By now everyone has undoubtedly been reading reams of primary and secondary opinions based on Krugman's discussion that it is time to play hardball with China on the FX "manipulation" issue. Retaliatory implications aside (and we are confident China will be full of these) it was ironic that one commentator on CNBC today pointed out that since the CNY is pegged to the USD, shouldn't America be looking at itself first when it comes to currency manipulation, before blaming others. In essence, China is merely taking advantage of the exploding US balance sheet, and adding on top of it its own fiat printing largesse, yet offset by its positive trading surplus. Certainly, Bernanke should have thought of that before it set off on the greatest experiment of failed Keynesianism ever. But now that China has served its purpose and was the economic rebound leader for the past year, it may no longer be as needed. Rhetoric aside, consider this well thought-out response to Krugman, appearing earlier in The Economist, which is a deft rebuke to Krugman's call to arms:
Mr Krugman seems entirely uninterested in the domestic political constraints facing China's leaders. He doesn't consider for a second the possibility that a bullying strategy on America's part might make China less likely to do what the administration wants. Why on earth would a nationalistic nation anxious to establish itself as great power want to come off to all observers as a weakling in the face of American bluster? Mr Krugman would paint China into a corner, forcing them to take steps detrimental to all involved.
No matter the logic though. The people have spoken and they want CNY blood (or the inverse as the case may be -what is that: lymph?). And not just the people. We have just received a copy of a letter signed by 130 Congressmen, and sent to Tim Geithner and Gary Locke, urging the Treasury to immediately address the "growing problems associated with China's continued currency manipulation" and in essence serving as a springboard to the latent protectionism brewing between China and the US, but never really escalating into all out trade war.
March 15, 2010
Dear Secretary Geithner and Secretary Locke:
We write to express our serious concerns about China's continued manipulation of its currency. By pegging the renminbi (RMB) to the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate, China unfairly subsidizes its exports and disadvantages foreign imports. As we work to promote a robust U.S. economic recovery, it is imperative that we address this paramount trade issue with all available resources. We urge your agencies to respond to China's currency manipulation with the actions outlined in this letter. Doing so will allow American companies and workers to compete fairly against their Chinese counterparts and will boost U.S. economic recovery and growth.
The impact of China's currency manipulation on the U.S. economy cannot be overstated. Maintaining its currency at a devalued exchange rate provides a subsidy to Chinese companies and unfairly disadvantages foreign competitors. U.S. exports to the country cannot compete with the low-priced Chinese equivalents, and domestic American producers are similarly disadvantaged in the face of subsidized Chinese imports. The devaluation of the RMB also exacerbates the already severe U.S-China trade deficit. Statistics show that between January 2000 and May 2009, China's share of the U.S. trade deficit for non-oil goods grew from 26% to 83% -- an untenable pattern for American manufacturers. And finally, China's exchange-rate misalignment threatens the stability of the global financial system by contributing to rampant Chinese inflation and accumulation of foreign reserves. For these compelling reasons, we ask your agencies to pursue the course of action below.
First, we urge the Department of Commerce to apply the U.S. countervailing duty law in defense of American companies who have suffered as a result of the currency manipulation. The U.S. is permitted to respond to subsidized imports where the elements of a subsidy are met under the countervailing duty law. The countervailing duty law outlines a three-part test to identify the presence of a countervailable subsidy: 1) that it involves a financial contribution from the government; 2) that it confers a benefit; and 3) that is specific to an industry or a group of industries. China's exchange rate misalignment meets all three parts of this test and therefore merits the WTO-permitted application of countervailing duties.
Second, we ask the Department of Treasury to include China in its bi-annual agency report on currency manipulation. Since 1994 Treasury has not identified China as a country that manipulates its currency under the terms of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 ("Trade Act of 1988"), but Secretary's Geithner testimony to the Senate acknowledging that fact surely justifies the inclusion of China in the report. After labeling the country as a currency manipulator, Treasury should enter into negotiations with China regarding its foreign exchange regime. These combined actions will signal the government's willingness to take decisive action against China's currency manipulation, including
the potential filing of a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization.
The recommendations identified above must be done in concert with intense diplomatic efforts, not only with China but also with the IMF and multi-laterally with other countries. Through a combined strategy of legal action and international pressure, it is possible China will revisit its undervaluation of the RMB. If these efforts are not successful, we ask the Administration to consider all the tools at its disposal, including the application of a tariff on Chinese imports, to respond to China's currency manipulation. The economic impact of the RMB undervaluation on American businesses and workers is too great for the Administration not to pursue a comprehensive effort.
This economic downturn has underscored the pressing need to promote policies that protect U.S. jobs and U.S. businesses. Addressing China's manipulation of its currency must be a critical part of our strategy to rebuild our economy and establish safeguards against future financial crises. The Administration has the legal ability and resources to protect American businesses in the face of China's RMB devaluation, and we urge you to exercise this authority expeditiously.
Thank you for your consideration of this letter. We look forward to your response.
We are confident Wen Jiabao will be ecstatic about this development.
In the meantime, just in case someone missed Krugman's trade war rhetoric, here is a 12 minute clip from Bloomberg TV in which the NYT op-ed author summarizes his latest view on why the latest satanic speculator is none other than the Chinese government itself.