特朗普上任,中美貿易戰是否一觸即發?

 


本文原載于The Economist

編譯/伍豪 & eve

 

譯讀:T-Read | 譯讀小號二世:WinnieTheFool

 

特朗普保護美國工人階級免受外國欺詐的行動已經開始。不過他的第一波治國推特以及總統令里卻引人注目地沒有提到中國——他最愛拿來嚇唬人的假想敵。競選期間,特朗普指責中國操縱貨幣、蔑視國際貿易規則,還威脅要對中國商品征收45%的關稅,贏得了支持者的歡呼一片。現在,全世界都在等著看他說過的話有多少作數。

 

把中國列為貨幣操縱國的承諾沒有被再度提起。對此,樂觀的解釋是特朗普意識到,這種承諾只符合“曾經的”事實——中國已經不再為了提高貿易競爭力而壓低匯率,他們現在所做的恰恰相反。而悲觀的解釋則是特朗普欽定的財長史蒂芬·努欽本來要履行這項承諾,但他的提名還有待參議院投票通過。

 

特朗普當然有能力制造貿易混亂。全面大幅提高關稅會打擊整個產業鏈,損害美國消費者利益,公然挑釁WTO監管下的全球貿易規則體系。不過,相比于搞垮全球貿易體系,特朗普或許會決定在現有體制下同中國較量。盡管沒有點名中國,但白宮官網已放出口風,要“使用聯邦政府手頭的任何工具”來終結貿易違規行為。

 

貿易失衡:中美進出口各占GDP比重

 

在任職認可聽證會上,特朗普提名的商務部長威爾伯·羅斯令人略感寬慰地表示,上世紀30年代提高了數千種商品關稅的斯姆特-霍利關稅法(The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act)已經讓他吸取了教訓。(“這項法案當時并沒有成功,放到今天也很有可能不成功。”)羅斯在自己的政策綱要里也威脅要“懲罰”不遵守貿易規則的國家。他暗示他領導下的商務部將主動實施反傾銷行動,不會將此難題留給企業。特朗普提名的美國貿易代表羅伯特·萊特希澤則是貿易領域的資深律師,熟稔WTO法律,他將熱衷于在法庭上開展貿易斗爭。

 

好用訴訟手段對付中國基本沒有偏離美國的一貫做法。奧巴馬執政期間,美國貿易代表共對中國發起過16次訴訟,主題既有中國對美國鋼鐵與汽車的非法征稅,也有傾銷及損害美國進口商利益的稀土出口限額。就在本周,奧巴馬政府發起的、指控中國非法農業補貼的大型訴訟案已經正式開庭。

 

但激化矛盾仍然可能導致中國采取報復行動。2009年,當美國決定對大量涌入美國市場的中國產輪胎征收懲罰性關稅,中國取消從美國進口雞爪,轉向了阿根廷與巴西。這一次中國可能選擇的報復目標包括美國產的大豆與飛機,其貿易額共占美國對中國總出口的四分之一。對中國來說,完全放棄從美國進口大豆或許有些困難。不過印第安納州的大豆種植者肯尼·凱恩擔心,如果中國選擇到別國采購,美國大豆的價格會跳水三分之一。相比之下,盡管中國還無法自行生產出高質量的民航飛機,但他們的訂單可以轉向歐洲企業空中客車。

 

另一種風險是WTO體系可能會在各種新的貿易訴訟案的壓力下崩潰。目前WTO已經超負荷運轉,各種裁決都在延期。由于有預算帽的限制,且雇員人數不能超過640,WTO已然疲于應對過去幾年中不斷增多的貿易爭端。

 

用非常強硬的方法處理貿易問題可能會暴露出更根本性的問題:彼得森國際經濟研究所的查得·布朗表示,“WTO的法律條文在文字上并不夠清晰”。特朗普說的沒錯,中國確實沒有一直遵守國際貿易法。但是他可能會發現,即使要一字不差地遵守法律條文,也是說起來容易做起來難。譬如說,WTO法律對國有企業并沒有絕對嚴格的定義,因此要辨明來自國有銀行的補貼并予以反對就很困難了。

 

奧巴馬針對此問題的策略是打造一套多邊貿易協議,其中既包括對國有企業的明確定義,也有關于貨幣操縱的章節,還要設立勞工與環境標準,而以上這一切都意在保護美國工人階級,防范“不公平”競爭。這套名為TPP的協議從一開始就將中國排除在外。不過TPP的長遠打算是中國有一天不得不加入協議,因此必須接受主要由美國制定的條款。而特朗普本周退出了TPP。

 

特朗普的戰略顯然不同。只要他是在WTO規則內與中國斗爭,世界就應該能避免貿易戰。哪怕WTO認定美國的貿易措施違反了貿易規則,規則本身也能限制報復行動的規模。要是在WTO體系之外,那就一切都不好說了。

America, China and the risk of a trade war

Trade tensions will mount, but a destructive trade war can still be averted

DONALD TRUMP’S quest to protect American workers from cheating foreigners has begun. But in his first flurry of policy tweets and executive orders, China, his favourite bogeyman, was conspicuously absent. On the campaign trail he deplored China’s currency manipulation, accused it of flouting global trade rules and threatened a 45% tariff on its exports, all to cheering crowds. Now, the world is waiting to see how much of this he meant. 

The promise to label China a currency manipulator has not been repeated. An optimistic interpretation is that Mr Trump has realised that the promise was based on an “alternative” fact. China is no longer squashing its currency to gain a competitive edge, but is instead propping it up. A pessimistic one is that Steven Mnuchin, his treasury secretary, who would do the labelling, is not yet confirmed by the Senate.<iframe class="teads-resize" style="width: 631.34375px; border-style: none !important; height: 0px !important; min-height: 0px !important; margin: 0px !important; padding: 0px !important; display: block !important;"></iframe>

 
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Mr Trump certainly has the power to wreak trade havoc. A big blanket tariff would slice through supply chains, hurt American consumers and fly in the face of the global system of trade rules overseen by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But, rather than blow up the world’s trading system, Mr Trump may yet decide to take on China within it. The White House website, without naming China, promises “to use every tool at the federal government’s disposal” to end trade abuses.

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In the process of being confirmed as Mr Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross somewhat reassuringly said that he had learned the lessons of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised thousands of tariffs in the 1930s. (It “didn’t work very well, and it very likely wouldn’t work now”.) His own policy includes a threat to “punish” countries not playing by the rules. He suggested his department might start its own actions against foreign dumping, rather than leaving them to industry. Robert Lighthizer, Mr Trump’s proposed US trade representative (USTR) and a veteran trade lawyer, knows WTO law inside out, and will be keen to scrap in the courts.

A litigious approach to the Chinese would not mark a huge break from the past. Under Barack Obama the USTR challenged China 16 times, on issues from illegal taxes on American steel and cars to dumping and export quotas on rare earths that harmed American importers. Just this week a massive case accusing China of illegal agricultural subsidies, which was filed by the previous administration, kicked off.

Ramping up tensions still risks Chinese retaliation. When America imposed tariffs on surging imports of Chinese tyres in 2009, China started importing chicken’s feet from Argentina and Brazil instead of America. Possible targets for Chinese reprisals this time include American soyabeans and aircraft, which together make up a quarter of American exports to China. China would find it hard to replace its entire supply of American soyabeans. But Kenny Cain, a soyabean farmer from Indiana, worries that prices could plunge by a third if China were to shop elsewhere. Although China cannot yet make high-quality commercial airliners, it could divert purchases to Airbus, a European manufacturer.

A second risk is that the WTO architecture crumbles under the pressure of new cases. Resources are already stretched and decisions delayed. Constrained by a budget cap and a limit of 640 employees, it has struggled to cope with an increased number of disputes in the past few years.

A highly adversarial approach to trade could expose a more fundamental problem: “As written, the WTO rules are just not clear enough,” says Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Mr Trump is right that China has not always adhered to the spirit of global trade law. But he may find that even holding it to the letter of the law is easier said than done. For example, WTO law offers no watertight definition of a state-owned enterprise, so it is hard to identify and oppose subsidies from state-owned banks.

Mr Obama’s strategy for solving the problem was to craft a multilateral trade agreement that included definitions of state-owned enterprises, a section on currency manipulation and chapters on labour and environmental standards, all meant to protect American workers against “unfair” competition. Called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it initially excluded China. But the hope was that China would one day have to accede, thereby accepting rules written in large measure by America. Mr Trump scrapped it this week.

His strategy is clearly different. As long as he fights China on WTO rules, the world should avoid a trade war. Even if the WTO finds that American trade measures violate their rules, those rules set limits on the extent of retaliation allowed. Outside the WTO, all bets are off.