There is great unease today about currency manipulation abroad—and rightfully so. Some countries—particularly China—have distorted exchange rates to gain an advantage in the world market, hurting American exports by making their goods cheaper and ours more expensive.
It’s a legitimate problem that deserves a real response. The United States holds the world’s reserve currency. We have a unique ability to pressure countries to stop the manipulation, and we must do more. That’s why Trade Promotion Authority legislation (TPA) raises fighting manipulation to a primary negotiating objective and provides the administration more tools to tackle the practice.
At the same time, some in Congress have called for a more confrontational approach. Opposed by the administration and many in Congress, including Chairman Ryan, this counterproductive tactic would trigger higher tariffs on any country believed to be manipulating its currency, either through unilateral U.S. action or through a mechanism in trade agreements. While possibly appealing on its face, this approach presents significant problems. It could:
Lead to a tariff war that will increase barriers to trade and cost jobs;
If the United States begins unilaterally levying tariffs, our trading partners will no doubt do the same, leading to a dangerous cycle that would undermine the very purpose of trade agreements—to break down barriers—and, more importantly, hurt American competitiveness and jobs.
Capture the wrong culprit and put the U.S. at risk of manipulation charges;
There is no clear definition of currency manipulation or simple calculation for it, and trying to legislate such a complex matter poses the risk of triggering a trade war in response to innocent currency movements. At the same time, it would not be difficult for other nations to assert the U.S.’s monetary policy is intended to tilt the playing field.
Risk putting the U.S. in violation of international obligations and out of WTO compliance;
Pursuing a unilateral approach would likely cause the United States to be a target for retaliation by countries like China, harming our businesses and their employees.
Make the U.S. vulnerable to lawsuits and jeopardize our ability to set our own monetary policy;
Even pursuing provisions in trade agreements that would allow us to increase tariffs on manipulators would expose us to litigation, whether justified or not, when countries challenge our monetary policy. And even if the United States ultimately prevails, litigation would distract from broader efforts to address currency manipulation and shield real currency manipulators.
Threaten the U.S. dollar’s standing as the world’s leading currency;
The United States has become the holder of the world’s reserve currency not by accident or by any law, but rather through strength and steadiness. And the status provides the U.S. immeasurable benefits. Maintaining stability and pursuing currency grievances through multinational forums are critical to protecting this valued position we hold in the world.
Derail the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its potential benefits to the U.S.;
Creating mechanisms to increase tariffs through trade agreements because of currency policy would no doubt cause nations with which we are currently negotiating a significant trade agreement to rethink whether the United States is a viable trading partner, causing them to pull out of these negotiations. Missing out on a good TPP agreement would be a critical blow to America’s credibility and an enormous missed opportunity to create good jobs.
And, for all the downside, it probably wouldn’t work.
With all the damage such an approach would do to the United States and our standing in the world, it provides no real incentive for bad actors to change behavior. What’s more, monetary and domestic fiscal policy have much greater impact on the value of a currency than would the type of market interventions targeted by this proposal.
So what is the right solution?
For starters, let’s put in place multinational rules that have proven to yield results. The G-7, G-20, and IMF efforts have had success in limiting attempts to manipulate currency and in some cases outright stopped market interventions. For example, as a result of commitments taken by the G-7, Japan has not intervened in foreign currency markets in an effort to lower the value of the yen in the last three years.
But we can—and must—do more. That’s why TPA legislation would make fighting currency manipulation a primary negotiating objective for all trade agreements. In addition, TPA provides the administration with tools such as “cooperative mechanisms, enforceable rules, reporting, monitoring, transparency, or other means, as appropriate” to address currency manipulation. It is incumbent upon the administration to continue pursuing efforts to rein in the practice, and Congress must continue to press for better results.
Finally, another important step we can take is put in place more trade agreements. A more interconnected global marketplace will have even less tolerance for manipulation. And as Chairman Ryan has said, “If we don’t write the rules of the global economy, somebody else will—somebody who may not have our best interests at heart. And if we don’t like the way the global economy works, then we have to get out there and change it.”
That’s why enacting trade legislation like TPA with a thoughtful approach toward currency manipulation is so critical. Currency manipulation is a legitimate threat, but our response must be one that advances, rather than undermines, our trade agenda and our economy.