International economists have long advocated the advantages of free trade. By boosting competition, increasing choice and market size, trade has long been seen as an engine of growth and efficiency.
For many years, tariffs and other restrictive trade practices have been removed on trade between both developed and developing countries and many rounds of negotiations have taken place, with mixed results.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) plays a key role in trade negotiations and has the main aim of liberalising trade. The organisation requires its members to operate according to a variety of rules, including the prohibition of quotas and the inability of countries to raise existing tariffs without negotiating with their trading partners.
If any country breaks a trade agreement, the WTO can impose sanctions. A current case that has been referred to the WTO for ‘consultation’ concerns Argentina. Argentina has imposed various import restrictions on trade, such as import licensing and a requirement for countries to balance its exports and imports.
A number of WTO members recently expressed their concerns about these restrictive trade practices. The EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht said:
Argentina’s import restrictions violate international trade rules and must be removed. These measures are causing very real damage to EU companies – hurting jobs and our economy as a whole. … Argentina’s trade policy has become rooted in unfair trade practices.
Argentina has said that it was expecting the move from the EU, but claims that its protectionist measures are there to support and re-industrialise the country. This case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon and while the ‘restrictive trade practices’ remain in place, EU companies trying to export to Argentina will find barriers, such as a requirement for all imports to receive pre-approval.
The effects of these restrictions have already been felt, with EU exports to Argentina down by 4% in April this year, compared with the same month last year. The following articles consider this issue.
EU takes Argentina trade fight to WTO France 24, (25/5/12)
EU files WTO suit over Argentina’s import restrictions Reuters, Sebastien Moffett and Tom Miles , (26/5/12)
EU escalates dispute with Argentina Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Joshua Chaffin, (25/5/12)
EU refers Argentina’s import restrictions to the WTO BBC News (25/5/12)
EU steps up challenge to Argentina’s policies Wall Street Journal, Matthew Dalton (25/5/12)
- What are the rules governing the members of the WTO?
- What are the advantages of free trade?
- To what extent should emerging economies be allowed to impose protectionist measures to help support their economies?
- What action could the EU take in response to the ‘restrictive trade practices’ imposed by Argentina?
- What is import licensing?
- How will the import restrictions affect EU companies and the growth of the EU as a whole?
Just as the Bank of England has an inflation target of 2%, so does the ECB. UK inflation has been significantly above its target rate for many months and so has the eurozone’s inflation rate, which is up to 2.8% in April from its previous level of 2.7% the previous month. The increase in the general price level has been fuelled by rising costs of raw materials and high energy prices. Whilst interest rates in the UK have remained at 0.5% in a bid to stimulate economic growth, the ECB has increased interest rates by a quarter point to 1.25% and the latest inflation data may be further pressure for further rises. However, any increase in rates will put more pressure on countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal who are facing tough austerity measures and may put their recoveries in jeopardy.
The ECB has been optimistic about growth and it may need to be with this and possibly subsequent interest rate hikes, as they are likely to depress aggregate demand. Furthermore, European Commission’s ‘economic sentiment’ indicator has fallen to 106.2, which is the weakest since November. Eurozone unemployment remains at just under 10%, oil prices remain high and this has depressed optimism across the eurozone countries. The euro, meanwhile, continues to strengthen (up 12% against the dollar over the past year) and this has enhanced the fragile state of affairs in those countries suffering from tough austerity measures. An economist at ING has said:
“The combination of high oil prices, a strong euro, and fiscal and monetary tightening has started to dent the economic mood in the euro zone.”
Eurozone inflation rises again Telegraph, Emma Rowley (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation rate rises to 2.8% BBC News (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation jumps to 2.8% Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (29/4/11)
Euro zone inflation rises, points to higher ECB rates Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation further above target at 2.8pct The Associated Press (29/4/11)
- What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation. Why have the ECB and the Bank of England reacted differently to rising inflation?
- Is the inflation currently being experienced in the Eurozone cost-push or demand-pull? Illustrate your answer with the help of a diagram.
- What is the relationship between interest rates and the exchange rate?
- Why is there some concern about the ‘economic sentiment’ indicator in the Eurozone?
- What is the relationship between interest rates and economic growth? Explain the process by which a change in interest rates could affect AD and then economic growth and employment.
- Why is this interest rate rise (and possible further rises) likely to hurt countries, such as Ireland and Greece more than other countries within the Eurozone?
On 28 November 2010, a deal was reached between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF and other individual governments to bail out Ireland. The deal involved an €85bn package to bail out the collapsing Irish banks. Not all of the money went directly to the banks and the Irish government did set aside some of the loan. However, some of this money will now be required by four key lenders in Ireland, after a stress test by a group of independent experts found that the Republic of Ireland’s banks need another €24bn (that’s £21.2bn) to survive the continuing financial crisis. Allied Irish Banks require €13.5bn, Bank of Ireland €5.2bn, Irish Life €4bn and EBS a meager €1.5bn. The governor of the central bank, Professor Patrick Honohan said:
‘The new requirements are needed to restore market confidence, and ensure banks have enough capital to meet even the markets’ darkest estimates.’
The stress test focused on an assumption of a ‘cumulative collapse’ in property prices by 62%, together with rising unemployment. Following this, the Irish Finance Minister announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake in all of the major lenders. The Irish banks have been told they need to reduce the net loans on their balance sheets by some €71bn (£63bn) by the end of 2013. This process of deleveraging is likely to generate further losses, as many loans and assets will be sold for less than their true value. The causes of this ongoing financial crisis can still be traced back to the weakness within the Irish economy and more specifically to mortgage accounts being in arrears following the property market bubble that burst. A key question will be whether this second bail-out is sufficient to restore much needed confidence in the economy and particularly in the banking sector. The articles below consider this ongoing crisis.
Irish hope it is second time lucky for bail-out Telegraph, Harry Wilson (1/4/11)
Irish Bank needs extra €24bn euros to survive BBC News (31/3/11)
Ireland forced into new £21bn bailout by debt crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (31/3/11)
The hole in Ireland’s banks is £21bn BBC News Blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (31/3/11)
ECB has given Ireland serious commitment Reuters (1/4/11)
Ireland banking crisis: is the worst really over? Guardian: Ireland Business Blog, Lisa O’Carroll (1/4/11)
Ireland: a dead cert for default Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/4/11)
Timeline: Ireland’s string of bank bailouts Reuters (31/3/11)
- What is the process of deleveraging? Why is likely to lead to more losses for Ireland’s banks?
- What are the causes of the financial crisis in Ireland? How do they differ from financial crises around the world?
- What are the arguments for and against bailing out the Irish banks?
- Will this second bailout halt the possible contagion to other Eurozone and EU members?
- If this second bailout proves insufficient, should there be further intervention in the Irish economy?
The blame for the global economic crisis has been placed on many different people, but one area that has been severely criticised for the extent of the financial crisis is banking and financial regulation (or a lack thereof). One thing that has been repeated is that we must learn from our mistakes and therefore tighten financial regulation on a global scale. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the ‘rapid return to the City’s bonus culture shows that real reform has been “very limited”’. France in particular is arguing for tighter financial regulation, including curbing bankers’ bonuses to avoid a repeat of last year’s meltdown. However, it is meeting resistance from the UK and USA. Indeed, some banks appear to have extended their bonus culture.
As the banking sector slowly begins to recover, there is concern that few changes have been made to ensure that there is no repeat of the recent crisis. Banks have been warned that they should not resume taking risks, as they did before, as future bailouts by the government (and hence the taxpayer) will not keep happening. The European Union has now unveiled plans for new ‘super-regulators’, but only time will tell whether they will be a success.
EU unveils new ‘super-regulators’ BBC News (23/9/09)
EU proposes new Financial-Market supervision system The Wall Street Journal, Adam Cohen and Charles Forelle (24/9/09)
FSA head launches fresh attack on ‘swollen’ system ShareCast (24/9/09)
Bank crisis lessons ‘not learned’ BBC News (15/9/09)
US, UK resisting French drive for regulation AFP (22/9/09)
European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS): Frequently Asked Questions Mondovisione (23/9/09)
Tighter grip on economy needed BBC News (13/9/09)
Turner warns against regulation overkill Money Marketing (23/9/09)
EU calls for European Banking, Securities Regulators Bloomberg (24/9/09)
EU financial watchdog to rely on moral authority The Associated Press (23/9/09)
Obama issues warning to bankers (including video) BBC News (14/9/09)
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of tighter regulation of the financial sector for (a) the UK and (b) the global economy? What forms should such regulation take?
- What are the arguments for and against imposing a statutory capital adequacy ratio on banks that is substantially higher than the ratios with which banks have been operating in recent years?
- In what ways was a lack of financial regulation responsible for the financial crisis?
- Why is the continuation and possibly growth of the bonus culture a potentially dangerous issue for any future crisis?
- The articles talk about ‘lessons being learned’. What lessons are they referring to?
- The financial crisis has affected everyone in some way. What has been the impact on taxpayers?
January 1st 2007 saw further enlargement of the EU with Romania and Bulgaria joining. This brings the total number of members to 27. So what will be the impact of this expansion on the EU and the new member countries? The links below offer a range of views and information on the enlargement.
Q&A: EU enlargement BBC News Online (1/1/07)
Romania and Bulgaria join the EU BBC News Online (1/1/07)
New EU citizens ‘will benefit the UK’ BBC News Online (1/1/07)
EU hardens tone on enlargement BBC News Online (15/12/06)
Bulgaria: Key facts and figures BBC News Online (21/12/06)
Romania: Key facts and figures BBC News Online (30/12/06)
Today’s European Union is 27 states in search of a story Guardian (4/1/07)
Clubbing together Guardian Blog (1/1/07)
||What are the likely benefits to Bulgaria and Romania of membership of the EU?
||What are the likely costs to existing EU members of Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU?
||Assess the likely impact on the EU budget of Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU.