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Trump’s U-Turn To Rejoin TPP Double Whammy For China’s Exports – Analysis

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Barely a year ago, US President Donald Trump withdrew its membership from TPP , with the plea that TPP would work against his “ America First” policy. After a year , he overturned TPP ‘s redundancy and resuscitated TPP’s significance as an economic weapon to banish Chinese bellicose in the trade war. Considering tariff barriers not enough to stop China’s retaliation, Trump administration gave second thought to escalate pressure by volume trade in co-partnership with its economic allies in TPP , who are the major importers of Chinese goods.

China is an export based economy. Trade accounts for 37 percent of its GDP. China depends substantially on TPP for its exports. TPP accounts for 49 percent of China’s global trade.

Trump’s administration warning for imposing high tariffs on steel and aluminum and bringing US $100 billion worth goods in the high tariff net, seemed to have little impact on China’s dumping goods in USA. China fumed to retaliate on the same velocity, arguing that its steel export accounted for barely 1.1 percent of USA’s total steel import in 2017.

To sully the Chinese obstinacy, Trump asked his administration to reinvent the scope for re-joining TPP, if the terms are renegotiated. Seemingly, he thought that 8 member countries of TPP ( out of 12 members) , who are largely dependent on imports from China and bear the brunt of large trade deficit with China, will vie for USA’s support to dampen the Chinese exports.

The 8 member countries of TPP, which are the concentration of China’s exports, are USA, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Mexico and Canada. They accounted for 97 percent of China’s exports to TPP in 2015. China’s substantial exports to these countries created big trade deficits of these countries.

Against these backdrops, can USA bring a major jolt to China after rejoining TPP ? Can it play a lead role for trade diversion ? Presumably, it can dampen China’s exports to these countries by supplanting, after reaping the benefits of tariff concessions within the trade block.

It was observed that the major component of China’ basket of exports to these 8 member countries were electric and mechanical machineries and equipment. Nearly one-fourth of Chinese exports to Japan relate to electrical machineries and equipment. In case of Vietnam, the share was 35 percent in 2015.

This means that to wean away the Chinese predominance in these countries, USA has to supplant Chinese exports of electrical and mechanical machineries, by offering competitive pricing after reaping the benefits of low or no tariff in the region.
Besides tariff advantages, TPP provides exemption from non-tariff barriers to its member countries, which are imposed in case of imports from China. USA and Canada imposed TBT ( technical barriers to trade ) to several home electrical appliances imported from China. The USA also imposes TBTs on children products ( such as toys) imported from China. Textile products from China are subject to TBT by Canada. Japan imposes technical barriers on imports of furniture and construction machineries from China.

TPP, without USA, would have unleashed more space for China to flex its muscles. Now, with USA rejoining, TPP will impart a big burden on China’s exports. This is because USA is the main export destination for some TPP member countries, who are diagonally major importers of Chinese goods. For example, USA is the main export destination for Japan , Vietnam and Singapore , accounting for 20 , 19 and 6 percent of their exports respectively. And USA, Japan , Vietnam and Singapore are among the top ten importers of Chines goods. Together, they accounted for 29.5 percent of Chinse exports in 2016. This means that in the export – import balancing, USA has much power to influence these countries to buy more from USA.

Against this backdrop, it is likely that USA will exert more pressures on these four nations in TPP region to reduce their imports from China and buy American goods.
India is not the member of TPP. Threats of adverse impact loomed large as four TPP member countries , viz, USA , Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, are the major trading partners of India. They account for one-fifth of India’s global export. Given this, a large scale trade diversion was feared. It was feared that the rise in the intra-regional trade in TPP due to preferential tariff and curbing of non-tariff barriers would squeeze India’s exports to these countries.

Biggest trade diversion feared for India’s exports was textile products. Textile is the single major item of India’s export in its total exports to the world. It accounts for 10-11 percent of India’s world export. USA alone accounts for 40 percent of India’s total export of textiles.

With the duty preferences granted by USA to TPP members, concerns were raised on India’s export of textiles to USA. Vietnam would have been the main obstacle to India’s export of textile to USA. Vietnam is the second biggest exporter of readymade garments to USA ( after China) .

But, there is a catch. In TPP, the duty preference for textile trade is governed by yarn forward rule. Under the rule, it is mandatory for the TPP members, exporting textiles, have to procure yarn, fabric and other inputs from any or combination of TPP partner countries. At present, Vietnam procures yarn and fabrics mainly from China. Given the existing structure of logistic and low cost procurement of yarn and fabrics from China versus TPP rules, it will not be an easy task for the Vietnamese exporters to divert its procurement from China to domestic market or to any other TPP member countries. Further, none of the TPP members are globally known for manufacturers of yarn and fabrics.

Nevertheless, in the cross-fire of US- China trade war and USA returning to TPP, India should have a relook at its trade pattern. India’s surplus export to USA dragged it under US lens. It has already been alleged that India’s export subsidies were non-compliant to WTO, after India achieved threshold of per capita income of US $ 1000 per annum. India’s large trade deficit with China raises concern over its BOP.

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Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder is an adviser to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi, and the author of “Exporting to Japan,” as well as various articles in Indian media, including Business Line, Echo of India, Indian Press Agency, and foreign media, such as Asia Times online and Eurasia Review .

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