The Global Competitiveness Report
The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. The WEF also conducts global economic research and annually publishes country competitive rankings. In the latest report 2011–2012 Switzerland topped the overall rankings. Singapore overtook Sweden for second position. Northern and Western European countries dominated the top 10 with Sweden (3rd), Finland (4th), Germany (6th), the Netherlands (7th), Denmark (8th), and the United Kingdom (10th). Japan remained the second-ranked Asian economy at 9th place, despite falling three places since last year. The United States continued its decline for the third year in a row, falling one more place to fifth position. Germany maintained a strong position within the Eurozone, although it went down one position to sixth place, while the Netherlands (7th) improved by one position in the rankings, France dropped three places to 18th, and Greece continued its downward trend to 90th. The results show that while competitiveness in advanced economies has stagnated over the past seven years, in many emerging markets it has improved, placing their growth on a more stable footing and mirroring the shift in economic activity from advanced to emerging economies.
Instruments of Trade Policy
LEARNING OBJECTIVE 1
Identify the policy instruments used by governments to influence international trade flows.
Trade policy uses seven main instruments: tariffs, subsidies, import quotas, voluntary export restraints, local content requirements, administrative policies, and antidumping duties. Tariffs are the oldest and simplest instrument of trade policy. As we shall see later in this chapter, they are also the instrument that the GATT and WTO have been most successful in limiting. A fall in tariff barriers in recent decades has been accompanied by a rise in nontariff barriers, such as subsidies, quotas, voluntary export restraints, and antidumping duties.
A tariff is a tax levied on imports (or exports). Tariffs fall into two categories. Specific tariffs are levied as a fixed charge for each unit of a good imported (e.g., $3 per barrel of oil). Ad valorem tariffs are levied as a proportion of the value of the imported good. In most cases, tariffs are placed on imports to protect domestic producers from foreign competition by raising the price of imported goods. However, tariffs also produce revenue for the government. Until the income tax was introduced, for example, the U.S. government received most of its revenues from tariffs.
A tariff is a tax levied on imports or exports.
Tariff levied as a fixed charge for each unit of good imported.
Ad Valorem Tariff
A tariff levied as a proportion of the value of an imported good.
The important thing to understand about an import tariff is who suffers and who gains. The government gains, because the tariff increases government revenues. Domestic producers gain, because the tariff affords them some protection against foreign competitors by increasing the cost of imported foreign goods. Consumers lose because they must pay more for certain imports. For example, in 2002 the U.S. government placed an ad valorem tariff of 8 to 30 percent on imports of foreign steel. The idea was to protect domestic steel producers from cheap imports of foreign steel. The effect, however, was to raise the price of steel products in the United States between 30 and 50 percent. A number of U.S. steel consumers, ranging from appliance makers to automobile companies, objected that the steel tariffs would raise their costs of production and make it more difficult for them to compete in the global marketplace. Whether the gains to the government and domestic producers exceed the loss to consumers depends on various factors such as the amount of the tariff, the importance of the imported good to domestic consumers, the number of jobs saved in the protected industry, and so on. In the steel case, many argued that the losses to steel consumers apparently outweighed the gains to steel producers. In November 2003, the World Trade Organization declared that the tariffs represented a violation of the WTO treaty, and the United States removed them in December of that year.