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President Trump’s economic war against Germany and the euro

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] J [/yt_dropcap]ust a week after his official installation at the White House, Donald J. Trump lashed out at China, accused of manipulating its currency to “win the globalization game”, but also at Germany which, as the President of the new National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, said “is exploiting both its neighbours and the United States with the euro”.

The accusation is not new. In the early 1970s the United States accused the old European Monetary System (EMS) of keeping the currencies adhering to it artificially high.

Inter alia, the EMS – with fixed exchange rates but with predefined fluctuations within it – was the European response to the US-prompted end of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement.

Nevertheless, it was also Europe’s reaction to the planned weakness of the dollar during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, when precisely the dollar area sent huge capital flows into Germany, which had a “high” Mark, thus pressing it against the French Franc and hence destabilizing the entire European internal monetary exchange system.

Furthermore, in the early 1980s, the British Labour Prime Minister, Denis Healey, got convinced that the EMS was a real German “racket”, considering that the German Finance Minister had told him that his country planned to have a comparative advantage precisely by limiting the depreciation of the other European currencies.

This happened because Germany had lower labour cost-driven inflation rates and, hence, a currency with fixed rates would have anyway ensured export-driven surpluses only to Germany.

However also the G20 long negotiations have never led to any result: currently, in absolute terms, the German export-led surplus is much larger than China’s, namely 8.6% of the German GDP.

In fact, according to IMF estimates, the surplus is equal to 271 billion US dollars, a huge sum capable of changing all global trade flows.

Finally Chancellor Angela Merkel replied to Trump (and to Navarro) by recalling that the European Central Bank is the institution issuing the euro, but it is not lender of last resort. Nevertheless, she has not contradicted the US President about the fact that the Euro is really undervalued.

Furthermore, when we look at the currencies undervalued as against the US Dollar, we realize that the most undervalued currency is the Turkish Lira, followed by the Mexican Peso, the Polish Zloty, the Hungarian Forint, the South Korean Won and, finally, our own Euro.

Finally, when we look at the number and size of transactions denominated in euros, the European currency is already the second most traded currency in the world.

Hence, probably the undervaluation of the Euro against the US Dollar originates more from the expansionist policy of the European central Bank than from Germany’s actions for its exports and monetary parities.

Certainly Germany gains in having a currency that is much weaker than it would be if it were only a German currency but, on the other hand, with a Euro artfully devalued, the “weakest” Eurozone countries succeed in having lower interest rates than they could obtain with their old or new national currencies.

Moreover, it is worth recalling that Germany exports profitably both in countries where the currency is stronger than the Euro and in regions where the currency is even more depreciated as against the US Dollar, such as Japan.

According to last year’s data, the United States have a trade deficit with Germany equal to 60 billion US dollars.

Germany exports mainly cars, which account for 22% of their total exports to the United States.

It also exports – in decreasing order – machine tools, in direct competition with Italy, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, plastics, aircraft and avionics, oil, iron and steel, as well as organic chemicals. All German exports are worth 35% of its GDP.

Why, however, is the Euro depreciated because of Germany?

Firstly, since 2000 the German cost of labour has grown by 20-30% less than in the Eurozone’s German competitors.

Hence German products were ipso facto 20% more competitive than those of the others, without any exchange rate manipulation.

If Germany still had had the Mark, it would have automatically appreciated by 20%.

The appreciation of this hypothetical Mark would have changed demand, by reducing exports and increasing imports by the same percentage.

In that case, the ideal would have been a floating exchange rate – and this should also be the case for a re-modulated Euro compared to the current situation.

A fluctuation prefiguring the creation of a new monetary “basket” with the major currencies, with exchange rates floating within a certain range, but much more realistic than the current ones.

A further cause of the current account surplus in Germany is the intrinsic strength of its exports – hence Germany does not suffer the competition of low-tech economies, such as Italy’s.

Another reason for the excessive German surplus is the low domestic demand, with the relative increase in private savings.

An additional cause of the surplus is the fact that savings have long been higher than investment.

In 2015, German savings amounted to 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while investment was worth only 16% of the GDP.

Obviously, another decisive reason for the accumulation of such a large German surplus was the fall in oil prices.

Therefore, the vast German surplus and the Euro undervaluation foster its exports, but block the exports of the other Eurozone countries.

In fact, according to our calculations, if Germany stimulated its domestic demand, thus allowing its inflation to increase, this would be enough for the final stimulus of global demand and, above all, it would make the Eurozone economies under crisis get out of their predicament.

Hence the real problem of too high a Euro is not so much for the United States, which can devalue as against the Euro whenever they want and anyway have still their own autonomous monetary policy, but rather for the single currency countries in the Mediterranean, which are experiencing a downturn caused by too low domestic demand.

Could we also do as Germany? No, we could not.

It is not possible for anyone in the Eurozone to create an 8% surplus, such as Germany, and not all countries could benefit from a devalued exchange rate of the European currency.

As many politicians say, restructuring the production system to increase productivity means – in a nutshell – years of deflation and high unemployment, which create a negative multiplier effect.

We cannot afford so – the social and economic conditions have already reached the breaking point.

Hence, let us put our minds at rest, the ”two-speed Europe” will last generations and it would be better if this could also be reflected in the single currency.

Or better in a series of two-three currencies deriving from the Euro with pre-fixed exchange rates floating within a range.

Furthermore, Germany will certainly replace China as the “bad” currency manipulator and there will be increasing competition between it and the rest of Europe.

Therefore, the German export surplus actually leads to an unfair competitive advantage over the Eurozone countries and, in other respects, over the North American exports.

This is the sense of the struggle against the Euro waged by President Trump and his future Ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, who has stated that the Euro may “collapse” over the next eighteen months.

The Euro is certainly undervalued.

According to a study carried out by Deutsche Bank, the Euro is allegedly the most undervalued currency in the world, according to the criteria of the Fundamental Equilibrium Exchange Rates (FEER).

And the Euro is undervalued even if we look at its external value and the mass of transactions of the individual countries currently adopting it.

Hence, not only can Germany be accused of managing an improper comparative advantage over the dollar and the other major currencies but, according to the FEER data, the accusation holds true even for Italy and for the other single currency European countries.

With a view to solving the issue, some analysts – especially North Americans – think it should be Germany to leave the Euro.

On the one hand, Germany cannot revalue its currency (which is also a political problem – suffice to think of German savers) without the Euro appreciating also for the Eurozone weak economies, such Italy and Spain.

The World Bank believes that the German trade surplus is at least 5% too high and, hence, the German exchange rate is largely undervalued by at least 15%.

In fact, the differential between the German Euro and the Euro of the Eurozone weakest countries is 20%.

This means that, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the Italian or Greek Euro is worth 20% less than the German one.

The issue could be solved with an equivalent 20% Euro revaluation, combined with an expansionary fiscal policy.

However, this cannot be done as long as Germany is within the Euro. This means that Germany cannot revalue the exchange rate without doing the same in the other 17 countries that adopt the European single currency.

This would mean definitively destroying the Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish economies.

Therefore, if Germany came out of the Euro, its new currency would appreciate as against the non-German Euro and the other countries would have a devalued currency, which could help them in exports.

There are two ways in which the German trade surplus creates deflation – and hence crisis – in the rest of the Eurozone.

Obviously the first is by pushing up the value of the European currency.

A strong euro weakens the demand for European exports, especially for the most price-sensitive goods of the Eurozone Mediterranean economies.

Moreover, the high value of the European currency reduces the price of imported goods, thus negatively reinforcing the price fall – another deflationary mechanism.

And the German inflation which, as everyone knows, is lower than in the other Eurozone countries, further weakens the peripheral economies.

Hence a landscape marked by low domestic demand and national markets’ production crisis.

However, in Navarro’s and in Trump’s minds, there is the implicit belief that trade imbalances can be solved in a context of free-floating currencies.

It is not always so and, however, fluctuations apply only when there are structural changes in trade systems – in principle all players envisage and operate, for sufficient time, with fixed or maybe slightly floating rates.

Therefore, reading between the lines, what both Trump and Navarro really tell us is that the very Euro membership is an act of monetary manipulation.

Hence, what is done?

The unity of the European economy is broken, with unpredictable effects and further global chaos, while the United States acquire exports that were previously denominated in euros.

Or the United States could impose quotas or specific tariffs for Germany, which is illegal in WTO terms but, above all, would expose the United States to a series of reprisals and retaliation by Germany and probably also by the rest of the Eurozone.

There is no way out: therefore, again reading between the lines, probably Trump is telling to the Eurozone weak economies that they should leave the single currency, which is only in Germany’s interest, and create new post-Euro currencies, which will be somehow pegged to the US Dollar.

Or Trump and Navarro could define a new relationship between Euro, Dollar, Yuan, Ruble, Yen and some other primary currencies on the markets and impose a predetermined fluctuation between them, but obviously the Euro would enter this new “Bretton Woods” by being valued in line with the markets and not being overvalued as today.

Europe, however, shall put back in line and tackle all trade and political issues with Trump’s America, which will make no concession to anyone and, most importantly, does no longer want to favour Europe militarily, strategically, financially and commercially.

In particular, Donald J. Trump has in mind the big game with Russia and China. He is scarcely interested in a continent, such as Europe, which is not capable of defending itself on its own and shows severe signs of structural crisis.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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A bio-based, reuse economy can feed the world and save the planet

MD Staff

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Transforming pineapple skins into product packaging or using potato peels for fuel may sound far-fetched, but such innovations are gaining traction as it becomes clear that an economy based on cultivation and use of biomass can help tackle pollution and climate change, the United Nations agriculture agency said on Friday.

A sustainable bioeconomy, which uses biomass – organic materials, such as plants and animals and fish – as opposed to fossil resources to produce food and non-food goods “is foremost about nature and the people who take care of and produce biomass,” a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  official said at the 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit in Berlin, Germany.

This means family farmers, forest people and fishers, who are also “holders of important knowledge on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way,” she explained.

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources, stressed how the agency not only works with member States and other partners across the conventional bioeconomy sectors – agriculture, forestry and fisheries – but also relevant technologies, such as biotechnology and information technology to serve agricultural sectors.

“We must foster internationally-coordinated efforts and ensure multi-stakeholder engagement at local, national and global levels,” she said, noting that this requires measurable targets, means to fulfil them and cost-effective ways to measure progress.

With innovation playing a key role in the bio sector, she said,  all the knowledge – traditional and new – should be equally shared and supported.

Feeding the world, saving the planet

Although there is enough food being produced to feed the planet, often due to a lack of access, estimates show that some 815 million people are chronically undernourished.

“Bioeconomy can improve access to food, such as through additional income from the sale of bio-products,” said Ms. Semedo.

She also noted its potential contribution to addressing climate change, albeit with a warning against oversimplification.

“Just because a product is bio does not mean it is good for climate change, it depends on how it is produced, and in particular on much and what type of energy is used in the process,” she explained.

FAO has a longstanding and wide experience in supporting family farmers and other small-scale biomass producers and businesses.

Ms. Semedo, told the summit that with the support of Germany, FAO, together with an international working group, is currently developing sustainable bioeconomy guidelines.

Some 25 cases from around the world have already been identified to serve as successful bioeconomy examples to develop good practices.

A group of women fishers in Zanzibar are producing cosmetics from algae – opening up a whole new market with sought-after niche products; in Malaysia, a Government programme supports community-based bioeconomy; and in Colombia, a community is transforming pineapple skins into biodegradable packaging and honey into royal jelly – and these are just a few examples of a bioeconomy in action.

“Together, let’s harness the development for sustainable bioeconomy for all and leave no one behind,” concluded Ms. Semedo.

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Belarus: Strengthening Foundations for Sustainable Recovery

MD Staff

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The speed of economic recovery has accelerated in early 2018, but the foundations for solid growth need to be strengthened, says the latest World Bank Economic Update on Belarus.

The economic outlook remains challenging due to external financing needs and unaddressed domestic structural bottlenecks. Improved household consumption and investment activity, along with a gradual increase in exports, will help the economy to grow, but unlikely above three percent per annum over the medium term.

“The only way for ordinary Belarusians to have better incomes in the long run is to increase productivity, which requires structural change. While macroeconomic adjustment has brought stability, only structural change will bring solid growth to the country,” said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Belarus. “Inflation has hit a record low in Belarus, driving the costs of domestic borrowing down. However, real wages are now again outpacing productivity, with the risks of worsening cost competitiveness and generating cost-push inflation.”

A Special Topic Note of the World Bank Economic Update follows the findings of the latest World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, which measures national wealth, composed of produced, natural, and human capital, and net foreign assets. Economic development comes from a country’s wealth, especially from human capital – skills and knowledge.

“Belarus has a good composition of wealth for an upper middle-income country. The per capita level of human capital exceeds both Moldova and Ukraine. However, the accumulation of physical capital has coincided with a deterioration in the country’s net foreign asset position,” noted Kiryl Haiduk, World Bank Economist. “Belarus needs to rely less on foreign borrowing and strengthen the domestic financial system, export more, and strengthen economic institutions that improve the efficiency of available physical and human capital.”

Since the Republic of Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992, lending commitments to the country have totaled US$1.7 billion. In addition, grant financing totaling US$31 million has been provided, including to programs involving civil society partners. The active investment lending portfolio financed by the World Bank in Belarus includes eight operations totaling US$790 million.

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Economic Growth in Africa Rebounds, But Not Fast Enough

MD Staff

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth is projected to reach 3.1 percent in 2018, and to average 3.6 percent in 2019–20, says Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank, released today.

The growth forecasts are premised on expectations that oil and metals prices will remain stable, and that governments in the region will implement reforms to address macroeconomic imbalances and boost investment.

“Growth has rebounded in Sub-Saharan Africa, but not fast enough. We are still far from pre-crisis growth levels,” said Albert G. Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region. “African Governments must speed up and deepen macroeconomic and structural reforms to achieve high and sustained levels of growth.”

The moderate pace of economic expansion reflects the gradual pick-up in growth in the region’s three largest economies, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa. Elsewhere, economic activity will pick up in some metals exporters, as mining production and investment rise. Among non-resource intensive countries, solid growth, supported by infrastructure investment, will continue in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Growth prospects have strengthened in most of East Africa, owing to improving agriculture sector growth following droughts and a rebound in private sector credit growth; in Ethiopia, growth will remain high, as government-led infrastructure investment continues.

For many African countries, the economic recovery is vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and production,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Lead Economist and the author of the report.  “This underscores the need for countries to build resilience by pushing diversification strategies to the top of the policy agenda.”

Public debt relative to GDP is rising in the region, and the composition of debt has changed, as countries have shifted away from traditional concessional sources of financing toward more market-based ones. Higher debt burdens and the increasing exposure to market risks raise concerns about debt sustainability: 18 countries were classified at high-risk of debt distress in March 2018, compared with eight in 2013.

“By fully embracing technology and leveraging innovation, Africa can boost productivity across and within sectors, and accelerate growth,” said Zeufack.

This issue of Africa’s Pulse has a special focus on the role of innovation in accelerating electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its implications of achieving inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction. The report finds that achieving universal electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa will require a combination of solutions involving the national grid, as well as “mini-grids” and “micro-grids” serving small concentrations of electricity users, and off-grid home-scale systems. Improving regulation of the electricity sector and better management of utilities remain key to success.

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