A reversal in U.S. trade policy could make 2017 the year that efforts to build multinational trade zones crumble, returning the focus to tough, bilateral dealmaking.
In October 2015, officials from 12 nations including the U.S. and Japan gathered in the American city of Atlanta to ink the historic Trans-Pacific Partnership, confident of the dawning of a new age of trade governed by such high-level, multilateral agreements. Yet that dream lies all but dead just over a year later, not least due to Donald Trump’s presidential victory and his pledge to pull the U.S. from the agreement upon taking office Jan. 20.
Many bilateral free trade agreements, which reduce or abolish tariffs and set rules for trade in goods and services between two nations, have been struck over the years. Multilateral agreements extend this notion to the regional level and improve security in the areas they cover, further greasing the wheels of commerce.
Yet Trump prefers his trade pacts one on one — the better to drive hard bargains, leveraging U.S. economic and diplomatic might to secure the most advantageous terms. Multilateral pacts involve far more careful compromise and require each nation to give and take small concessions rather than pushing for an unambiguous win.
As the FT first reported yesetrday, in a dramatic development for Sino-US relations, Trump picked Peter Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist and one-time daytrader, to head the National Trade Council, an organization within the White House to oversee industrial policy and promote manufacturing. Navarro, a hardcore China hawk, is the author of books such as “Death by China” and “Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World” has for years warned that the US is engaged in an economic war with China and should adopt a more aggressive stance, a message that the president-elect sold to voters across the US during his campaign.
In the aftermath of Navarro’s appointment, many were curious to see what China’s reaction would be, and according to the FT, Beijin’s response has been nothing short of “shocked.” To wit:
The appointment of Peter Navarro, a campaign adviser, to a formal White House post shocked Chinese officials and scholars who had hoped that Mr Trump would tone down his anti-Beijing rhetoric after assuming office.
“Chinese officials had hoped that, as a businessman, Trump would be open to negotiating deals,” said Zhu Ning, a finance professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “But they have been surprised by his decision to appoint such a hawk to a key post.”
Mexico could contribute as much as 150,000 barrels per day to non-OPEC oil cuts – OPEC source.
Russia has already said they would cut output by 300,000.
The non-OPEC members meet with OPEC members in Vienna tomorrow.
in other Mexican news Fitch downgrades outlook for Mexico to negative.
As per Fitch:
The revision in Mexico’s Outlook reflects increased downside risks to the country’s growth outlook and the challenges this could pose for stabilization of the public debt burden. Growth has been under-performing rating peers and the general government debt burden has been increasing steadily in recent years. The victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election has increased economic uncertainty and asset price volatility in Mexico as the President-elect has alluded to renegotiating or terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and tightening immigration controls.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” toward Asia, unveiled in 2012, attracted much international attention but did little to tame China’s muscular approach to territorial, maritime and trade disputes. Indeed, with the United States focused on the Islamic world, Obama’s much-touted Asian pivot seemed to lose its way somewhere in the arc between Iraq and Libya. Will President-elect Donald Trump’s approach to Asia be different?
In his first meeting with a foreign leader since his surprise Nov. 8 election triumph, Trump delivered a reassuring message to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who, in turn, described him as a “trustworthy leader.” In a smart diplomatic move, Abe made a special stop in New York on Nov. 17, en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, to meet face-to-face with Trump, who shares his conservative, nationalistic outlook.
Today, Asia faces the specter of power disequilibrium. Concern that Trump could undo Obama’s pivot to Asia by exhibiting an isolationist streak ignores the fact that the pivot has remained more rhetorical than real. Even as Obama prepares to leave office, the pivot — rebranded as “rebalancing” — has not acquired any concrete strategic content.
If anything, the coining of a catchy term, “pivot,” has helped obscure the key challenge confronting the U.S.: To remain the principal security anchor in Asia in the face of a relentless push by a revisionist China to expand its frontiers and sphere of influence.
Trump indeed could face an early test of will from a China determined to pursue its “salami slicing” approach to gaining regional dominance. In contrast to Russia’s preference for full-fledged invasion, China has perfected the art of creeping, covert warfare through which it seeks to take one “slice” of territory at a time, by force.
With Obama having increasingly ceded ground to China in Asia during his tenure, Beijing feels emboldened, as evident in its incremental expansionism in the South China Sea and its dual Silk Road projects under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The Maritime Silk Road is just a new name for Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy, aimed at increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, without incurring any international costs, China aggressively continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no other power has done.
Indeed, boosting naval prowess and projecting power far from its shores are at the center of China’s ambition to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia. Boasting one of the world’s fastest-growing undersea fleets, China announced earlier in November that its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is ready for combat. Such revanchist moves will inevitably test the new U.S. administration’s limits.
There were two developments before the weekend that will likely spur a response in the week ahead.
First, while most were looking out for DBRS credit review of Portugal, Fitch surprised by cutting Italy’s credit outlook to negative from stable. At the heart of the decision was concern about the repeated delays and back loading of fiscal consolidation. The disappointing growth, the non-performing loan burden, and the political climate pose downside risks.
Italian bonds which had been underperforming Spain bonds had begun holding their own. Last week, the benchmark 10-year bond yield fell 2.5% in Italy but rose slightly in Spain. The divergence was sufficient to change the month-over-month back into Italy’s favor (+18.5 bp vs. Spain’s +19.7 bp). Fitch noted that even if Renzi does not resign if the referendum fails, the government may be weaker, and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 2018, and Euro-skeptic political forces are on the rise (5-Star Movement won Rome and Turin in elections earlier this year).
The surprise action by Fitch, coupled with EU demands that Renzi alters the draft budget may weigh on Italian bonds. Italian bank shares rallied for three consecutive weeks, including a sharp 7.3% advance last week. They may also be vulnerable if yields continue to rise. Recall that DBRS put Italy on credit review with negative implications in August. DBRS is the only one of the top four rating agencies that put Italy in the “A” band. A cut would increase the haircut the ECB imposes on Italian bonds used as collateral for loans. The underperformance of Italian bonds relative to Spanish bond may resume if Spain is able to avoid a new election before the end of the year.
France wants to halt thorny EU-US trade talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as President Francois Hollande underlined there would be no deal until after President Barack Obama leaves office in January. Matthias Fekl, the French minister for foreign trade, has said his country will call for an end to the deal. France has been sceptical about the TTIP from the start and has threatened to block the deal, arguing the US has offered little in return for concessions made by Europe. All 28 EU member states and the European parliament will have to ratify the TTIP before it comes into force.
The statements came just a couple of days after German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel had said talks for TTIP had de facto failed. Gabriel, who leads Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic party and is vice-chancellor in the coalition government, said Europe mustn’t submit to the American proposals. Mr. Gabriel’s statement is in contrast with the position of Chancellor Angela Merkel who supports the deal. Meanwhile, the US-German conflicts are growing. US courts and authorities took a hard line against the Volkswagen Group, Germany’s largest car manufacturer, in relation to its exhaust scandal. In a deal that does not include all damage claims, VW is required to pay up to 13.6 billion euros. There is a growing chorus in Germany saying that the country should orientate more to Asia. This perspective shared by the organizers of the anti-TTIP lobby, including the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), the Left Party and the Greens.