jerusalem, and unilateral imposition of tariffs. Europe knows that Trump is temporary, but his continuous attacks on the liberal order will not only undermine the US position in the world but lead to a highly unstable multipolar order. “Trump’s preference for a divide-and-rule strategy produces a game” writes Javier Solana “that will create only losers.” Europe knows it, the US may have a serious headache post-Trump.

(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

 

Advertisements

VW-Google – Forget about Ethics and Think Transatlantic Retaliations

Credit: AP
Credit: AP

The recent allegations against Volkswagen (VW) for installing a devise allowing the company to have its 1.6 and 2.0 liters diesel models cheat test are scandalous. The VW case is nothing new in an highly competitive sector with extreme global competition. However, the turn of the debate in the United States about VW and its violations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing these last five years do not tell the whole story about transatlantic trade competition. Interestingly enough, diesel cars only represent less than 1% of passenger vehicles in US, when it is more than 50% in Europe, and the EPA is the enemy number one of the Republicans and a large segment of American population distrust the agency. So based on the fact that all three elements, corporate ethics, environmental concerns, and small market share, rank low in the US, why would the US be so offended about VW cheating of EPA tests?

Without falling into conspiracy theory, could the US attacks against VW to be more a case of transatlantic warfare and retaliation against one of the biggest and symbolic European corporation? Could it be a retaliation for the European Commission’s cases against Microsoft and more recently Google?

VW Cheating and Systemic Failure

The VW scandal is based on the fact that VW has repetitively cheated on diesel car emission tests conducted by the EPA in the US and other agencies around the world. The company was selling its diesel models based on the claims that they were cleaner, more reliable, quicker, and greener than its competitions (one of the best discussions on the VWscreen shot 2015-09-18 at 4.55.17 pm case was done on the Diane Rehm’s Show, listen to it here).

The cheating did not only occur in the US. VW executives are saying that “vehicles in Europe with 1.6 and 2.0 litre diesel engines were also affected by the manipulations”. This could affect over 11 millions cars around the world on models of Jetta, Passat, Audi A3, Golf.

The VW group is one of the largest world carmaker counting brands like Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini. In July the group overtook Toyota for the number one global carmaker. The cheating allegations have already costed the head of its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, and the VW shares dropped by almost 35% on Monday and Tuesday.

Historically, the United States has not been a large buyer of diesel cars as opposed to its European counterparts. In the US, diesel is more expensive than traditional gasoline because of higher federal tax. However, in Europe it is the opposite for the simple reason that European countries have imposed less taxes on diesel than traditional gasoline. Less than 1% of passenger vehicles in the US are diesel engines, as opposed to over 50% in Europe.

European against the US – Google It…

Credit: Linda Henriksen/European Pressphoto Agency
Credit: Linda Henriksen/European Pressphoto Agency

In a matter of weeks in the month of April, the European Commission went after two global giants, Google and Gazprom, both with antitrust charges. Both cases are being headed by Margrethe Vestager, the E.U. commissioner in charge of competition. She has taken over the question of competition from a different angle than her predecessor Joaquin Almunia by tackling the perceived violators with antitrust charges. Both corporations are very important for the European market. Google controls over 92% of the Search Market Share in Europe, while Russia, through in part Gazprom, provides one third of the gas imported in Europe.

In the case of Google, Vestager is accusing the company of using its dominance in the European market with its search engine in order to advance its interests.

Source: Business Insider. 2015.
Source: Business Insider. 2015.

The accusation claims that Google, through its search engine, can artificially skew results favor its own shopping service at the expense of competitors. This is a direct violation of the core principle of the Single Market and fair competition. “Dominant companies” said Vestager “have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition either in the market where they are dominant or in neighboring markets.”

The antitrust case against Google, starting in 2008, illustrates the challenges of guaranteeing fair competition in the new age of the internet era. The case against Google was brought before the Commission by British price comparison site, Foundem. As reported by the Financial Times, “almost 20 complainants against Google want the search engine to abide by strict rules that ensure its formula treats its own services — providing results for travel, shopping and maps — no differently from rivals.”

An added dimension to the Google case is the gap between Europeans and Americans’ concerns and respect about privacy and data protection. The broad American surveillance program, revealed by Edward Snowden, created a serious transatlantic crisis. Interestingly enough, the European case against Google is the only one to stick, even though Google faced charges on three continents. In case of wrongdoing, the Commission has the power to levy fines of up to 10 per cent of Google’s global turnover.

Transatlantic Retaliation or Fair Game?

For the US to go after VW is to go after the powerful ‘Made in Germany’ and German engineering savoir-faire. It is about tackling the competition where it hurts. The US have been tough on foreign competitions with cases against KIA and Hyundai, for lying on fuel efficiency, as well as its own manufacturers with Ford, whom had put defeat devises on its minivans in the late 1990s, and against GM for mechanical defaults costing the lives of more than two dozens individuals.

Ultimately, this piece does not try to lower or even reject the accusations against VW, or even defend VW from any ethical wrongdoing. At the opposite, VW has been caught for cheating by putting a product on the market, which could qualify as an environmental crime. If legally, it will be difficult to trace back the environmental consequences of these cars, it has legal grounds for lying to the costumers on car efficiency and cheating on official tests. But aside blaming one company from wrongdoing, it is interesting to try to put a rational economic look into trade retaliation between two global giants, the EU and the US. Both economic powerhouses are competing on promoting their brands on the global car market, with Ford and GM for the US, and Daimler AG, VW group, BMW AG, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and Renault for the Europeans.

downloadThe Google/VW cases should be analyzed altogether, as there are cases of transatlantic competitions and retaliation. From Europe, the Europeans are demonstrating the lack of willingness and incentives by the US government to go after Google, one of the premium American companies, even though it has used its supremacy in order to promote its interests on the American market. Europeans are claiming that they have to do the job in order to guarantee fairness of competition on the internet market. From the US, the Americans are advancing themselves as the ones that have identified the cheating thanks to the EPA and the Californian authorities, and are denouncing the lack of supervision at the European level. The Americans are talking of environmental wrongdoing and systemic failure within the most powerful auto group in the world.

Interestingly enough, when Commissioner Vestager brought the case against Google in April 2015, she then travelled to Washington D.C. meeting her American counterparts. At the time of the meeting, other American companies were backing the European claims of Google’s violations. These American companies allowed “to head off accusations the action was inspired by German-led anti-Americanism.” In Germany, the VW scandal is shaking up the population and the FT reported in a recent piece that “People will ask why the Americans, who don’t really care about the environment, are attacking a German institution.”

Germany has been the European engine for the last decade and the strongest economic pillar of Europe since the collapse of the world market. Germany economic model is directly based on an export driven economy. The automobile sector represents 2.7% of German GDP. Most car sales are made by the VW group, 70% of them are sold outside of Germany, and the group employs nearly 600,000 people around the world, and more than a third of the 775,000 people who work in the auto industry in Germany (these numbers come from CNN money’s website). Attacking the VW group will have some impact on the German economy and ultimately European economy. “If nobody else has done it, the damage would be limited. If it looks like it’s more companies, not just Volkswagen, it would be a major problem for the German car industry, and the German economy overall,” said Theo Vermaelen, a finance professor at INSEAD.

Are VW/Google cases in order to protect the consumers, data privacy, morality, ethics, and competition? It is difficult to believe it. They seem to simply be transatlantic retaliation in an more than ever-competitive global market.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).