Investigating the effect of exchange-rate changes in Japan, China, east Asia, and Europe
Willem Thorbecke26 February 2013
Policymakers everywhere are concerned about currency wars. Are quantitative easing and managed exchange rates bad for the global economy? This column looks at the hard empirical evidence, arguing that, in fact, Japan is behaving rather responsibly and that other strong economies have themselves benefited from undervalued currencies. That said, it is true that politicians’ short time horizons often lead to stealthy policy and large swings in exchange rates. Economists should therefore aim to promote longer-run cosmopolitan interests rather than shorter-run nationalistic agendas where possible.
Policymakers are concerned about currency wars and competitive devaluations. Many complain that trading partners are artificially lowering their exchange rates through quantitative easing and managed exchange rates in order to gain price competitiveness for their exporters.
In 2013, China is at an important crossroads in its economic development. This column argues that we cannot continue to extrapolate from China’s recent economic record. If growth is to remain high and stable, choosing the right course will require nothing less than a significant change in China’s economic model, brought about by what might be the most important political reforms since the 1980s. Whether or not its growth performance tips it into the middle-income trap depends on engaging with and implementing widespread reforms that may be incompatible with the primacy of the Communist Party.
That the Chinese economy is slowing down as it quickly matures should come as no surprise. The global economic conditions of the two decades leading up to the financial crisis were exceptional; things are far more sober now.
Many of China’s development achievements are unrepeatable. Only once can you:
Join the WTO;
Accomplish rural-urban labour transfer;
Fulfill high secondary school enrollment;
Boost the investment share of GDP to 50%.
In spite of the current upward bounce in the economy, slower underlying growth is inevitable.
Exchange-rate volatility is a problem for trade … especially when financial development is low
Jérôme Héricourt, Sandra Poncet19 January 2013
The increasing volatility of exchange rates after the fall of the Bretton Woods agreements has been a constant source of concern for both policymakers and academics. Does exchange-rate risk dangerously increase transaction costs and reduce gains to international trade? This column uses recent research to argue that there is indeed a negative impact of exchange-rate volatility on firms’ exporting behaviour, magnified for financially vulnerable firms and dampened by financial development. Thus, emerging countries should be careful when relaxing their exchange-rate regime.
Helmut Reisen, Moritz Schularick, Edouard Turkisch
The increasing volatility of exchange rates after the fall of the Bretton Woods agreements has been a constant source of concern for both policymakers and academics. Developed countries fought hard in the 1980s to limit US dollar fluctuation (one thinks of the Plaza and Louvre’s agreements, respectively in 1985 and 1987), and some European countries took an even more radical decision by giving up their national currency for the euro in 1999.
Capital controls are back in vogue. This column argues that we should distinguish between episodic controls (gates) and long-standing controls (walls). Research shows that the apparent success of 'walls' in China and India tells us little about the consequences of capital controls imposed or removed in countries like Brazil and South Korea, as circumstances change. Walls and gates are fundamentally distinct, and policy debate needs to take into account these differences.
If trade barriers are managed by inefficient institutions, trade liberalization can lead to greater-than-expected gains. This paper examines Chinese textile and clothing exports before and after the removal of externally imposed quotas. Both the surge in export volumes and the decline in prices after the quota removal are driven by net entry, implying that the pre-liberalisation quota allocation is not based on firm productivity. Removing this misallocation accounts for a substantial share of the overall productivity gains associated with the quota removal.
Growth slowdowns redux: Avoiding the middle-income trap
Barry Eichengreen, Donghyun Park, Kwanho Shin11 January 2013
The rapid economic growth of emerging markets is the leading headline of our age. But growth is slowing. Using new research, this column asks why this might be, and how policymakers might remedy flagging economies. The answer seems to be education. Recent research suggests, for instance, that the rapid expansion of secondary and tertiary education helped Korea’s successful transition from middle- to high-income status, very much unlike Malaysia and Thailand. Whether China can avoid the middle-income trap will depend in part upon developing an education system producing graduates with skills that Chinese employers require.
The rapid economic growth of so-called emerging markets is one of the leading storylines of our age. Arguably, it is the most important economic development affecting the world’s population in the first decade of the 21st century. Rapid economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty. It has accounted for the vast majority of global growth in a period when the advanced countries have struggled economically and financially.
Philippe Bacchetta, Kenza Benhima, Yannick Kalantzis09 January 2013
China is perennially accused of currency manipulation. Yet, this column argues that a weak currency value doesn’t necessarily reflect currency manipulation. China is a fast growing economy with strong financial frictions and a high saving rate, and such countries naturally have weak currencies. Instead of focussing on accusations of currency manipulation, it might be more helpful for economists to encourage policies that foster Chinese consumption, gradually leading the renminbi to an appreciating path.
In the recent US presidential campaign, China was accused again of currency manipulation. In other words, the Chinese central bank is accused of maintaining the exchange rate at an artificially low level compared to its equilibrium value, including heavy intervention in the foreign exchange market. There has been a fierce debate on this issue in recent years, including on VoxEU.org (e.g., Persaud 2011, Reisen 2011, Reisen et al. 2011, Storesletten et al. 2010).
Trade liberalisation and embedded institutional reform: Evidence from Chinese exporters
Amit Khandelwal, Peter K. Schott , Shang-Jin Wei15 January 2013
The institutions that manage trade barriers are subject to corruption, imposing additional distortions. This column shows that in China, the government misallocated quota licenses permitting firms to export. When the US and EU abolished quotas governing textile exports in 2005, China experienced productivity gains not only from the actual elimination of the quota but also from the termination of the misallocation due to inefficient licensing.
Economists traditionally assess the welfare losses of trade barriers without considering the underlying institutions that support them. In fact, these institutions may amplify welfare losses substantially. Corrupt customs agents, bureaucratic red tape and the withholding of goods in bonded warehouses may favour some firms at the expense of others, resulting in a substantial misallocation of resources. Anecdotal evidence along these lines is easy to spot.
China’s pure exporter subsidies: Protectionism by exporting
Fabrice Defever, Alejandro Riaño04 January 2013
The West perennially complains about China subsidising industry geared towards its domestic market. But what will happen when China enacts its latest Five Year Plan’s emphasis on domestic growth? This column argues that ending ‘pure-exporter subsidies’ – subsidies that boost Chinese exports while simultaneously protecting the least efficient, domestically oriented firms – will benefit Chinese consumers, but will cost the rest of the world.
On 17 September last year, the US requested consultations with China concerning a wide range of export-contingent measures – grants, tax preferences and interest-rate subsidies, totalling at least $1 billion – in apparent violation of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, China’s accession protocol and article XVI of the GATT. The EU joined the consultations shortly after on 28 September.
With the rise of complex, globalised supply chains is the real effective exchange rate (REER), the most commonly used measure of competitiveness, now outdated? If it is, what should replace it? This column presents a ‘Value-Added REER’ and shows that it differs substantially from the conventional REER. Because it is possible to construct a new Value-Added REER from existing data, policymakers interested in improving their understanding of competitiveness might well consider including it in their toolbox.
Real effective exchange rates (REERs) are widely used to gauge competitiveness. Yet conventional REERs, based on gross trade flows and consumer price indexes (CPIs), are not well suited to that role when imports are used to produce exports – i.e., with vertical specialisation in trade.