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Maybe I'm missing something here but how is the increase in imports even relevant to his argument? If exports increased, shouldn't that be a good thing from Jim Stanford's POV? A 100% increase (i.e. a doubling) of exports over 10 years represents roughly 7% annual growth...not too shabby. Now maybe exports would have grown by even more without free trade but we'll never know that. And this assumes that we accept his apparent premise (which you highlight) that the benefit to Canadian consumers doesn't matter. Or is he suggesting that the increase in the trade deficit is the problem? Is he linking that to lost jobs? I'm confused.

Korea? My god, they make cars there! Cheap cars! That we'll be able to import cheaper from now on! Eventually, if we keep signing these FTAs, Canada will produce nothing, but just import stuff from the rest of the world. Disaster, probably involving mass starvation of Canadians, is inevitable.

Basically, he's saying that (a) Canada negotiates crappy FTAs that don't get as many concessions for our exporters as we give up to the other side; (b) FTAs don't solve the big reason Canada has a large bilateral trade deficit with Korea, which is their industrial (not trade) policies; (c) bilateral trade deficits are the only thing that matters in evaluating the effects of FTAs; (d) if imports grow faster than exports Canada loses jobs; and (e) he can predict what's going to happen with the Korea FTA by looking at the experience of NAFTA, pretty much. Almost all of these points are probably wrong, or at best misleading/incomplete.

Hi Stephen and other bloggers;
I enjoyed your punchy responses to my recent Globe & Mail column on the FTAs. Here are a few rejoinders:

1. The gains from trade are not that "stuff becomes cheaper to buy." That could be attained simply by boosting the domestic exchange rate, if that's all you wanted. The gains from trade are supposed to come from an increase in overall productive efficiency resulting from a trade-induced reallocation of productive factors. This is fine in a full-employment world (especially if we assume comparative advantages are static and determined by natural endowments). CGE modelers and others have found that these static reallocation gains tend to be small.

2. In a more dynamic world, in which full-employment is not assured (ie. the demand constraint can bind), then there is no guarantee that the relatively small reallocation gains will be achieved. Small welfare gains from producing something that can be traded for desired goods with a more appealing opportunity cost trade-off than along a domestic production possibility frontier, can be easily overwhelmed if the displaced factor resources end up not being employed at all. In the lexicon, "Okun gaps outweigh Haberger triangles."

3. In addition to demand-side issues, there are also dynamic/technology issues. In the real world, a country's successful exports are not solely those which reflect its "natural" endowments. Industries and countries (especially in non-resource sectors) create competitive advantage in fluid industries through innovation, technology, and investment. A FTA which tends to reinforce one country's orientation in rapidly-growing, more dynamic industries, will allow it to catch more of that dynamic upside; vice versa for a country which is pigeon-holed into less dynamic sectors. Look at Canada's existing trade with Korea: We sell them coal, wood pulp, and base minerals. We buy back motor vehicles, large-screen TVs, and other sophisticated, technology-intensive products. We will thus experience structural difficulties by intensifying that relationship, in addition to demand difficulties.

3. In a demand-constrained world, the trade balance, not just the volume of trade, matters. In a demand-constrained globalized economy, total output depends on global competitiveness (and trade reflects absolute competitiveness, not comparative advantage). Then a deterioration in competitiveness (resulting, for example, from FTAs which enhance one side's competitiveness more than the other's) will tighten the demand constraint and increase unemployment. (Alternatively, it may also produce a shift in employment toward non-tradeable sectors which are relatively insulated from the deterioration in competitiveness; this is what has happened in Canada since 1999, with consequent damage to average productivity.) The deterioraton in competitiveness will be reflected initially in a trade deficit. Eventually (once the residents of the less competitive jurisdiction stop borrowing to finance former levels of consumption) it will be reflected in balanced trade but at a lower level of output and employment (Thirlwall called this "balance of payments constrained growth".)

4. I argue that the pattern of our past FTAs shows they have stimulated imports to Canada more than exports from Canada, and the experience with Korea is likely to be even more unbalanced (precisely because of the effective industrial policies which Christine refers to -- which are not in any meaningful way separable from trade policies, given the ambitious export-led orientation of the Korean growth strategy).

If anyone is interested in more detail on the CAW argument, there are 2 studies posted here:
One reviews the nature and success of East Asian export-led industrial policies, the other develops our empirical estimates of the likely job losses from a FTA with Korea.

PS: Since Stephen enjoyed the WEF competitiveness rankings so much, I am sure he will love my next Globe & Mail column too. Cheers!

Stephen writes, "The reason for advocating trade liberalisation is not that it makes it easier to export things to other countries; the gains from trade are due to the fact that consumers can now buy things more cheaply than they could before." Jim notes that, if this statement were true, countries would simply raise the external values of their currencies. However, even staying within the realm of trade policy, countries could achieve the gains from trade – as defined by Stephen – by unilaterally reducing their own tariffs and other trade barriers. The very fact that they bother to negotiate free-trade agreements with each other proves that part of their goal is, indeed, to make "it easier to export things to other countries."

I think some countries who are enjoying comperative advantage today because of natural endowment, they will experience a problem in the future. They need to consider competition advantage for factor endowment and think the trade for future in the world of technology. The old way of thinking of comparative may not take them anywhere, consider cost of factor of production , how to minimise the cost and maximise the profit. natural resources may be depleted.

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