Category Archives: Trade

New Zealand’s Terms of Trade – Milk Powder v Oil

The recent history of New Zealand’s terms of trade has been largely linked to dairy product export prices although in a longer-term context the price of imported oil has been paramount. Today we can see that the price of powdered milk (export) and the price of brent crude oil (import) are heading in the wrong directions. Powdered milk prices are falling and brent crude oil prices are rising which makes for an unfavourable terms of trade – see graph. This is not a good sign for the terms of trade which reached its peak in March this year.

What is the Terms of Trade.
The terms of trade index measures the value of a unit of exports in terms of the number of imports it can buy, or the purchasing power of our exports. This is similar to comparing the number of sheep exports that will buy a typical imported family car, from one time to another. The formula is:
Formula: Terms of Trade (TOT) =

Export Price Index (Px)           x   1000 (base year)
Import Price Index (Pm)

  • An increase in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 1200) is called “favourable”
  • A decrease in the TOT (e.g. from 1050 to 970) is called “unfavourable”

A “favourable” (increase) in the TOT may come about because the average:

– export price rose and import price stayed the same
– export prices rose faster than import prices
– export prices stayed the same and import prices fell
– export prices fell but import prices fell faster

The index number that results tells us whether merchandise export price movements have been favourable relative to import price movements. An increase in the terms of trade from 1000 to 1100 represents an increase in the purchasing power of our exports of 10% which means, other things being equal, we would be able to buy 10% more from overseas. As a country we would be wealthier. A decline in the terms of trade would result in the opposite situation.

Limitations of the Terms of Trade

Terms of trade calculations do not tell us about the volume of the countries’ exports, only relative changes between countries. To understand how a country’s social utility changes, it is necessary to consider changes in the volume of trade, changes in productivity and resource allocation, and changes in capital flows.

The price of exports from a country can be heavily influenced by the value of its currency, which can in turn be heavily influenced by the interest rate in that country. If the value of currency of a particular country is increased due to an increase in interest rate one can expect the terms of trade to improve. However this may not necessarily mean an improved standard of living for the country since an increase in the price of exports perceived by other nations will result in a lower volume of exports. As a result, exporters in the country may actually be struggling to sell their goods in the international market even though they are enjoying a (supposedly) high price. An example of this is the high export price suffered by New Zealand exporters since mid-2000 as a result of the historical mandate given to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to control inflation.

In the real world of over 200 nations trading hundreds of thousands of products, terms of trade calculations can get very complex. Thus, the possibility of errors is significant.

Evaluation

  • A decline in the terms of trade is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, a decline in the terms of trade may occur due to a devaluation in the exchange rate. This devaluation may enable a country to regain competitiveness and increase the quantity of exports.
  • The impact of a decline in the terms of trade will depend on the elasticity of demand. If demand is elastic, the lower price of exports will cause a bigger % increase in demand.
  • Some Less Developed Countries (LDCs) have seen an improvement in terms of trade because of rising price of commodities and food post 2008. It is not always LDCs who see a decline in the terms of trade.
  • It is important to distinguish between a short term decline in terms of trade and a long term decline. A long term decline is more serious for reflecting a fall in living standards.

Global Dairy Prices down but why does NZ have such high milk prices?

On the 21st August the GDT Price Index continued its decline and dipped 3.6pc, with an average selling price of $3,044 per tonne. Whole milk powder was down 2.1% at $2,883 – see graph below:

How does the GDT work?

GlobalDairyTrade trading events are conducted as ascending-price clock auctions run over several bidding rounds.  In each auction a specified maximum quantity of each product is offered for sale at a pre-announced starting price. Bidders bid the quantity of each product that they wish to purchase at the announced price. If the price of a product increases between rounds, to ensure their desired quantity a bidder must bid their desired quantity at the new, higher price. Generally, as the price of a product increases, the quantity of bids received for that product decreases. The trading event runs over several rounds with the prices increasing round to round until the quantity of bids received for each product on offer matches the quantity on offer for the product (as shown in the diagram below). Each trading event typically lasts approximately 2 hours.

Why are prices so high in NZ?

Fonterra is responsible for 30% of the world’s dairy exports with revenue exceeding NZ$20 billion and is New Zealand’s largest company. With New Zealand being one of the biggest producers you would expect prices for New Zealand consumers to be lower than what they are – a litre of fresh milk in Germany was selling for the equivalent of $1.51, compared to $2.37 in New Zealand.

Milk being inelastic in demand and is an essential part of the typical family shopping basket. Up until 1976 the price of milk was set by the government and producers were subsidised the loss that they incurred by a set price. The subsidy was completely removed in 1985 and by 1993, milk could be sold at any price. In January 1994, two litres was selling for the modern equivalent of $3.95. Consumer NZ estimates that for every $3.56 bottle of milk (an average retail price at present), about $1.19 would go to the farmer, $1.91 to the processor and retailer and 46c to GST.

Who gets what?

Because Fonterra take over 80% of what farmers produce it is difficult for the market to decide what an appropriate price to pay farmers. Therefore they work out what they believe is the highest sustainable price it can pay its farmers. It looks at the global dairy trade auction price and operating costs and capital costs to determine the farm gate price.

GDT price – Operating Costs – Capital Costs = Farm Gate Price

So farmers in New Zealand are at the mercy of the global market not how much is demanded in NZ supermarkets.

NZ Supermarket Prices

Supermarkets buy their milk from local distributors, either direct from Fonterra or other processors such as Synlait, or from suppliers who had value along the way. They then add their own costs to give a final price to the consumer but New Zealand food retailing effectively is a duopoly. Milk in Germany is much lower in price because of the high levels of competition with multiple chains operating there. In New Zealand however the price consumers pay reflects the concentrated nature of the market. Domestic milk market is dominated by one big supplier, Fonterra (see graph below), and two big supermarket chains – Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises – which means there’s little competition for your dairy dollar.

US and China trade war and what it means.

Doing trade barriers with my NCEA Level 2 class and below is a good clip from Al Jazeera about the issues that are arising from it and who will lose the least from a trade war. The last ten years saw a marked improvement in trade between the United States and China. But Trump’s battle of the tariffs is threatening that. And there are fears of an all-out trade war. The U.S. is putting tariffs on 50 billion dollars worth of Chinese imports. The president says he wants a fairer trade with China. But Beijing’s fired back with a tit-for-tat response. It’s published a list of more than 600 American products it plans to hit with its own taxes. Is it a case of who blinks first in this economic brinkmanship? And what will it mean for global trade? The comments by Philippe LeGrain are particularly good.

USA China trade war – who would win?

After a third round of trade talks between China and the US ended in stalemate a US$100bn trade war is on the horizon. America has published a list of 1,300 Chinese products which it proposes to hit with a 25% tariff. China has it own list covering 106 categories. As the Chinese embassy in Washington DC said “As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate.” See graph below from The Economist.

US list covers Chinese products worth – $US$46bn in 2017 – 9% of exports to USA.
Chinese list covers US products worth – US$50bn in 2017 – 38% of exports to China

Historians of trade have an advantage over those who study wars of the military kind. Each side is a trade dispute lays out in detail the products to be affected. That makes it easier to analyse their strategies. Trump’s blunt attack targeting of a particular industry – steel and aluminium – is to supposedly make the industry in the US stronger. China retaliated by placing tariffs on US$0.2bn-worth of iron and steel tubes, pipes and hollow profiles, and US$1.2bn-worth of aluminium waste.

The US face a trade-off between protecting their own industries with import tariffs at the same time as increasing the cost of goods for its consumers. There is also the likelihood of causing disruptions to the US economy by increasing the cost of intermediate goods (aircraft parts, robots, semiconductors) which ultimately leads to higher prices.

Good long-run deal for China

It seems that China has the dominant position for the following reasons:

  • China can stop purchasing US aircraft
  • Impose an embargo on US soybean products
  • Dump US Treasury Bills and other securities
  • Chinese companies could reduce demand for US business services
  • The government could persuade firms not to buy US products

China is indirectly one of America’s biggest employers. China could look to buy all it commercial aircraft from European consortium Airbus rather than Boeing. That move alone wold cost 179,000 US jobs. China controls key components in global supply and production networks

Initially a trade war would mean job losses for both countries but in the long-run with China looking to develop a more domestic led consumption model the export market becomes less significant – Project Syndicate. See video below:

Source:                                                                                                                                                        The Economist – Blow for Blow – April 7th 2018

US question globalisation whilst India embrace global trade

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy proposed by the Chinese government that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Through infrastructure development China wants to boost trade and stimulate growth across Asia and into Europe. Ratings agency Fitch said that $900bn in projects were planned or in progress.

India is a country that will benefit from this development and recently Prime Minister Modi positively responded to Chinese President XI Jinping’s vision of the world – the BRI being the most obvious and a catalyst to India’s foreign policy aims which responds to the global trends. These are:

  1. India has the potential to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030. It intends to do this by sharing prosperity and working with other countries to set joint goals.
  2. Political ideologies are now encompassing equity and environmental issues. In India they are becoming more main stream policies for government and sustainable resources use is important in the 21st century.
  3. India is looking at Asia as the largest common market. Asia is reverting to its historical equilibrium of an integrated continent and does not want to choose between India or China. Instead, it supports a resetting of their relations to shape the goals of the ‘Asian Century’, which include the Bell and Belt Initiative and security related differences.
  4. India has a comparative advantage in the digital world and the potential to be the engine behind global growth.
  5. India priority is settling the boundary issues with its neighbours, enhancing diplomatic leverage and building a $10 million economy.

China is trying to improve international norms, technical standards and institutions through the BRI which covers more than 900 projects – 76 ports and terminals in 34 countries and special arbitration courts, about 80% which are contracted to Chinese companies. Whilst Prime Minister Modi is trying to divert the Western framework for reducing emissions in favour of human well-being within ecological limits.

And as the rivalry between the US, and Russia and China intensifies, India can play a stabilising role on agreed goals within the framework of a multi-stakeholder in the “Asian Century”.

Source: Neighbors move toward ‘Asian Century’ – ChinaDaily 28-29th April 2018

Has the WTO done enough to help developing countries?

Below is a good clip from Al Jazeera about the problems facing developing economies and it asks the question has the WTO done enough to assist poor nations. It goes back to the WTO: Doha Round of trade talks in 2001 which aimed to lower barriers to trade and therefore facilitate greater global trade but agricultural subsidies and tariffs remain unresolved. The issues seem to be between developed v developing countries and the changing nature of the world economy since 2001.

Looming US China trade war – What can China do?

China’s share of global trade has surged since the 1990’s with both exports and imports increasing significantly – see graph below. Exports have been on a steep rise since 2001 with only a slight plateau with the GFC in 2008-9.

On Friday Donald Trump signed an order to impose tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump wants to punish Beijing what he said is “the theft of American technology and Chinese pressure on U.S. companies to hand it over.” This deficit is significant – largest deficit of any country (see graph) – and Trump is blaming the US China trade imbalance for the loss of jobs in the US. This is an area that Trump focused his attention on in his campaign and now he is trying to fulfill the rhetoric.

Source: National Australia Bank

China has already warned that it will take “all necessary measures” to defend itself, raising the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. China has a few retaliatory measures it could use:

Soyabeans – US or Brazil?
The United States exported more than 30 million tons of soybeans — worth more than $10 billion — to China last year, over 57 percent of total U.S. exports of the popular legume. The soybean industry is heavily subsidised by the US government and this allows them to dump their produce on the Chinese market below the Chinese market price. China could look to Brazil for soy.

Boeing or Airbus?
Boeing make over 50% of commercial aircraft operating in China. Last November they signed an agreement to sell 300 planes to China worth $37 billion. This order supports approximately 150,000 jobs. In future China could look to the European plane manufacturer Airbus.

Sorghum
Earlier this year Trump imposed the following on Chinese products:

  • 20% tariff on the first 1.2m imported large residential washers in the first year, and a 50% tariff on machines above that number.
  • 30% tariff will be imposed on imported solar panels

In retaliation China has launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of the grain from the US. China is the top buyer of US sorghum – US provided 4.76 million of CHina’s 5 million metric tonnes of sorghum imports – US1.1bn. China could retaliate after its investigation wraps up, expected next February.

Apple
China is a major market for the iPhone maker. Apple also depends on China’s workforce to make most of its products. As a result, China’s government has enormous leverage over the company and could, as it has in the past, target Apple for violating Chinese consumer rights.

General Motors
The Chinese market is imperative for GM – China has been the largest retailer for the last 6 years. 4 million cars were sold in China last year, up from 4.4% from the previous high a year earlier. Chinese automakers like Geely and BYD are competing for market share, though, and China could make it more difficult for both GM and Ford to operate on Chinese soil. In late 2016, China fined GM’s China joint venture $29 million for “price fixing,” or setting minimum prices for certain Cadillac, Chevy and Buick models.

Source: 5 Ways China May Try To Win A Trade War With The U.S.

The pros and cons of globalisation

The rhetoric around globalisation has been very much how beneficial it is to the global economy. Economists in general have been very much in favour of the interconnectedness of economies making goods and services more competitive to the consumer. So what are the pros and cons of globalisation?

Trump – why is he really putting tariffs on steel and aluminum?

Donald Trump announced on 2nd March that the US will impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff and aluminum imports. A tariff protects domestic firms against overseas competition and raises revenue for the government. A tariff is a tax placed (or levied) on imports that raises the price of imported goods thereby making locally-made products relatively more price competitive. This may protect jobs and/or improve the balance of payments but it can cause resentment overseas. High tariffs on imports may cause a country’s trading partners to retaliate and follow suit by placing tariffs on exports of foreign made goods. Notice on the graph below how a tariff reduces the quantity of imports from 6m bottles to 2m bottles and the domestic supply increases from 2m to 4m bottles.


For many years US producers have found it hard to compete with cheap imports and this has led to many steel plants closing down with thousands of workers losing their jobs. Two main factors have caused this:

  1. Global steel and aluminum production has increased significantly over the last 15 years which has created excess capacity.
  2. Chinese firms have been widely accused of pricing below the cost of production in order to get rid of excess stock

Previous Tariffs – nothing new here.

The US is not the only country or group to impose tariffs on foreign products. The EU has done the following:

  • Put a tariff of 28.5% on certain types of steel pipes and tubes made in China after it was found that the prices were artificially low.
  • Imposed 43 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures, 20 of which are on products originating from China

The Obama Administration also was active in counteracting alleged Chinese dumping.

  • March 2016 – they put a 265.79% on imports of cold-rolled steel, used to make auto parts, appliances and shipping containers, from seven countries including China.
  • May 2016 – to clampdown on the glut of steel imports the US imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties of up to 450% on corrosion-resistant steel form China.

What is the difference between previous tariffs and Trumps announcement?

The difference here is that Trump’s tariffs would apply to all products rather than targeting particular areas of steel and aluminum production. Trump seems to be threatening action against any nation that runs trade surpluses with the United States. He tweeted last week:

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,”

“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore—we win big. It’s easy!”

The EU maintain that the key problem is as mentioned above is global over capacity caused by non-market production – producing the output even though there is no demand for it. They are of the belief that this can be dealt with at the source – i.e. those countries over producing. The oil industry seems to work in a similar way with OPEC where production can change with negotiations between oil producing countries. However if a trade war does eventuate Europe has warned the US to expect imports tariffs on American icons like Harley-Davidson, Levi’s jeans and Kentucky bourbon.

China is not the big importer into the US

It seems that in a lot of his communication he singles out China as being the problem especially with the trade deficit the US has with that country. However China only supplies 2.9% of US steel imports – see below:

Top steel exporters to the United States with their corresponding percentage of total U.S. steel imports:

 

Canadian steel producers, like their U.S. counterparts, have been complaining about Chinese firms dumping products in the domestic market. Sensitive to these complaints, the Canadian government has long imposed protective duties on some Chinese exports, such as hot-rolled steel plate. On Thursday, the Canadian International Trade Tribunal indicated that these duties would remain in place. On this issue, at least, the United States and Canada should have been able to find common ground. Instead, Canada, like the E.U., is threatening to retaliate against Trump’s plan.

 

 

Source: Wood Mackenzie

Why is Trump really doing this?

As with any politician it is all about popularity. Part of his rhetoric on the election campaign was to make America great again and to revive the heavy industry in areas such as Pennsylvania (steel production) a normally very safe seat for the Republicans – in fact the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in the last election. However, Trump voters are disappointed with his presidency and, with the Democrats fielding a candidate, the forthcoming special election in western Pennsylvania is too close to call. An upset victory by the Democrats, or even a narrow loss, would make the midterm elections a very close contest as the Democrats try to retake control of the House of Representatives.

The big question is will Trump go ahead with the tariffs or back down as he has done with immigration etc.

Source: New Yorker – Will Trump Really Start a Broad Trade War? by John Cassidy