Act passed in 1996 that allowed Americans to sue foreign firms that use Cuban property confiscated from them after the 1959 revolution.
Act passed in 1996, similar to the Helms-Burton Act, aimed at Libya and Iran.
The passage of Helms-Burton elicited protests from America’s trading partners, including the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, all of which claim the law violates their sovereignty and is illegal under World Trade Organization rules. For example, Canadian companies that have been doing business in Cuba for years see no reason why they should suddenly be sued in U.S. courts when Canada does not restrict trade with Cuba. They are not violating Canadian law, and they are not U.S. companies, so why should they be subject to U.S. law? Despite such protests, the law is still on the books in the United States, although the U.S. government has not enforced this act—probably because it is unenforceable.
Protecting Human Rights
Protecting and promoting human rights in other countries is an important element of foreign policy for many democracies. Governments sometimes use trade policy to try to improve the human rights policies of trading partners. For example, as discussed in Chapter 5, the U.S. government has long had trade sanctions in place against the nation of Myanmar, in no small part due to the poor human rights practices in that nation. Similarly, in the 1980s and 1990s, Western governments used trade sanctions against South Africa as a way of pressuring that nation to drop its apartheid policies, which were seen as a violation of basic human rights.
ECONOMIC ARGUMENTS FOR INTERVENTION
With the development of the new trade theory and strategic trade policy (see Chapter 6), the economic arguments for government intervention have undergone a renaissance in recent years. Until the early 1980s, most economists saw little benefit in government intervention and strongly advocated a free trade policy. This position has changed at the margins with the development of strategic trade policy, although as we will see in the next section, there are still strong economic arguments for sticking to a free trade stance.
The Infant Industry Argument
The infant industry argument is by far the oldest economic argument for government intervention. Alexander Hamilton proposed it in 1792. According to this argument, many developing countries have a potential comparative advantage in manufacturing, but new manufacturing industries cannot initially compete with established industries in developed countries. To allow manufacturing to get a toehold, the argument is that governments should temporarily support new industries (with tariffs, import quotas, and subsidies) until they have grown strong enough to meet international competition.
Infant Industry Argument
New industries in developing countries must be temporarily protected from international competition to help them reach a position where they can compete on world markets with the firms of developed nations.
COUNTRY FOCUS Trade in Hormone-Treated Beef
In the 1970s, scientists discovered how to synthesize certain hormones and use them to accelerate the growth rate of livestock animals, reduce the fat content of meat, and increase milk production. Bovine somatotropin (BST), a growth hormone produced by cattle, was first synthesized by the biotechnology firm Genentech. Injections of BST could be used to supplement an animal’s own hormone production and increase its growth rate. These hormones soon became popular among farmers, who found they could cut costs and help satisfy consumer demands for leaner meat. Although these hormones occurred naturally in animals, consumer groups in several countries soon raised concerns about the practice. They argued that the use of hormone supplements was unnatural and that the health consequences of consuming hormone-treated meat were unknown but might include hormonal irregularities and cancer.
The European Union responded to these concerns in 1989 by banning the importation of hormone-treated meat and the use of growth-promoting hormones in the production of livestock. The ban was controversial because a reasonable consensus existed among scientists that the hormones posed no health risk. Although the EU banned hormone-treated meat, many other countries did not, including big meat-producing countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. The use of hormones soon became widespread in these countries. According to trade officials outside the EU, the European ban constituted an unfair restraint on trade. As a result of this ban, exports of meat to the EU fell. For example, U.S. red meat exports to the EU declined from $231 million in 1988 to $98 million in 1994. The complaints of meat exporters were bolstered in 1995 when Codex Alimentarius, the international food standards body of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, approved the use of growth hormones. In making this decision, Codex reviewed the scientific literature and found no evidence of a link between the consumption of hormone-treated meat and human health problems, such as cancer.
Fortified by such decisions, in 1995 the United States pressed the EU to drop the import ban on hormone-treated beef. The EU refused, citing “consumer concerns about food safety.” In response, Canada and the United States independently filed formal complaints with the World Trade Organization. The United States was joined in its complaint by a number of other countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The WTO created a trade panel of three independent experts. After reviewing evidence and hearing from a range of experts and representatives of both parties, the panel in May 1997 ruled that the EU ban on hormone-treated beef was illegal because it had no scientific justification. The EU immediately indicated it would appeal the finding to the WTO court of appeals. The WTO court heard the appeal in November 1997 and in February 1998 agreed with the findings of the trade panel that the EU had not presented any scientific evidence to justify the hormone ban.
This ruling left the EU in a difficult position. Legally, the EU had to lift the ban or face punitive sanctions, but the ban had wide public support in Europe. The EU feared that lifting the ban could produce a consumer backlash. Instead the EU did nothing, so in February 1999 the United States asked the WTO for permission to impose punitive sanctions on the EU. The WTO responded by allowing the United States to impose punitive tariffs valued at $120 million on EU exports to the United States. The EU decided to accept these tariffs rather than lift the ban on hormone-treated beef. In 2012, the EU struck a deal with the United States that allowed it to keep the ban in place, in return for increasing its import quota of high-quality non-hormone-treated beef from the United States.
Sources: C. Southey, “Hormones Fuel a Meaty EU Row,” Financial Times, September 7, 1995, p. 2; E. L. Andrews, “In Victory for U.S., European Ban on Treated Beef Is Ruled Illegal,” The New York Times, May 9, 1997, p. A1; F. Williams and G. de Jonquieres, “WTO’s Beef Rulings Give Europe Food for Thought,” Financial Times, February 13, 1998, p. 5; R. Baily, “Food and Trade: EU Fear Mongers’ Lethal Harvest,” Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2002, p. M3; “The US-EU Dispute over Hormone Treated Beef,” The Kiplinger Agricultural Letter, January 10, 2003; and Scott Miller, “EU Trade Sanctions Have Dual Edge,” The Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2004, p. A3.
This argument has had substantial appeal for the governments of developing nations during the past 50 years, and the GATT has recognized the infant industry argument as a legitimate reason for protectionism. Nevertheless, many economists remain critical of this argument for two main reasons. First, protection of manufacturing from foreign competition does no good unless the protection helps make the industry efficient. In case after case, however, protection seems to have done little more than foster the development of inefficient industries that have little hope of ever competing in the world market. Brazil, for example, built the world’s 10th-largest auto industry behind tariff barriers and quotas. Once those barriers were removed in the late 1980s, however, foreign imports soared, and the industry was forced to face up to the fact that after 30 years of protection, the Brazilian auto industry was one of the world’s most inefficient.13
Second, the infant industry argument relies on an assumption that firms are unable to make efficient long-term investments by borrowing money from the domestic or international capital market. Consequently, governments have been required to subsidize long-term investments. Given the development of global capital markets over the past 20 years, this assumption no longer looks as valid as it once did. Today, if a developing country has a potential comparative advantage in a manufacturing industry, firms in that country should be able to borrow money from the capital markets to finance the required investments. Given financial support, firms based in countries with a potential comparative advantage have an incentive to endure the necessary initial losses in order to make long-run gains without requiring government protection. Many Taiwanese and South Korean firms did this in industries such as textiles, semiconductors, machine tools, steel, and shipping. Thus, given efficient global capital markets, the only industries that would require government protection would be those that are not worthwhile.