The EU has recently signed two trade deals after many years of negotiations. The first is with Mercosur, the South American trading and economic co-operation organisation, currently consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – a region of over 260m people. The second is with Vietnam, which should result in tariff reductions of 99% of traded goods. This is the first deal of its kind with a developing country in Asia. These deals follow a recent landmark deal with Japan.
At a time when protectionism is on the rise, with the USA involved in trade disputes with a number of countries, such as China and the EU, deals to cut tariffs and other trade restrictions are seen as a positive development by those arguing that freer trade results in a net gain to the participants. The law of comparative advantage suggests that trade allows countries to consume beyond their production possibility curves. What is more, the competition experienced through increased trade can lead to greater efficiency and product development.
It is estimated that the deal with Mercosur could result in a saving of some €4bn per annum in tariffs on EU exports.
But although there is a net economic gain from greater trade, some sectors will lose as consumers switch to cheaper imports. Thus the agricultural sector in many parts of the EU is worried about cheaper food imports from South America. What is more, increased trade could have detrimental environmental impacts. For example, greater imports of beef from Brazil into the EU could result in more Amazonian forest being cut down to graze cattle.
But provided environmental externalities are internalised within trade deals and provided economies are given time to adjust to changing demand patterns, such large-scale trade deals can be of significant benefit to the participants. In the case of the EU–Mercosur agreement, according to the EU Reporter article, it:
…upholds the highest standards of food safety and consumer protection, as well as the precautionary principle for food safety and environmental rules and contains specific commitments on labour rights and environmental protection, including the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and related enforcement rules.
The size of the EU market and its economic power puts it in a strong position to get the best trade deals for its member states. As EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström stated:
Over the past few years the EU has consolidated its position as the global leader in open and sustainable trade. Agreements with 15 countries have entered into force since 2014, notably with Canada and Japan. This agreement adds four more countries to our impressive roster of trade allies.
Outside the EU, the UK will have less power to negotiate similar deals.
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the gains for a previously closed economy from engaging in trade by specialising in products in which it has a comparative advantage.
- Distinguish between trade creation and trade diversion from a trade deal with another country or group of countries.
- Which sectors in the EU and which sectors in the Mercosur countries and Vietnam are likely to benefit the most from the respective trade deals?
- Which sectors in the EU and which sectors in the Mercosur countries and Vietnam are likely to lose from the respective trade deals?
- Are the EU–Mercosur and the EU–Vietnam trade deals likely to lead to net trade creation or net trade diversion?
- What are the potential environmental dangers from a trade deal between the EU and Mercosur? To what extent have these dangers been addressed in the recent draft agreement?
- Will the UK benefit from the EU’s trade deals with Mercosur and Vietnam?
Unemployment is a key macroeconomic objective for governments across the world. The unemployment rate for the UK now stands at 7.9% according to the ONS, which recorded 2.56 million people out of work. But why is unemployment of such importance? What are the costs?
The economy is already in a vulnerable state and with unemployment rising by 70,000 people between December and February 2013, the state of the economic recovery has been questioned. Indeed, following the news of the worsening unemployment data, the pound fell significantly against the dollar, suggesting a lack of confidence in the British economy.
Although the increase in the number of people out of work is concerning, perhaps of more concern should be the number of long-term unemployed. The ONS suggests that more than 900,000 have now been out of work for more than a year. Not only does this pose costs for the individual in terms of lost earnings and skills, but it also imposes costs on friends and family and the wider economy. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the first chart, which shows the percentage of unemployed people out for work longer than 12 months.)
The chief executive of the Prince’s Trust focused on the costs of youth unemployment in particular, saying:
Thousands of these young people are long-term unemployed, often facing further challenges such as poverty and homelessness. We must act now to support these young people into work and give them the chance of a better future.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of the second chart, which shows how much higher the unemployment rate is for young people aged 18 to 24 than it is for the working age population as a whole.)
Furthermore, with so many people unemployed, we are operating below full-employment and thus below our potential output. Furthermore, the longer people are out of work, the more likely it is that they will lose their skills and thus require re-training in the future or find that there are now fewer jobs available to them based on their lower skill level.
In addition to this there are monetary costs for the government through lower tax receipts, in terms of income tax, national insurance contributions and even VAT receipts. With more people unemployed, the numbers claiming various unemployment-related benefits will rise, thus imposing a further cost on the government and the taxpayer. Another cost to the government of this latest data is likely to be the expectations of the future course of the economy. Numerous factors affect business confidence and unemployment data is certainly one of them. The concern is that business confidence affects many other variables as well and until we receive more positive data, the economy recovery is likely to remain uncertain. The following articles consider this topic.
UK unemployment rise adds to pressure on Osborne’s austerity strategy The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/4/13)
Unemployment figures are ‘worrying’, David Cameron’s spokesman says The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (17/4/13)
UK unemployment rises to 2.56 million BBC News (17/4/13)
Unemployment jumps to 7.9% as rise in the number of young people out of work takes figure ‘dangerously’ close to a million Mail Online, Leon Watson (17/4/13)
Unemployment up as stay-at-home mothers head back to the job-centre Independent, Ben Chu (17/4/13)
Jobs data points to finely balanced market Financial Times, Brian Groom (18/4/13)
Hugh’s review: making sense of the stats BBC News (19/4/13)
- How is unemployment measured?
- What are the costs to the individual of being unemployed?
- What are the wider non-monetary costs to society?
- Explain the main financial costs to the wider economy of a rising unemployment rate.
- Illustrate the problem of unemployment by using a production possibility frontier.
- Could there be a negative multiplier effect from a rise in unemployment?
According to Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s Chief Medical Officer, swine flu is on its way back. However, vaccinations are now available to the most vulnerable people, including front-line medical staff, people with chronic health problems and pregnant women. But, what about every-day workers? Surely, these are people that need protecting too, as they are the ones who contribute to the economy. How do you prioritise?
A key question is how much swine flu has actually cost the UK economy. Here, we’re not just concerned with the cost of the vaccines, but also the opportunity cost of that money, the lost output from illness, the human suffering – both of the victims and of their relatives and friends – and, of course, the impact on business and the economy. Some of the countries worst hit by the outbreak of swine flu have faced particular problems, such as protectionist trade policies and a significant fall in business through tourism.
So, will the vaccine prove cost effective for the government, or is it more about the moral obligation to provide it? These articles look at some of the recent developments in the worst pandemic in years.
Mexico economy squeezed by swine flu BBC News (30/4/09)
Swine flu vaccine on its way to GPs Grimsby Telegraph (21/10/09)
Exclusive – WTO protectionism report to feature swine flu bans Reuters (12/6/09)
Flu bill ‘may hit fire plans’ Teletext (27/10/09)
Swine flu vaccination under way BBC News (21/10/09)
Swine flu costs have put dent in profits, Amerigroup says Pilot Online, Tom Shean (27/10/09)
Swine flu gives Pharmaceutical Companies a New Edge Top News, Tangaroa Snell (26/10/09)
Economic cost of swine flu could be around $3 trillion to $4.4 trillion Today’s Zaman (Turkey) (2/11/09)
Swine flu mass vaccination programme launched Guardian (21/10/09)
Full list of swine flu cases, country by country Guardian (updated daily)
Doctors plan mass swine flu jabs for under-18s Times Online (1/11/09)
- What is the opportunity cost of swine flu? How could you illustrate this on a diagram?
- Vaccines are going to those at risk first. Why is this particularly relevant in terms of the economic problem?
- What is protectionism and what are the main forms? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of protectionist policies in the context of swine flu.
- If the government had to decide whether or not a swine flu vaccine was worth producing, how could they have done this? Outline the process by which costs and benefits can be weighed up. Are there any drawbacks to this method?
- How have businesses been affected by swine flu? Think about those who have benefited as well as those that have lost.
News articles can give us the impression that the world is both more warlike (with fighting in various countries) but also more peaceful and prosperous. To try to explain this confusion, an American economist with the Teal consultancy group, Richard Aboulafia, has developed a unique index; the Guns-to-Caviar Index. By mapping how much the world spends on fighter jets (guns) against how much the world spends on executive private jets (caviar) for the last 17 years, Aboulafia has given us an interesting view of the state of the world.
Obscure Economic Indicator: The Guns-to-Caviar Index MSN Slate(14/12/06)
||What is meant by a production possibility frontier.
||Draw a production possibility frontier to illustrate the underlying theory behind the Guns-to-Caviar index. Use the diagram to illustrate the changes that have taken place in the index during the 1990s and the early part of this century.
||Critically assess whether the Guns-to-Caviar index can really help explain changes in the current geopolitical/economic climate.