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Think about it for a second. The thing we call Brexit is being held-up by a tiny item called tariffs. It’s ridiculous. (OK, there are some other things too, but for today let’s talk tariffs)
At the moment, the UK is still a dues-paying member of the European Union and is therefore obligated to charge the same tariffs as any other EU country, and such broad agreement on external tariffs, combined with low or no tariffs between members, or even standardized tariffs between members, is part of what makes up what’s commonly called a Customs Union.
When the UK exits the European Union it’s right to assume that the UK will no longer charge the same tariffs as the EU.
In fact, that difference is part of the problem between the EU and the UK in the post-Brexit timeframe, and businesses near the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland border may find themselves affected by this change-up.
How Would a Zero-Tariff UK Economy Work vis-à-vis the European Union post-Brexit?
What if the UK decides to embrace an economy where no tariffs are charged?
There would, of course, be people who complain (on the UK side) about a loss of tariff revenue for UK government budgets, while on the Republic of Ireland (RoI) side, businesses located near the border might worry their customers will drive to Northern Ireland (NI) to save 6.5% worth of tariff value on their purchases.
Which are immensely easy problems to solve!
How to Solve a Disparity in Consumer Prices (Due to Tariffs) Across an Uncontrolled Border
- Offer a rebate to Republic of Ireland businesses located within, say, 100 miles (160 kilometres) of the Irish border and such rebates would be equal to the (tariff portion of the) savings RoI consumers would enjoy by shopping in Northern Ireland. In this way, RoI shoppers won’t bother travelling to NI to save (usually about 6.5%) on the price of imported goods and consequently, RoI businesses won’t lose sales to the (then) zero-tariff regime north of the Irish border. We’re talking about small amounts of money on each transaction — but over the course of a year, especially for small ‘Mom and Pop’ businesses in RoI, it could add up and potentially at least, represent a hardship for those business owners. Who will cover the cost of the rebates? The UK, of course. Why would the UK government want to do that? It’s just one more irritation that the UK government can remove from the negotiating table to simplify Brexit. Such rebates might cost the UK government as little as £1 million per year. Of course, it might cost as much as £20 million per year. But, with so much to gain (a quicker and less hairy Brexit) the UK government could afford to pay the Republic of Ireland those rebates a full 10-years in advance at the beginning of each decade.
- For businesses in the EU that import from other countries and are required to charge tariffs on behalf of their government — all they need to do after March 29, 2019 is add the UK to the list of countries they must charge tariffs.
- For companies that export from the UK in the case where those goods are shipped to the EU or other countries — there’s no hassle with a UK zero-tariff regime because there are no UK tariffs to add to the final price — no matter where those goods land in the EU or wherever in the world they go after that.
- The same is true for goods that originate in America (for example) but are shipped through the UK before being shipped on to the EU. Whatever the price of the item from America + zero tariffs added by the UK = landing in the EU with only the taxes or tariffs that originated in America. The UK adds nothing in the way of tariffs, nor takes anything away from those tariffs. The term for that is revenue-neutral tariffs.
It’s so easy when you know how!
How Could the UK Recover Lost Tariff Revenue and Pay the Proposed Irish Tariff Rebates?
There would be two costs for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cover:
One would be the loss of tariff revenue which would represent a large annual cost — and the other would be the relatively small cost of rebates to RoI businesses located within 100 miles (for example) of the Irish border.
a. For as long as the UK has been in the EU Customs Union, consumers have unknowingly paid the cost of tariffs on goods imported from outside the EU. In some cases the tariffs involved are quite low, but in other cases EU countries are required to charge up to 18% tariffs on certain goods coming into the EU28. All EU consumers pay an average of 6.5% more for goods imported from outside the EU due to those EU tariffs. But as soon as the UK leaves the EU Customs Union it would no longer charge EU tariffs and the cost of imported goods in the UK would fall by an average of 6.5%. Which is a good thing, except that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would need to cut spending by that total sterling amount or, add 1% (or less) to the national sales tax to make-up for that lost revenue. Most Britons won’t even see the difference. But if you’re a Briton who buys a lot of imported goods you’ll be slightly better off.
b. If you’re a UK business, it’s one less piece of paperwork you have to deal with and one less revenue stream you must collect on behalf of HM government.
c. If you’re the Chancellor of the Exchequer, you’ll lose millions in tariff revenue, but you’ll gain even more from the (less than) 1% addition to the national sales tax. But even more important, you’ll save millions of pounds in spending to oversee, police, and navigate all that tariff collection. Those tariffs don’t get collected by themselves! Nor does every business remember to forward those tariff revenues to the government on time, etc. Nor will the Chancellor be required to keep abreast of competitor nation tariff structures and constantly adjust tariffs for the UK to remain tariff competitive, nor will the Chancellor be required to notify the WTO about tariff changes. Because, no tariffs!
A Word About the WTO
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a great organization that was created to ensure countries play fair with each other, especially on tariffs and on the dumping of goods at outrageously low prices, thereby harming the country importing their goods. And if you’re a developing country, you definitely want to be a WTO member as the WTO will protect you from larger, more aggressive countries and their powerful transnational corporations.
However, it makes rules in accordance with its membership wishes and some of those rules may surprise you.
WTO rules do not apply to trading partners that charge tariffs lower than the WTO tariff schedule (which was recently increased to an average of 6.55% on a long list of goods) therefore, trade deals can be done more quickly without WTO tariff regulations to complicate things.
The WTO won’t arbitrate between non-WTO members, nor will it intervene where countries charge tariffs that are lower than the WTO tariff schedule. Nor will it involve itself where two countries have a dispute within a free trade agreement previously agreed by both sides — unless requested by one or both parties to mediate disagreements within that free trade agreement.
In short, countries that don’t charge tariffs have no dealings with the WTO, they owe it nothing, and they have no tariff disputes. (Because they have no tariffs to argue about)
Many things come together beautifully for the UK were the government to decide to operate a tariff-free economy.
Not only would Brexit be streamlined, the Irish border situation becomes simpler to settle, relatively small rebates can offset any hardships for RoI businesses located close to the Irish border, CEO’s from other countries would appreciate the ease of doing business in the UK, any losses in tariff revenue for HM government can be offset by a (less than) 1% increase in the national sales tax, and free trade agreements become simpler to negotiate.
The UK wouldn’t need to re-apply to become a WTO member, nor would it fall under WTO jurisdiction in trade matters, nor would the UK need to pay annual dues to the WTO.
And imported goods in the UK would become cheaper by an average of 5.5% roughly speaking (dropping the 6.5% average tariff on imported goods + 1% national sales tax increase on all goods = 5.5% cheaper on imported goods) which can help consumers in regards to their discretionary spending.
The government would save millions of pounds sterling annually because it wouldn’t need thousands of workers to work in the Treasury’s tariff section, adjusting tariffs, comparing tariffs, ensuring tariffs are properly implemented, ensuring that tariff revenue is properly submitted to the government by UK business, dealing with the WTO, and handling lawsuits caused by disagreements over which tariff schedule must be applied on a given product. And many more miles of red tape than that, that the UK government could forget about forever.
Just another list of the benefits of Brexit, my friends! Happy weekend!
Assuming European politicians can’t get their act together enough to craft a reasonable Brexit deal that works for both sides by March 29, 2019 Europe will be faced with Brexit on WTO terms which is known colloquially as a ‘Hard Brexit’ where the UK would leave the European Single Market and Common Market mechanisms and other EU agreements and institutions without any subsequent deal in place.
Without further ado, and without boring you with statistics, let’s look at how a Hard Brexit would play-out in the months and years following a WTO-style Brexit.
Will There Be Famine in the Land?
Of all of the dubious claims by the Project Fear campaigners (and they’ve made many!) this must rank in first place.
No. There won’t be famine in the UK on account of Hard Brexit. However, you may notice your favorite brand of cheese may be unavailable for a time and you may find your prescription medications come from UK pharmaceutical companies or American pharmas instead of from continental Europe.
Saying the following words out loud will do you good, dear Britons — so repeat after me;
“The United States of America has come to Britain’s rescue in times past and will do so again in its hour of need.”
Regarding agriculture; The United States agricultural belt is unimaginably massive and its farmers and ranchers are just waiting to fulfill the UK’s orders. There are fields of crops in the United States larger than the entire United Kingdom. It takes 3-hours to overfly them in a jet aircraft flying at 500 miles per hour.
Regarding ranching; There are 93.5 million cattle in the United States (2017) and that number continues to rise at a little better than 1% per year, and significant capacity exists to raise it over a relatively short period of time.
Similar agricultural capacity is available in Canada for grains, corn, soybean, and other crops, and Canada boasts 4.6 million cattle at present (2018) and Canada has more arable land than the United States allowing it to exceed even the mighty U.S. in this regard if sufficient firm orders were placed.
To answer the question: “Where’s the beef?” It’s in the United States and Canada… Just pick up the phone and call us! North American farmers and ranchers would love to take your money — instead of the EU taking your money.
Britons might find their food costs plummet as the huge economies of scale that typify North American food production and the favorable growing conditions combine to produce bumper-crop after bumper-crop which lead inevitably to lower food prices.
Aren’t All American Crops GMO?
Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO crops are grown on every continent, including Europe, which has about the same number of GMO crops as America.
Some Europeans fear that all crops grown in the United States are GMO crops, but except in the case of corn that isn’t true. All corn, no matter where it is grown in the world is GMO and that’s been true for a few decades now. Corn (and maize, which is a type of rough corn that is fed to cattle over the winter months) aren’t commercially viable crops unless the GMO component is added.
Some crops like ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes, Canola (a seed grain) and every apple sold on the planet have been GMO for many decades.
To alleviate concerns about GMO foods being sold in the UK, Theresa May’s government could simply legislate that any produce or meat that *isn’t* GMO must be identified as non-GMO for UK consumers.
Explainer: Forcing producers to put GMO labels on their produce (if theirs is indeed a GMO variant) is seen as a negative by GMO food producers. But giving non-GMO farmers the right to advertise “Non-GMO produce” or “Non-GMO meat” on their labels would be seen as a positive for their non-GMO produce and meat.
See how easy it is?
Not only won’t there be famine in the land, UK consumers will enjoy a completely new supply chain from which to choose and sufficient labelling for them to make the best choices for their families.
What if the EU Decides to Punish the UK for Leaving?
If the EU wanted to drive the UK directly into America’s arms… the EU would ensure a Hard Brexit and not allow EU goods or produce to be shipped to the UK following Brexit, nor would it allow UK goods or produce to be sold into the EU following Brexit.
If that’s the EU plan, bring it on! Because that plan has a 100% chance of success should the EU choose to make it happen.
And Americans and Canadians are just waiting… “Please, oh God, please, cause the EU to drive the UK into our ever-loving arms!” said every North American farmer, rancher and manufacturer.
To say nothing about the even more fervent prayers being said by North American auto manufacturers in Detroit, U.S.A. and in Windsor, Canada.
For Britain, a WTO Brexit simply means changing suppliers — with a zero-tariff trade deal in effect with North America — combined with the opportunity to sell UK goods into the vast North American market.
The ball, as they say… is in your court, European Union!
View the video where HM North American Trade Commissioner is interviewed by Bloomberg Television on March 26, 2018.
Clicking on the image takes you direct to the relevant Bloomberg webpage.
A new report by a prestigious polling firm says that a so-called ‘No-Deal’ WTO-style Brexit will cost one EU country €5.5 billion over the next two years, as opposed to a Brexit with a trade agreement where losses for that country would likely total €1.5 billion over the next two years.
That country is the Republic of Ireland.
“A hard Brexit could cost the Irish economy more than €5.5 billion over the next two years, a government-commissioned report has said.
A “soft” Brexit including a transition arrangement would cost less than €1.5 billion over the period, highlighting the importance to Ireland of the UK’s withdrawal talks with the EU.
The study by Copenhagen Economics, which examined four possible scenarios, also warns that the UK will probably take at least five years to implement new trade agreements, complicating Irish efforts at contingency planning.
[Ireland’s ‘Taoiseach’ which is the official title of the Irish Prime Minister] Leo Varadkar said last night that a comprehensive free-trade deal with the UK would be the best way to avoid a hard border. After a meeting with Theresa May, the UK prime minister, he said: “We both prefer [the option] by which we can avoid a hard border in Ireland, and that is through a comprehensive free trade and customs arrangement.
“That is the best way we can avoid any new barriers — north and south, and also east and west.”” — The Times
Other EU Nations Would Take a Hit in the ‘No-Deal’ Scenario
We can extrapolate that other EU countries would also take an economic hit in a ‘No-Deal’ scenario, but due to their much larger economies when compared to Ireland, such losses would amount to tens or even hundreds of billions over the same two-year period. Just think of all those German cars that wouldn’t be sold in the UK due to the higher tariffs that would automatically be imposed on EU countries in a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit!
Almost every country in the world uses WTO rules as the foundation of their trading relationship with other countries (but important to note) those same countries also diligently pursue bilateral trade deals with their important trading partners that allow both sides to legally sidestep the more costly WTO tariff ruleset in favour of something that works better for both partners. (And that trading relationship/tariff structure can be anything the two sides want in regards to any trade that happens between them)
So if country A and country B decide they want to trade, they’re completely free to build a better tariff structure than the comparatively expensive WTO ruleset, and that agreement will thenceforth supercede the WTO tariff structure. However, it only applies on trade between those two countries — the rest of their trade with the world would still be conducted under the auspices of the WTO.
It’s a pretty basic thing. Countries that do anything more than a smattering of trade between them negotiate bilateral free trade agreements to bypass the more onerous WTO trade rules and tariff regime.
There’s Still Time to Negotiate a Trade Deal with the EU
As of this writing there are 409 days remaining until Brexit and either we will have a trade agreement with the EU, or we won’t. If not, it will be costly for both sides, but more costly for the EU by one order of magnitude!
However, saying that there are 409 days remaining ’til Brexit — isn’t the same as saying there are 409 days left to negotiate a free trade agreement. Far from it!
The two sides have 258 days to arrange a free trade agreement. Let’s hope our politicians (and theirs) are up to the job (and if not, why are we paying them?) otherwise almost everything that citizens and businesses purchase will become much more expensive on both sides of the English Channel in the post-Brexit timeframe.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has stressed that October 29, 2018 is the last date that both sides can agree a trade and customs deal before the UK must begin readying for the implementation of WTO trade rules. And on that point both sides agree. Even six months (during the period from October 29, 2018 to March 29, 2019) would barely suffice to put in place the necessary measures and standards to allow industry to prepare for life after Brexit.
UK and EU voters should remember who did, and who didn’t, get a free trade agreement signed when they head to the polling booth at the next election.