Trade relations between the USA and China have deteriorated recently. There are two key issues: the exchange rate and trade protectionism.
The Chinese currency, the yuan or renmimbi, since 2005 has been officially pegged to a trade-weighted basket of other currencies. In recent months, however, as the dollar has fallen relative to other major currencies, so too has the yuan. It seems as if the peg is with the dollar, not with the basket. From March to December 2009, the exchange rate index of the dollar depreciated by 16 per cent. Yet the exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar hardly changed. In other words, the yuan depreciated along with the dollar against other world currencies, such as the euro, the pound and the yen. The trade advantage that this was giving to the USA with other countries did not apply to China.
Complaints continued that cheap Chinese goods were flooding into the USA, threatening US jobs and undermining US recovery. The Chinese currency was argued to be undervalued relative to its purchasing-power-parity rate. For example, the July 2009 Big Mac index showed the yuan undervalued by 49% against the dollar (see Economics 7e, Box 25.4 for a discussion of the Big Mac index).
The USA, and other countries too, have been putting diplomatic pressure on the Chinese to revalue the yuan and to remove subsidies on their exports. At the same time various protectionist moves have been taken. For example, on December 31 2009 the US International Trade Commission voted to impose tariffs on the $2.8 billion worth of steel-pipe imports from China. The tariffs would be between 10.4% and 15.8%.
The following articles look at these trade and exchange rate issues. Are we heading for a deepening trade war between the USA and China?
Currency contortions The Economist (17/12/09)
Beijing dismisses currency pressure Financial Times, Geoff Dyer (28/12/09)
China aims for 10pc growth and won’t appreciate yuan The Australian (29/12/09)
Wen stands firm on yuan China Daily (28/12/09)
China’s premier says banks should curb lending BusinessWeek, Joe McDonald (27/12/09)
China insists will reform yuan at its own pace Forexyard, Aileen Wang and Simon Rabinovitch (31/12/09)
US slaps new duties on Chinese steel Financial Times, Alan Rappeport (30/12/09)
Chinese Steel Pipes Face Heavy U.S. Duties BusinessWeek, Daniel Whitten (31/12/09)
The US-China Trade War Is Here The Business Insider, Vincent Fernando (10/12/09)
Year dominated by weak dollar Financial Times, Anjli Raval (2/1/10)
- Explain what is meant by the ‘purchasing-power-parity (ppp) exchange rate’.
- Why is the yuan (or ‘renmimbi’) undervalued in ppp terms?
- What are the the implications of an undervalued currency for that country’s current and financial account of the balance of payments?
- What would be the implications of a revaluation of the yuan for (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners?
- Discuss Premier Wen Jiabao’s statement, “The basic stability of the renminbi is conducive to international society”.
- What forms of protectionism have been used by (a) China and (b) China’s trading partners? Who gains and who loses from such protectionism?
The post below considered the pound and now we look closer at some other international currencies and their movements. The pound has fallen, but what about the euro and the US dollar? What about the Japanese yen and the Australian and New Zealand dollars? How are the different currencies inter-related and how do they affect the various macroeconomic objectives? The following articles look at some of the recent movements in currencies. Consider these in relation to economic theory about exchange rates and government policy.
Pound plumbs five-month euro low BBC News (21/9/09)
Australian, N.Z. Dollars fall for third day as commodities drop Bloomberg (21/9/09)
Dollar ready to rise as greenback fades Brisbane Times (21/9/09)
Pound slips on Bank of England warning Times Online (21/9/09)
Canada’s dollar declines for second day on drop in commodities Bloomberg (21/9/09)
Yen firms versus European majors, hitting a 2-day high against pound Forex news (18/9/09)
Data on exchange rates can be found at:
Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data Bank of England
- What have been the general trends in some of the main international currencies?
- The pound has fallen against the euro and the dollar, but what does this mean for the UK economy? And what about the USA and the rest of Europe?
- In the current climate, consider whether a fixed or floating exchange rate would be better for the economy.
- How do changes in exchange rates affect the government’s macroeconomic objectives?
The pound is regarded as an international currency. However, the financial crisis has caused the value of the pound to fall, reaching a four-month low against the euro in September. This recent weakening of sterling is partly the result of worries that the Lloyds Banking Group will find it difficult to meet the ‘strict criteria to leave the government’s insurance scheme for toxic banking assets’ set for it by the Financial Services Authority.
However, one of the main reasons relates to recently published figures showing UK debt (see for data). The UK’s public-sector net borrowing has now reached £16.1bn and the government’s overall debt now stands at £804.8bn: 57.5% of GDP. This represents an increase of £172bn in the past year. Over the longer term, this is unsustainable. The government could find it increasingly difficult to service this debt. This would mean that higher interest rates would have to be offered to attract people to lend to the government (e.g. through bonds and bills), but this, in turn, would further increase the cost of servicing the debt. Worries about the potential unsustainability of UK govenrment debt have weakened the pound.
But isn’t a lower exchange rate a good thing in times of recession as it gives UK-based companies a competitive advantage over companies abroad? The following articles consider UK debt and the exchange rate.
Pound plumbs five-month euro low BBC News (21/9/09)
Market data Telegraph (22/9/09)
Pound slides back against dollar and euro Guardian (21/9/09)
Pound drops as UK stocks fall for first time in seven days Bloomberg (21/9/09)
Public sector borrowing soaring BBC News (18/9/09)
Govt spending cuts ‘could help pound’ Just the Flight (21/9/09)
Pound dips to four month euro low BBC News (18/9/09)
Weak pound hits eurozone holidaymakers Compare and save (21/9/09)
- What is the relationship between public debt and the value of the pound? How do interest rates play a part?
- What is quantitative easing and has it been effective? How does it affect the exchange rate?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a freely floating exchange rate relative to a fixed exchange rate?
- If the UK had joined the euro, do you think the country would have fared better during the recession? Consider public debt levels: would they have been restricted? What would have happened to interest rates? What would have happened to the rate of recovery
The November 2008 trade statistics have just been released and they show that the UK had the largest nominal trade deficit on record at £8.3 billion (up from 7.6 billion in October). This represents nearly 7 per cent of GDP, the highest since 1974.
Trade gap widens despite pound’s slump Independent (14/1/09)
UK trade deficit hits a record as weak pound fails to help Telegraph (13/1/09)
Britain’s trade deficit widens to new record Guardian (13/1/09)
UK Trade, November 2008 National Statistics (13/1/09)
- Why has the UK’s trade gap widened?
- How can the concepts of income and price elasticity of demand be used in analysing the causes of the widening deficit?
- Explain how these elasticity values are likely to differ in the short and long run.
- Explain the factors that will determine whether the trade gap will widen or narrow over the coming months.
The article below is an economic briefing from The Times, published to support the Bank of England’s Target 2.0 competition. It considers the importance of the exchange rate in determining the demand for imports and exports and therefore the impact that exchange rate changes are likely to have on aggregate demand.
Economic briefing: exchange rate is crucial to export demand and influences inflation Times Online (20/10/08)
||Explain how import prices and export prices change in response to a fall in the value of sterling.
||Define the terms (a) price elasticity of demand for imports and (b) price elasticity of demand for exports.
||With reference to your answers to questions 1 and 2, assess how the balance of payments will change in response to a fall in the value of sterling. What is the relevance of the Marshall-Lerner condition to these changes?