Monday, August 12, 2013

Currency misalignment, world trade and the World Trade Report

The World Trade Report 2013 has a large section devoted to currency misalignment and world trade. It goes (p.261)...
The debate on the trade impact of exchange rates has surged again recently in the WTO,56 and is likely to do so each time that it is felt, rightly or wrongly, that the present state of international monetary cooperation does not allow for orderly exchange rate adjustment reflecting balance of payments positions and does allow a particular member, or several members, to enjoy competitive advantages as a result of such a lack of cooperation. While the influence of macroeconomic and structural policies in determining exchange rates is acknowledged (Eichengreen, 2007), the world trading system must regularly “deflect” tensions associated with the perceived trade impact of exchange rates. This has become more frequent in recent years, as growing international inflows and outflows of foreign exchange have the potential to destabilize domestic economic policies and reduce the efficacy of traditional controls (notably restrictions on capital movements).

The question for the WTO is also systemic because exchange rate shifts increase or weaken the desired or perceived level of protection of domestic operators – and thus seem to have a role in the definition of trade policy. At the multilateral level, the erratic movement of exchange rates is frustrating the desired levels of protection that are negotiated by WTO members through long-term commitments – precisely because policies are aimed at setting predictable conditions of access for producers and traders. In turn, members may seek a way to address cyclical development or exchange rate changes in the trade policy toolkit. 
The need for greater coherence for trade and exchange rate policies was included in the GATT rule book at the outset (see Section E.3(c)). The IMF and GATT were created in response to a lack of coordination of economic policies during the Great Economic Depression – these new institutions aimed at dealing with trade and exchange rate policies as a matter of common interest, with the introduction of disciplines to avoid competitive devaluations, to maintain exchange rate stability, to reduce balance of payments crises and to fight protectionism. From the outset, the international monetary and trading systems were linked by a coherent set of rules aimed at the progressive opening of trade and payments. GATT provisions on coherence reflected two things: the attachment of the trade community to exchange rate stability; and the need for that community to ensure that the trading system was not frustrated by the undisciplined use of exchange restrictions or multiple exchange rates. The institutional set-up remains very much one of coherence – and not of conflict – between the two systems." 
Well, no mention of a possibility of a WTO dispute here. Has that died down? Coherence is the buzzword here. 

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