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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sino-US Trade War to Cause Ripple Effect of Implications in Auto Industry

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The whole world has its eyes on China and the USA as both nations are threatening to impose massive tariffs on each other in a ‘tit for tat’ trade skirmish. According to the Trump administration, the proposed tariffs are intended to punish China for pursuing its protectionist policies, currency manipulations, and alleged intellectual property (IP) theft. Fears of a possible full-scale trade war between the world’s two largest economies have caused global stock exchanges to plunge and cautioned investors as well as governments across the globe. There is no doubt that a trade war would not only hurt both economies, but it would also impact the overall global economy. As the proposed tariffs would pertain, amongst others, to vehicles and auto components, we are taking a look at potential implications this trade war might have on automotive industry in both countries.

Since his presidential campaign, president Trump has criticized China for pursuing protectionist policies, currency manipulations, and IP theft. In order to punish China for its current trade policies, and to reduce USA’s huge trade deficit with China, Trump proposed tariffs on approximately US$50 billion worth of Chinese goods coming into the country. Of these, approximately US$34 billion worth of Chinese goods including vehicles and auto parts will be subject to new tariffs starting from July 6, 2018, while the remaining US$16 billion are still under review.

The total automotive trade between the USA and China stood at US$33.9 billion in 2017. At present, in the USA, a 2.5% import tax is levied on imported vehicles and components. The current government proposes to raise this to 25% for vehicles and parts coming from China. China charges around 25% tax on vehicle imports from overseas, and now have threatened to add an additional 25% for vehicles built in the USA. Although these are just proposals for now, if they do get implemented, they will have implications on the entire automotive ecosystem in both countries, including carmakers, dealers, and auto parts manufacturers, and suppliers.

American companies won’t remain unaffected

A trade war with China will make domestic-made cars more expensive at home and less competitive in China. As a significant portion of the auto components and parts used by the US carmakers is sourced from China, increased tariffs will lead to increased production costs. Experts fear that OEMs will pass the increased costs onto the consumer. As a result, domestic auto sales are expected to witness a dip. Further, automakers based in the USA will become less competitive in China and may not be able to retain their current market share any longer.

Tesla is one of the companies that will feel the heat of higher tariffs. Chinese market accounted for approximately 17% of Tesla’s revenue in 2017. The company is already struggling to cope with the existing 25% import duties amid stiff competition from local rivals, such as BYD, NIO, and Byton, who have cheaper alternatives. American OEMs, such as Ford, GM, etc., fear that vehicles made by their subsidiaries in China and exported to the USA could end up being hit by the proposed tariffs.

Besides USA, German automakers such as BMW and Daimler will also be highly exposed since they are the largest vehicle exporters from the USA to China. Potential implications of the Sino-US trade war on companies mentioned above could lead to several job losses at US manufacturing plants. According to a report by Peterson Institute for International Economics, the trade war could result in loss of around 195,000 jobs over the next three years. Additionally, it will also impact other industry players such as auto component OEMs and suppliers, dealers, as well as local retailers.

Trade war could also hamper and limit US companies’ access to the Chinese automotive market, which is currently the largest market globally both in terms of production as well as sales. China is also the best-performing market in the world for electric vehicles (EVs) from sales, infrastructure, and government support perspective. With trade war in place, US companies could lose out to EU and other Asian counterparts on various market opportunities in China.

With trade war in place, US companies could lose out to EU and other Asian counterparts on various market opportunities in China.

Besides automakers, trade war will also have serious implications on auto parts manufacturers and suppliers as well. For example key tier-1 suppliers such as Lear, Delphi Automotive, Adient etc., rely heavily on China for their revenue. On the other side, there are many suppliers that rely on China for sourcing. China is also the largest trading partner for USA in tires. Exports in 2017 reached nearly US$2 billion, an increase of 28.2% as compared to previous year. If the proposed tariffs become reality, all these players will face business challenges on sales as well as supply-chain fronts.

Chinese companies will also face some implications

For the Chinese automotive industry, the trade war will impact mainly imported cars produced in the USA and domestic cars that use components from the USA. Since most cars sold in China are manufactured locally, the impact on Chinese auto OEMs will not be as significant as felt by their US counterparts. However, China is a major exporter of auto spare parts and components to the USA. In 2017, China exported auto parts worth US$17.4 billion to the USA. Thus, the trade war will heavily impact Chinese car parts manufacturers and exporters that rely on US business. On the EV front, new tariffs will raise the prices for parts and components imported from the USA. This in turn, will dampen the adoption of EVs due to higher initial costs and impact domestic EV sales.

Trade war is likely to hinder auto investments in China up to some extent as many companies might re-think their production and supply-chain strategies and put China investments on hold. For example, Ford has kept its plan to export Focus compact to the USA from China on hold due to the ongoing rift. Trade war will therefore impact local production as automakers serving USA market might scale down production in China. This might result in layoffs at local manufacturing units. In addition, trade skirmish with the USA will also create more obstacles for Chinese companies, such as Geely and GAC Motor, looking for market expansion in the USA.

Trade war will therefore impact local production as automakers serving USA market might scale down production in China.

 

EOS Perspective

In May 2018, president Xi announced to lower tariffs on imported cars to 15% effective from July 1, and ease ownership restrictions in automotive joint-ventures. This had somewhat cooled down the ongoing tension between the two nations. At this stage, many experts believed that the current situation will be resolved between the two nations via negotiations. However, despite three rounds of negotiations, both sides have failed to reach an agreement yet.

In the recent chain of events, Trump has threatened to slap extra tariffs on additional Chinese products worth US$400 billion. He also plans to restrict Chinese investments in American technology companies and technology exports from USA to China. This has opened up another front in the ongoing battle. In response, Beijing has warned to retaliate with levies on additional list of American products.

As of now, the potential effects of a full-blown trade war on the auto industry are not clear as they are still proposals. However, if tariffs were imposed, OEMs based in the USA would feel the strongest impact as they export around 280,000 vehicles to China each year.

In addition, considering that automakers today are more globalized than ever and depend on globally-integrated supply-chain networks to optimize their bottom line, a broader impact of the trade war would impact the supply-chains of many global OEMs. The business losses suffered by them will eventually pour down to auto parts suppliers, dealers, retailers, and local auto businesses, who will all feel the heat with varying degrees. It will be interesting to see how things progress and finalize over the next few days. For now, industry stakeholders are sweating over the looming trade war between the two powerhouses.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: USA to Re-Enter TPP but Only If It Calls the Shots

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When Donald Trump decided to pull the USA out of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017, it was a huge setback for the remaining 11 countries – we wrote about it in our article TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA in May 2017. However, after months of discussions and deliberations, the surviving members (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) planned to move the partnership ahead without the USA, finally signing the pact in March 2018 and naming it Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Soon after, while in talks over another bilateral trade deal with Japan, Trump said that he would join back TPP, if the USA was offered a deal it cannot refuse. Asserting on the fact that Trump government prefers bilateral trade agreements over multilateral, Trump made it clear, in an indirect manner though, that unless the pact brings massive benefits for the American economy, there is no way the country is joining back the TPP.

American reconsideration of getting back in the TPP is a strategic step to deal with its growing trade war with China. As per the initial outline of the pact, designed under Obama administration, it was supposed to eliminate or reduce tariffs on the ‘Made-in-America’ exports to TPP countries (e.g. automotive, ITC, agriculture products, etc.). However, by backing out of the TPP, Trump government ended up making a rod for its own back, and may have opened doors for China, if it wishes to enter the pact in the future. In order to safeguard its own interest against China, it seems that rejoining the pact would be a smart move on the USA’s part.

But the re-entry to the TPP will not be easy for the USA, and dictating its own terms for getting back into the agreement does not seem to work in favor of the Trump government either. With the member countries just signing their own trade deal very recently, setting terms and conditions for re-negotiating the pact again with the USA would be difficult and cumbersome. While some countries such as, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand appreciated the USA’s interest to return back to TPP, they are not very keen on altering the agreement, and even if the terms were to be amended again, this is unlikely to happen in the near future. Despite the fact that the American participation will make the deal stronger, member countries do not trust Trump’s trade policies and USA’s re-consideration of TPP membership again is being viewed with hostility, to a certain extent.

Taking into consideration the fact that the deal already took six years to finalize (five years prior to USA’s exit and one year to amend the agreement after its withdrawal), altering the deal again as per USA’s convenience seems unrealistic. The idea of starting negotiations from square one in order to fit in the USA, might be too much to ask for from the member countries. Now that the USA has lost an upper hand in the TPP, many countries may be in favor of the country joining back only if it accepts the existing agreement, which definitely does not seem to go down well with Trump. However, there is a slight possibility that member countries might be willing to contemplate the terms of the pact, if they are given better access to the American market (e.g. with the reduction in tariff rates), which is also unlikely to happen considering that the USA wants things to be its way.

Now that the trade agreement is already in place sans the USA, the American position to re-negotiate the terms has weakened. If this decision was made earlier, the country would have had a stronger bargaining power. Also, for the CPTPP member countries, unlike for the USA, bringing the existing agreement into force as early as possible is an immediate priority.

At this stage, the future of the USA joining TPP again is a question mark. Though both sides, the USA and the participating member countries, stand to benefit from this move – the member countries would benefit in terms of increased trade and the USA would be able to thwart China from entering the pact and to increase own exports – the current attitude and mindset of both sides seem to make the re-negotiations unlikely, at least under current circumstances. All participating countries are open to the USA re-joining the pact, provided it agrees to the terms originally negotiated, gives up wanting to call the shots, and agrees to mellow down its supremacy inclinations in the pact, none of which can be expected to be happening anytime soon, at least under the Trump administration.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

NAFTA 2.0 – Mexico Left with Little Choice but to Renegotiate, and Fast

Over the years, NAFTA has been one of the most contentious FTAs that have ever been inked, especially for the USA. While the treaty and its merits (or mostly alleged lack of them) featured in political campaigns of a few previous US presidential candidates, NAFTA’s shape and scope have never been revisited in its many years of existence – until now. Mexico, along with Canada, wishes to maintain the NAFTA as is, however US president Donald Trump has strongly condemned the treaty and, though earlier threatened to walk away from it completely, has agreed to attempt a renegotiation. Any possible changes to the shape of NAFTA might have profound impact especially on Mexico, however, the country has little choice but to renegotiate. Some of the negotiation objectives, such as tougher ‘rules of origin’, can be greatly damaging to Mexico’s several sectors, including the automobile industry. The upcoming elections in Mexico in July 2018 may further complicate matters – if the renegotiations are not completed by then (which is a highly probable scenario), they may be brought to a standstill, especially if the government changes. This presents a great deal of uncertainty for companies that have investments in Mexico.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994, removed trade tariffs and duties on most goods for trade between the USA, Mexico, and Canada. While the deal has been mostly considered a positive in Mexico and Canada, its benefits have often been debated in the USA. The main reason behind this remains the high US trade deficit with Mexico (which stood at around US$64 billion in 2016) and the loss of several US manufacturing jobs to the south of the US border.

The NAFTA issue also found itself at the center of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as he called the treaty one of the worst trade deals ever signed by the USA and talked about withdrawing from it once he came to power. Although several previous presidential campaigns also involved talks of renegotiating NAFTA (including campaigns of both Democratic candidates – Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton, in 2008), none has been as strong-worded as Trump’s campaign. Therefore, with Trump coming to power in 2016, revisiting the 23-year old treaty became largely inevitable.

Chapter 19

Initially threatening to back out from NAFTA, Trump agreed to renegotiations, which according to him would ensure bringing jobs back to the USA. However, a few aspects on the renegotiation agenda are a hard line for Mexico. Firstly, the USA wishes to eliminate Chapter 19 of the treaty, which encompasses a dispute settlement mechanism wherein dispute resolution (in cases such as anti-dumping and countervailing duty disagreements) is undertaken by independent and binational panels instead of domestic courts. This prevents NAFTA countries from putting unfair duties on products from other NAFTA countries to protect their own industries. While the USA is trying to disregard this clause, Mexico is largely opposing it, as without Chapter 19, it would become much easier for the USA to implement protectionist policies and duties that would inherently threaten free trade. However, Mexico is not alone in pushing back this change as Canada also strongly opposes any change in the dispute settlement mechanism.

Impact of NAFTA on Mexico

NAFTA Minimum Wage

Another negotiation objective (where Canada stands in support of the USA), is to incorporate some kind of standardization for trade-related labor issues and wages, by introducing a minimum wage across the three NAFTA participants. This will be greatly damaging for Mexico, which has for long benefited from lower wage rates that have incentivized several industries, such as automobiles, to shift base to Mexico to reduce costs and maximize profits. Stating that wage-related policies are an internal matter, Mexico has strongly opposed any such amendments and may make this a non-negotiable aspect.

Rules of Origin

However, one of the most dampening renegotiation objectives, especially for Mexico and in particular for its the automobile industry, are the restrictive changes to the rules of origin. As per the current NAFTA rules, for a car to qualify for a tariff-free entry in the NAFTA region, 62.5% of the value of the car must have originated in NAFTA countries. Thus, over the years, automobile manufactures have perfected their value chains, wherein auto components such as body-works, engines, gear panels, etc., are manufactured in various parts of NAFTA countries, and then assembled in another part of the region, to attain greatest benefits in terms of costs and quality. However, the current US administration is proposing changes to these rules, which may wash away a great deal of efficiencies and synergies attained by global automobile manufacturers under the current rules. As per the proposal, the US government aims to increase the US content in the finished vehicles to 50% for these products to attain tariff-free entry into the USA. In addition to going against the basic fabric of a free-trade agreement, this will jeopardize the competitiveness of the North American auto industry, which has greatly depended on integrated supply chains that also have deep roots in Mexico. This definitely spells bad news for Mexico, as the economy has significantly benefited from investments made by global automobile manufacturers in the country.

Moreover, apart from increasing the share of US content requirement to 50%, the US administration has also proposed raising the regional content requirement for NAFTA to 85% as against the current 62.5%. While this may seem to be a positive amendment for the region in general, analysts call it largely counter-productive as not all components can be competitively sourced from the North American region. If brought into action, automobile companies would have to spend huge sums to try to source/produce most components in the North American region at competitive prices. However, if they fail to accomplish that (which is quite likely) and as a result are unsuccessful in qualifying for tariff-free entry into NAFTA, they would shift to suppliers outside NAFTA and pay WTO tariff of 2.5% to access the North American market (which they will pass onto the consumers). Such developments might mean that by increasing regional content requirements, the region may end up pushing automobile players away from the region rather than encouraging them to continue and intensify their operations. This will be catastrophic not only for the Mexican automobile sector, but also for the US and Canadian auto market. To make matters tougher, the new proposal asks for technology-based automotive parts, electric vehicle batteries, etc., that are currently not included in the origin tracing list (as they did not exist when the NAFTA was originally negotiated). Most of these products are now sourced from Asian markets.

Due to the US president’s known cold sentiment towards NAFTA, the onus of ensuring the treaty remains unterminated is on Mexico and Canada. While Mexico (along with Canada) has previously mentioned that the American demands to change the rules of origin are unworkable with and unacceptable, the Mexican government is working on a compromise proposal to toughen the rules of origin clause in hope to meet the USA somewhere half-way. As per the proposal, Mexico is willing to accept the extensive tracing list and is also willing to negotiate on the 85% North American content requirement in exchange for the USA withdrawing from the 50% US content provision. The tracing list proposal will be drawn in a manner ensuring that low-cost technology-based components that are currently sourced from Asian countries would be sourced from within North America, especially Mexico. However, the proposal, which is not finalized yet, is not expected to be presented in the current (fifth) round of talks.

Sunset Clause

Mexico and Canada’s openness to negotiate can also be gauged by their willingness to work around the sunset clause proposed by the US administration during the fourth round of negotiations. As per the proposed clause, the treaty will expire every five years unless the member countries agree to keep it in place. While the remaining two parties refused to accept this clause when proposed, they have softened their stance on the matter during the current negotiations and counter-proposed a five-yearly review system. This showcases Mexico and Canada’s keen desire to ensure NAFTA is preserved and their willingness to work around USA’s fixed stance. While the review proposal may be a better option compared with the sunset clause, purely from a business or investment point of view, it still leaves room for a great amount of uncertainty for companies looking to invest, as five-year horizon is too short for several heavy-investment industries such as automobiles.

2018 Mexican Elections

Lastly, it is extremely critical that the negotiations are completed by the set date of March 2018 as any delay will result in their overlap with the 2018 Mexican elections and that will further complicate the matters. NAFTA has not only been instrumental in providing Mexico with economic stability, but has also played a significant political role, especially in terms of economic policy. The basic framework of the treaty has ensured protection for investments and, to an extent, economic equity as over the years it restricted the government from granting protections, incentives, and subsidies to a set of companies or industries, while discriminating against others. The termination of NAFTA would allow the future government to modify the current economic framework of the country, and this will directly impact Mexico’s attractiveness as an investment destination. This becomes all the more relevant in case the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, comes to power in 2018.

Mexico’s Contingency Plans

While Mexico is certainly hopeful and is working towards retaining the NAFTA, it is not putting all its eggs in that one basket alone. Mexican government is looking at deepening Mexico’s ties globally and reducing its dependence on the USA. Mexico is currently negotiating with the EU to modernize its existing FTA which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Moreover, it is looking at Argentina and Brazil as alternative sources of agricultural imports to replace those from the USA. In a similar move, Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, met with his Russian counterpart in Mexico to discuss Mexico’s openness to do business with nations other than the USA. In November 2017, Mexico participated in a meeting of the nations that were formerly a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which ceased to exist in its previous form in early 2017 (we talked about it in our article TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA in May 2017). This meeting resulted in an official announcement that the TPP nations will negotiate a new deal, without the USA, and that it will be called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The creation of CPTPP will provide a much-needed cushion to Mexico’s automobile industry in case NAFTA fails. Also, in case NAFTA toughens its rules of origin but the CPTPP relaxes them, Mexico may continue to be part of the global automobile supply chain (this time in combination with CPTPP members such as Japan, Canada, and Chile – instead of the USA).

EOS Perspective

It is safe to say that Mexico and its automobile industry have a lot riding on the NAFTA negotiations. While Mexico along with Canada are working hard to ensure NAFTA stays, US president’s tough stand on several aspects and his willingness to walk out of the deal in case his demands are not met, complicate the negotiations greatly. It is uncertain how the situation is going to develop, and even if NAFTA continues, new provisions that might find their way into the revised treaty may not offer a great deal of benefits for companies to invest and for intra-regional trade to flourish.

The pressure of upcoming elections in Mexico in 2018 makes the situation even tighter. If the negotiations are not completed before the elections, all progress made up till then can easily go in vain in the event of the government change. Therefore, companies are extremely cautious about investing/expanding in Mexico at the moment, and are likely to wait at least up till mid-next year. They may find respite in the fact that the Mexican government is trying to do its best – both in terms of being flexible during negotiations as well as diversifying its export markets and import sources – but this respite might just not be enough to ease investors’ minds and businesses’ worries over the operating and trade environment within the North American region.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

US Smart Water Meters Roll-out – Do Utility Companies Stand a Chance amid User Resistance and Funding Shortage?

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The global smart water management market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.9% during 2016-2021, reaching US$20.1 billion by 2021, with USA expected to be one of the leading markets. Water utility companies across the country are focusing on installing smart water meters and replacing the old ones. Swapping the meters is a step towards deploying the infrastructure that manages water usage smartly, however, monetary, administrative, technological, and user acceptance challenges associated with adoption of this technology tend to overwhelm the public utility companies.

In the USA, just as in several other markets globally, the growth of the smart water metering industry can be attributed to the increased concern about water scarcity, reduction of water leakage, and upgrading the aging water infrastructure. Also with drought conditions becoming a common scenario in major parts of the country, the need for smart water meters to monitor both the usage and wastage of water has escalated.

Several water utilities across the USA have pursued automated metering infrastructure to monitor water usage. However, the cost of implementing smart technology is a concern for these utility companies, and acts as a major barrier to country-wide adoption. Some areas in the USA have succeeded in adopting and implementing advanced water metering solutions with the help of government funds. One such initiative was taken in 2016, when the New York Department of Environmental Protection awarded a US$68.3 million contract to ESCO’s Aclara RF Systems, a supplier of utility solutions, to provide advanced metering infrastructure solution for the city’s water service territory with 875,000 meters serving nearly eight million customers.

While such initiatives are helpful, the extent and availability of the government funds is limited, and it seems that support in the form of public funds to deploy smart water meters is crucial in driving the change on a nationwide scale. Indeed, the last period, in which US utilities saw an upsurge in spending on smart metering infrastructure, was around 2010, when US smart water meter investment reached US$395 million, coinciding with stimulus funding programs from public agencies, such as Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

As such funding flow from public programs slows down, so does the infrastructure investment, clearly indicating the inability by the utility companies to carry out such major upgradations by themselves. And they are not to be blamed, as there is a major resistance from their customers (especially residential users) to accept higher prices for such basic necessities as water, in the event the utility companies would want to generate funds through such a route. Many customers, in general, throw roadblocks at utilities’ smart metering roll out plans. Frequently, they simply do not want such meters, following reports of water bills doubling after smart meters installation for some residential users. Moreover, many residents raise questions with regards to health, privacy, overbilling issues, with resistance resulting in the rise of organizations such as StopSmartMeters.org, an advocacy group originating from California. With such a sentiment in some communities, it is virtually impossible to convince the users to accept higher prices to generate funds needed by utility companies for smart infrastructure investments.

The needs for funding are vast and frequently the availability of funds at public utilities does not match the requirement to roll out and integrate an extensive network of smart meters with the existing infrastructure. Such roll outs can only be done in phases, to accommodate for both availability of funds and network integration. For instance, Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), a three service municipal public utility company, first started rolling out the smart meter program in 2013, when about 60,000 customers in Memphis area had the new meters installed. The initiative moved to the next phase only in 2016, when Honeywell, a technology conglomerate, was selected to deploy smart meters over next five years for MLGW. The US$200 million contract included deploying one million meters (across three utilities) in MLGW’s service territory and providing the customers with access to their consumption data in order for them to manage the utilities usage in real time rather than seeing it after receiving the bill.

The MLGW service area is not fully covered with smart meters yet, as many layers of infrastructure must be developed simultaneously or ahead of time of the roll out. The smart grid project is still under way at MLGW, and includes development of fiber optic communications system required before even a single smart meter is operational in a particular area. MLGW received public funding for this section of the project, however it is only partially covered by a federal grant. The rest of the funds to develop these complex systems that require broader IT environment, including fiber optic or wireless connections, repeaters and gateways, analytical software, hydraulic modelling and network monitoring, must be typically generated by the utility companies.

Smart Water Meters

EOS Perspective

Many US water utility companies are switching from traditional mechanical meters for water reading to smart meters that capture real-time or near-real-time data about water usage and leakage. However, the transition has unquestionably been slower than desired, mainly because of the high cost of installing smart meters and related infrastructure, a major issue that continues to delay the deployment of smart meters across the country. The cost difference is indeed considerable – according to DC Water, a water services company based in Washington, DC, it costs an average of US$180 to install a smart meter in the capital as against a regular analog meter that costs around US$25. Replacing the old water lines with the new automated metering infrastructure also calls for a huge investment. As per a survey conducted in 2016 by West Monroe Partners, a US-based consulting firm, only 20% of the water utilities in the country adopted the automated water meters citing cost as a barrier to implementing smart meter technology.

Implementation of automated water meters is a complex task not only from the point of view of finances required but also with regards to the technological advancement, which is an ongoing process. Current generation of smart water devices have in-built capabilities that easily track water usage and detect leaks, but the technology continues to develop. As technological advancements intensify, it will not take long till the existing so-called smart meters will not support the features required in the future, making the present-day water meters obsolete. This is a considerable challenge for water companies when engaging in costly infrastructure projects. No utility provider will spend huge amount of money on smart meter today, only to replace them in a couple of years.

The limited government funding further complicates the situation for public utilities, putting a break on the smart meters systems truly taking off. With no clear funding policies, the road ahead is bumpy to achieve the goal of installing automated water metering systems throughout the country. US administration’s limited commitment to support installations, makes it difficult to anticipate by when the US water systems will be benefiting from smart technology. This uncertainty about the political will, clear resistance by some users, paired with high costs and the installations being outpaced by changing technology, make it hard to arrive with reasonable expectations of the timeframe in which consistent and widespread installations will be completed across the country. Till then, despite the fact that smart water metering can help reduce water loss and generate significant savings, a system that is only partially run with smart meters will not offer savings and smart management to its full potential.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

USA-China Solar Dispute – Will Sanctions Really Aid the US Solar Market?

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Trade disputes are not a rare sight in the current competitive era. Especially the USA and China have a history of such disputes in last couple of decades and both have locked horns again, this time over solar equipment trade. Chinese manufacturers are being accused of unfair trade practices as they sell solar modules at a considerably lower prices than producers from other countries, using government subsidies to finance their operations and to create a glut of imports. In response to such a practice, American manufactures filed a petition with US International Trade Commission (USITC) seeking steep tariffs and a floor price for the Chinese solar imports. The commission voted on the merits of the petition in late September 2017, and decided that there has indeed been a considerable damage to the US manufacturers. The USITC’s recommendations for sanctions will be sent to the White House to decide the course of action in the following month. If sanctions are introduced, will the US producers be the ultimate winner after the final verdict in November?

The solar power generation technology was invented in the USA which have dominated the solar industry for last three decades of 20th century. The global solar industry is now a US$100 billion market, a fact that leads to a large number of players being interested in grabbing their share of this mammoth opportunity. As solar energy is considered clean and renewable, countries suffering from high pollution levels increasingly demand efficient and cheap solar energy generation equipment.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market. With China rising as a manufacturer of cheaper solar equipment since 2011, it has become increasingly difficult for other players to compete with China, and many producers, especially in the USA, are not very pleased with that.

This strong demand is expected to continue, luring many players around the globe towards venturing into solar equipment manufacturing and this in turn has led to intense competition in this market.

This is not the first solar battle between the USA and China. The countries were in a solar dispute back in 2011 when the USA hit China with 25-70% tariffs on solar module exports. It was due to a trade complaint filed by SolarWorld Americas along with six other US manufacturers about unethical trade practices undertaken by their Chinese counterparts. And now, Suniva, a Georgia-based solar cell and module manufacturer, filed a Safeguard Petition with the USITC in April 2017, just one week after it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The USITC, in its unanimous vote, agreed that the US companies suffered injury from cheap imports. Following these developments, the markets are waiting for the president Trump’s decision over the case in November, and if the White House follows with sanctions and remedies, this might be the beginning of a significant wave of changes in the solar equipment market.

China has not always been the market leader for solar products. Way back in 1990s, when Germany could not meet its rising domestic demand for solar equipment, it started working with Chinese players to manufacture the equipment for German market. Germany did not only provide the capital and technology but also some of their solar energy experts to those Chinese manufacturers.

The high demand was a result of German government’s incentive program to use the rooftop solar panels. Needless to say, those Chinese players happily accepted the opportunity. Further they got lured with the rising demand for solar equipment in other European countries such as Spain and Italy, where similar incentive programs started to be rolled out. The Chinese producers started hiring experts and expanding their capacities to tap the surge in demand.

With rising pollution levels and global demand for cleaner energy, solar industry became an attractive opportunity for China, and this resulted in the government’s willingness to invest as much as US$47 billion to develop China’s solar industry. With the beginning of 21st century, China started inviting foreign companies to set up plants in the country and take benefit of its cheap labor.

The Chinese government also introduced loans and tax incentives for renewable energy equipment manufacturers. By 2010, the solar equipment production in China increased at such levels that there were almost two panels made for every one demanded by an importer. In 2011, China took the German route and started incentivizing domestic rooftop solar installations, which rocketed the domestic demand so much that it surpassed Germany’s in 2015 to become the largest globally. China deployed 20 GW capacity in the first half of 2016, whereas the entire US capacity at that time was 31 GW.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment, be it through subsidies for the purchase of the land for factories or through lower interest loans from banks. These moves and gigantic Chinese production capacities drove the global solar panel prices down by 80% from 2008 to 2013, which further increased China’s exports as its prices were the lowest.

Before 2009, the USA used to import very little from China in the solar domain and by the end of 2013, the Chinese imports rose to over 49% of total solar panels deployed in the USA. This increase in the imports resulted in 26 US solar manufacturers filing for bankruptcy in 2011, one of which was SolarWorld which also filed a trade complaint. The situation was not very different in several European countries.

The Chinese government started perceiving solar power generation as a strategic industry. It started a range of initiatives to help the domestic manufacturers to increase production of solar equipment.

China was accused of unfair trading and dumping exports below market prices which led the Obama government and EU to imposing import duties of 25-70% on Chinese solar products in 2011 for the following four years. In return, in 2012 China threatened to impose tariffs on US imports of polysilicon used in solar cells, and actually announced tariffs of 53.5% to 57% in 2013. Also, finding loopholes in the tariff system imposed by the Americans, Chinese manufacturers set up facilities in countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, as the tariffs were not applicable for imports from those countries. The US imports of Chinese solar products continued.

The current Suniva’s case has received a mixed support within the US solar industry. While the US solar installers, for obvious reasons, will not support the case, some of the well-known manufacturers in the country have also stood up against it. They think the tariffs will almost double the prices of solar equipment in the USA which will eventually lower the demand of their products as well.

Following the USITC vote agreeing with Suniva’s petition, the industry is awaiting the final decision on the extent of the recommended tariffs and remedies, which are expected to affect jobs, innovation, and growth of the solar industry in various ways.

Impact of tariff decision on jobs in solar industry

Out of the total 260,000 US solar jobs, installers accounted for more than 80%, and around 38,000 people were working in manufacturing in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015. As the prices of solar panels dropped to around US$0.4/watt in 2016 from US$0.57/watt in 2015 thanks to the availability of cheap Chinese imports, solar installations boomed in the USA.

Manufacturers and experts supporting the Suniva case (supporters) argue that if the suggested tariffs of US$0.4/watt on imported cells and a minimum price of US$0.78/watt on panels are implemented, it will help the domestic manufacturing and around 114,800 new jobs will be created. The installers and some manufacturers opposing the case (adversaries) say that the tariffs on import will hurt everyone including the manufacturing sector. If the prices increase, this will cause the demand to go down which is likely to affect around 88,000 jobs in the US solar industry.

A group of 27 US solar equipment manufacturers including companies such as PanelClaw, Aerocompact, IronRidge, SMASHsolar, Pegasus Solar, on behalf of their combined 5,700 employees, wrote a letter to trade commissioners not to impose new import tariffs. With Chinese solar imports as high as 49% of the total US requirement, increased prices are expected to affect thousands of jobs in the solar installation sector which is the primary sub-sector of solar industry.

However, if the Chinese imports continue at the current rate, the demand for solar equipment will eventually decrease. Over long term, the manufacturers will have to lower their production and installers will have no new clients. So, the economy of scale effect will not work after that and that might affect the US solar jobs.

Impact of tariff decision on innovation in solar industry

The one factor that genuinely seems affected with the rise of China in the solar industry is innovation. Being the pioneers of the solar power generation technology, Americans are undoubtedly good at innovation. However, with dozens of US companies being on the verge of bankruptcy and lowering sales for remaining manufacturers because of glut of cheaper Chinese imports, the innovation budgets have seen a large blow in the country.

China is still producing the first generation, traditional solar modules and doing little, if anything at all, to improve the efficiency of the existing products. Chinese are not known for investing much in R&D departments and top seven Chinese solar manufacturers invested a mere 1.25% of total sales in R&D in 2015. Compared with what electronics firms invested in 2015 towards R&D, this number is six times lower. Compared with US clean energy firms, Chinese firms patent 72% less.

However, the US innovation receives targeted help and support from the government, which is not the case for Chinese innovation. US Department of Energy has come up with a loan program of US$32 billion to help clean energy companies innovate efficient solar products while still being price competitive with Chinese products. Nonetheless, US innovations are expected to dry up if the Chinese solar equipment dumping continues.

US-China Solar Dispute

Impact of tariff decision on solar industry growth

Growth of the solar industry should probably be the prime factor to consider for the Trade Commission and the White House while deciding about the potential introduction of solar tariffs.

As of 2016, US solar industry is worth roughly around US$23 billion. Moreover, solar energy accounted for 40% of new generation in the US power grid and 10% of total renewable energy generated in the USA in 2016, while the recent cost declines have led American utilities to procure more solar energy. This energy has witnessed 68% of average annual growth rate in terms of new generation capacity in the USA in last decade and as of first half of 2017, over 47 GW of solar capacity is installed to power 9.1 million American houses. There are currently about 9,000 solar companies in the USA employing around 260,000 people. In 2016, solar power generation was at 0.9% of total US power generation, a share that is expected to grow to more than 3% in 2020 and hit 5% in 2022.

The Suniva case supporters believe that this growth can slow down once the solar equipment demand is satisfied through Chinese imports, which is likely to eventually lead to job cuts and no innovation that in turn will put a break on any further growth in the US sector. They also argue that the solar equipment manufacturing sector in the USA will be destroyed if the right steps are not taken to safeguard the manufacturers from cheaper imports.

After the tariffs are introduced, for some time, the prices will be parallel for locally manufactured as well as imported solar products. Later on, with innovation and competitiveness between the domestic manufacturers coming back (currently absent from US solar market), the prices are expected to go down as per the allies.

At the same time, the Suniva case adversaries believe that the dream run for solar industry’s growth in the USA should not be hindered by imposing tariffs on imports as it will jeopardize even up to half of all solar installations expected to be demanded by 2022. In case of US$0.78/watt minimum module price scenario, US solar equipment installation is expected to fall from 72.5 GW to 36.4 GW between 2018 and 2022 or to 25 GW in case of US$1.18/watt minimum price scenario.

Solar energy is believed to be price sensitive and if the government aims to motivate the clean energy development, the origin of equipment used for this development should not matter. Some of the US solar equipment manufacturers are even opposing the tariffs which means they think there is still potential in the domestic manufacturing industry and with innovation they can gradually increase their share in the market.

EOS Perspective

The US government will have to take a responsible decision on the trade tariffs. The issue looks very sensitive and can directly affect the growth of the US energy sector. A win-win situation seems impossible if the tariffs are levied, and in its deliberations the government should consider the effects of the past US tariffs imposed on Chinese products. When the USA took anti-dumping steps against Chinese steel, China fired back with tariffs on caprolactam, a textile material. China re-imposed duties on US broiler chickens, after the USA announced duties on Chinese tires in June 2015.

So, none of the trade wars have proved to be beneficial for either of the sides. In the current dispute, the stakes are also high, and the wrong decision might have repercussions in a range of sectors. For instance, China placed a US$38 billion order to Boeing for commercial aircraft in 2015, an order that has not been delivered yet. This aspect should be kept in mind by the USA.

China currently dominates solar products supply with 80% of global solar equipment manufacturing capacity. The USA need to understand that their role in the global solar market is decreasing, and is no longer what it used to be. It would be beneficial for the USA to focus on strengthening the role in innovation of solar technology rather than looking to be the leading solar equipment manufacturer by volume.

Even if the US government supports the manufacturers by slapping tariffs on imports, the country is not ready with the required infrastructure for solar generation equipment manufacturing to satisfy the domestic demand in absence of the imports from other countries. Solar equipment producers cannot instantly set up infrastructure to manufacture a number of solar products, such as solar cells, junction boxes, extruded aluminum, glass, etc., that too in a cost-effective model. President Trump’s support for reviving local manufacturing, while at the same time favoring fossil fuels over the green energy (also manifested through his withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord), makes the outcome of the case uncertain, and interesting to follow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Can Luxury Swiss Watches Stand the Test of Time?

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Swiss watches have long been synonymous with innovation, elegance, and class. These pieces have been considered the standard of sophistication and finesse, making their producers the undisputed leaders of the luxury watch market. But as the saying goes “what rises must fall”, the rock solid foundation of this popularity is going thorough turbulent times. The industry has seen a hard time in the past two years, as Swiss-made watches exports have recently declined. We are taking a look into what has led to low exports of these watches and whether the industry is ready to take any steps to see a revival in the near future.

Swiss watchmakers dominate the luxury watch segment with close to 50% of the global market share controlled by three Swiss watch manufacturers (Swatch Group, Richemont, and Rolex). As of 2016, these luxury watches were exported across all continents – Asia (53%), Europe (31%), Americas (14%), Africa (1%), and Oceania (1%). Hong Kong, USA, and China are the top three export markets.

The Swiss watch industry has been facing difficulties since 2015, when the year ending exports by value of Swiss watches stood at US$ 21.5 billion (CHF 21.5 billion), a 3.1% decline from 2014. The situation worsened in 2016, when the exports were further 9.7% lower than in 2015, falling to the lowest level since 2011. This was mainly due to a sharp decline in sales across Asia, especially Hong Kong and China, which are among the industry’s top export markets. Hong Kong is the most crucial market for Swiss watches – its share decreased from 14.4% in 2015 to 11.9% in 2016. During the span of five years between 2012 and 2016, exports to Hong Kong reduced by 46.5%. The third largest export market, China, was also affected and observed a decline of 18.7% in value exports over the five year period. The situation has not been so dramatic in the USA. Exports share held by the USA also went down between 2012 and 2016, showing a marginal decrease of 0.45%. The Swiss watch industry, over the period of five years, also saw a fall in sales volume globally, declining by almost 13% from 29.1 million units in 2012 to 25.3 million units in 2016.

The year 2017 also did not start on a positive note for the Swiss watch industry. The first quarter of the year recorded a drop of 3.1% in unit exports to 5.6 million from 5.9 million in 2016. Similar trend was observed in the change of exports value. The industry generated US$ 4.5 billion (CHF 4.5 billion) from exports during January to March in 2017, a figure showing a 3% decrease in export value from US$ 4.6 billion (CHF 4.6 billion) in 2016 and a 11.6% lower from US$ 5.1 billion (CHF 5.1 billion) in 2015 in the first quarter. Exports to Hong Kong and USA also took a plunge during the first three months of 2017 – the value of exports for Hong Kong was lower by 0.1% and 31.6% when compared to 2016 and 2015, respectively, in the USA exports were lower by 4.2% and 18.9% in contrast to 2016 and 2015, respectively. However, China gained 16.6% (over 2016) and 7.9% (over 2015) in exports value. But this small achievement does not paint a rosy picture for the luxury watch industry for 2017. With exports taking a dive globally, the downward trend is expected to continue over the coming months.

The dip in exports to Hong Kong and China is a cause of worry. Economic slowdown in Hong Kong is one of the reasons responsible for slumping sales of luxury watches here. Hong Kong also attracts a large number of Chinese travelers each year solely for shopping purposes. The country is heavily dependent on China in terms of trade and tourism, and any drastic change in China’s economic situation affecting the buying patterns of Chinese consumers can be seen across Hong Kong as well. The launch of anti-corruption campaign in China by President Xi Jinping in November 2012 has also affected the sales of luxury watches. The campaign keeps a strict check on government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises who indulge in extravagant show-off of property, luxury belongings, or other similar expensive assets. Under the new amendments made to the campaign in 2014, both the payer and payee of a bribe are to be penalized. This has made consumers wary of buying Swiss luxury watches, among other lavish goods, as a gifting item to high rank government officials. The Swiss watch market has been hit by this policy and the impact on luxury watches sales has been negative. Another reason that has led to the decrease in luxury watches exports is the strengthening of the Swiss Franc. After the Swiss National Bank removed the cap on the exchange rate to prevent the Swiss Franc from over appreciating in 2015, importing products from Switzerland in these Asian countries became more expensive which has disturbed exports.

Swiss luxury watchmakers also face tough competition from smartwatch manufacturers. In 2016, 21.1 million smartwatches were shipped as against 25.3 million Swiss watches. The volume gap between the two types of watches is expected to further reduce in the coming years. With most of the smartwatches priced in the range of US$ 400 to US$ 1,000, the high-end luxury watch market does not feel too much competitive pressure from the smartwatch industry. It is the low-cost and mid-tier segments of the luxury watches that are facing the largest threat. Luxury watchmakers are introducing their own line of smart watches to deal with this threat posed by smartwatch manufacturers.

Luxury watch market is also not free of counterfeit products. The urge to own a luxury piece without burning a hole in the pocket is a dream of many, pushing some consumers to settle down for fake items at affordable prices. With better mechanical parts and improvement in aesthetics over the years, the fake copies have improved in quality. Every year, 40 million fake pieces are produced (against 30 million original Swiss watches), as per figures published by Federation of Swiss Watch Industry. With more fakes than genuine products available in the market, the Swiss industry needs to find ways to curb the illegal sales of counterfeit products and prevent erosion of own sales.

EOS Perspective

In the current challenging environment, Swiss watchmakers are forced to rethink their business strategies. With plunging exports, the manufacturers are focusing on introducing new products enabled with newer technologies and gradually stepping into the smartwatch market to attract buyers. For instance, Swatch Group, in 2015, launched ‘pay-by-the-wrist’ watch named Swatch Bellamy. With built-in NFC technology, the watch allows the user to pay for their purchases. Another example is Mont Blanc, part of the luxury Swiss manufacturer Richemont Group, which introduced Montblanc Summit that runs on Google’s Android Wear 2 platform. The watch is equipped with features such as heart-rate monitor but still looks like a classic mechanical watch. The watch aims at offering consumers a unique experience of wearing a smartwatch which does not resemble a typical smartwatch, a factor important for many style-oriented users.

In the midst of these risks hovering above the luxury watch industry, we believe innovation, adoption of new technology, and expanding into new markets should be the top priorities for watch manufacturers in the coming years. There is some concern about how long will it take for the luxury watch industry to revive from the current turbulent situation, but this definitely does not indicate the death knell for the Swiss watch makers anytime soon.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Japan Hopes to Get a Slice of Mercosur Opportunity Cake as LATAM Exports to USA Decline

In early May 2017, representatives from Japan and Mercosur, a sub-regional alliance consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, met to discuss trade and investment between the nations with the aim to promote free trade and fluid movement of goods. Over the past years, business between Mercosur and Japan has been badly affected mainly by outdated trade policies that have not been revised in a long time. To improve economic relations between Japan and member countries of Mercosur, trade policies need to be renewed and new sectors of investment should be explored.

In 2016, Japan exports to Mercosur nations reached US$3.5 billion and imports from Mercosur totaled US$7.6 billion. Both exports and imports drastically reduced since 2012, taking a hit of 52% and 42.8%, respectively.

Japan and Argentina

After a decade of slow business dealings, trade relations between Japan and Argentina are showing signs of improvement. The number of Japanese companies operating in Argentina reduced from 120 in the 1990s to 54 by the end of 2007. However, the interest of Japanese businesses in the Argentinian market has started to return since the last quarter of 2015, with 78 companies currently in operation in Argentina, and Japan aims to have a minimum of 200 Japanese companies operating in the coming years. According to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), in 2016, Japanese exports to Argentina stood at US$630 million, primary exports being machinery and electronics. Imports to Japan were worth US$762 million in the same year.

In order to boost Argentina’s economy, president Mauricio Macri has focused on reviving infrastructure projects in the country. Taking an advantage of this opportunity, Japanese trading companies are keeping a close watch on upcoming rail contracts. Marubeni Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Mitsui & Co., three of the largest trading companies in Japan, are interested in sales of passenger rail cars in Argentina and planning on submitting bids as part of the new proposed projects. Japanese companies plan to invest between US$6 billion and US$9 billion in Argentina during 2017-2020. The investments are likely to be made across various sectors including mining, energy, and agriculture, among others. With more sectors now open to investment, Japan hopes to boost trade in the broader Latin American market.

Japan and Brazil

Brazil is a large investment market for Japan. With close to 700 Japanese companies currently operating in Brazil, the commercial and industrial opportunities the country offers are unquestionable. In 2016, Japan imported goods worth US$6.7 billion from Brazil, a drop by 10.6% over the previous year when the imports stood at US$7.5 billion. Japan and Brazil are now partnering to strengthen trade and investment between the two countries to spur increase in trade.

Brazil offers Japan a considerable investment opportunity in infrastructure projects. After the Cooperation Agreement for the Promotion of Infrastructure Investments was signed in October 2016, investment in areas such as transportation, logistics, information technology, and energy is expected to increase. At the same time, Japan is a large market for Brazilian agricultural products such as soy, corn, and cotton, but Brazil is also interested to enter the fruit and beef market in Japan. While discussions and negotiations regarding the entry of Brazilian products in the Japanese market are still under way, issues related to hygiene and sanitary standards still need to be addressed.

Japan and Paraguay

Paraguay is one of the least explored countries in terms of trade by Japanese firms. Between 2011 and 2014, only some 10 Japanese companies established operations in Paraguay. Japanese exports to Paraguay stood at US$77.5 million in 2016 while imports from Paraguay were reported at US$41.6 million during the same year. Japanese companies plan to invest in Paraguay to improve business and generate revenue in sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, and energy, which are seen as areas of opportunities in the future.

Japan and Uruguay

In January 2015, the countries signed a Japan-Uruguay Investment Agreement – the first investment agreement between Japan and any member of Mercosur. Uruguay has become an attractive destination for Japanese investors mainly due to the country’s economic and political stability, low level of corruption, and easy inflow of FDI in the country. Additionally, Japanese companies are provided with the same opportunities and conditions as domestic firms. Uruguay offers the benefit of being able to serve as a distribution hub and boasts of good logistical services to other Mercosur countries – Japanese companies are likely take this as an opportunity to develop an overseas base to strengthen business ties within the region. Uruguay largely depends on natural resources such as wind, water, solar, and biomass to produce energy, making the renewable energy sector in the country another attractive area for investment by Japanese companies in the coming years.

EOS Perspective

The arrival of Trump’s administration leading to USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership and focus on encouraging domestic industrialization by limiting imports from countries across Latin America, have resulted in several LATAM countries’ attempts to improve and tighten friendly trade relations within their own region as well as with new partners globally, including Asia – we wrote about it in our article Trump In Action: Triumph Or Tremor For Latin America? in February 2017. Japan appears to be willing to use this situation to its advantage by renewing trade and investment policies with Mercosur nations as well.

In the past five years, exports and imports value have declined continuously between Japan and Mercosur nations, and to reverse this declining trend and to revive trade, Japan started to build new trading relationships with Mercosur countries. If successful, this initiative is likely to serve two purposes – firstly, Mercosur countries can reduce dependence on the USA and move towards new markets to look for new opportunities, and secondly, through increased investment in Mercosur, Japan can become a prominent player in the region to reap benefits from engaging in business with several emerging countries.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a regional trade agreement involving twelve countries on the Pacific Rim: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA, and Vietnam. TPP was to be the largest regional trade agreement as the countries involved accounted for 40% of the world’s GDP and 26% of global trade by value. TPP differed from usual trade partnerships as the agreement, along with focus on free trade, also promoted intellectual property protection, enhanced labor standards, and environmental protection, as well as took into account the needs of a digitized global economy – setting new standards for 21st-century global trading environment.

Negotiations on the deal were concluded in October 2015 and representatives from each country signed the agreement in February 2016. TPP was to come in effect after approval of the agreement by each country’s legislature. Before the deal could materialize, the newly elected president of the USA, Donald Trump, issued an executive order in January 2017 withdrawing the country from the process – leaving remaining member-countries in a lurch.

As per the terms, TPP could come in effect only if ratified by six countries accounting for 85% of the group’s total GDP. Since the USA accounted for about 60% of the groups’ total GDP, its withdrawal killed the deal in a literal sense. However, the remaining eleven countries are still clung to the idea of TPP and are reluctant to throw away years of negotiation. This leads to a question – can TPP survive without the USA? We take a look at the countries’ take on a newly proposed TPP agreement involving the group of eleven countries, without the USA.

Japan to lead the pact

When the USA opted out from TPP, the first reaction of the prime minister of Japan reaffirmed that the trade deal was meaningless without participation of the USA – the largest market in the group. Soon Japan realized that even through eleven-member TPP it can still yield net economic gains in medium-sized markets such as Australia and Vietnam. Moreover, this deal was essential to reduce the dominance of China in the region. Since TPP has been an integral part of the Japanese government’s growth strategy, the country took a U-turn from its previous stance and took the lead in pushing forward the relaunch of TPP involving eleven member countries.

Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Canada still in favor of the deal

Australia and New Zealand, being advocates of trade liberalization, were among the first few countries to express their intention to continue with TPP without the USA. Through the eleven-country TPP, Australia and New Zealand aim to gain access to new markets such as Canada, Mexico, and Peru, with which these countries do not have any trade agreements. Moreover, New Zealand expects to gain about two thirds of the US$2.7 billion in estimated annual benefits (after 15 years) if the eleven-member TPP is implemented with terms similar to original deal. This indicates that TPP would result in net economic benefit for the members even without participation of the USA.

Singapore, being an export-oriented economy, strongly favors multilateral trading system especially with like-minded trading partners and thereby the country is likely to support eleven-member TPP.

In a bid to strengthen its economic ties with the pact, especially with Japan, Canada has also shown interest in renegotiating the TPP with remaining eleven countries and urges other nations to join the trade deal.

These countries believe that it would be better to have a weakened TPP without the US participation than to have no TPP at all.

Latin countries sense distinct opportunity

Mexico has enjoyed free access to markets of its largest trading partners – the USA and Canada – since 1994 through North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As Trump administration turns unfriendly and hostile towards Mexico, threatening to renegotiate or even withdraw from NAFTA, Mexico is looking to diversify its trading options to counter the effect. Under such circumstances, Mexico is more than willing to pursue an eleven-member TPP that will open new markets for the country.

Smaller countries such as Chile and Peru are also keen on going ahead with the proposed eleven-member TPP so as to gain access to Asian markets.

Some Asian countries may lack enough incentive to continue with TPP in absence of the USA

Without participation of the USA, it seems difficult to lure countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam that agreed to change rules on state-owned enterprises and deregulate key sectors such as finance, telecommunications, and retail in anticipation of gaining access to the US market. Both the countries signaled waning enthusiasm for TPP in absence of their largest target market – the USA. For instance, through the twelve-member TPP, Vietnam was expecting its textile exports to increase by 40%, primarily due to free access to the US market at 0% tariff. Thus, without the USA, the expected economic benefits of TPP would drastically reduce for Vietnam as well as Malaysia.

In such a scenario, these countries might give preference to alternative trade agreements such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that includes seven of the TPP members (i.e. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand). Launched in 2015 and backed by China, RCEP is the proposed trade agreement aimed to economically integrate 16 countries in Asia and Oceania region, however, this trade deal lacks the elements of intellectual property protection or labor and environment laws that TPP is set apart with. Brunei, the smallest economy in the pact, is actively involved in further discussions, however, its final take on eleven-member TPP is still unclear.

EOS Perspective

While the twelve-member TPP is effectively dead, the new TPP, if at all formed and implemented in future, would be very different from the original one. Being the largest economy in the group, the USA had great negotiation power in development of the original TPP. With the USA’s exit, the power dynamics have changed and the remaining member countries might want to reconsider certain terms that they agreed upon only under the pressure of the USA. For instance, Malaysia could demand change in TPP’s rules that restrict the country to offer preferential treatment to ethnic Malays in government contracts. Such difference in power dynamics might indicate that the eleven-member TPP negotiation process is unlikely to be as simple as just striking ‘the USA’ off the 5,000+ page agreement. It might take years of discussions and renegotiations before the member countries could reach a consensus.

Furthermore, increasing participation from other countries is one way to fill the void left by the USA. TPP members have extended invitation to several countries, including China and UK. China immediately rejected the proposal stating that the TPP is very complex and the country is rather focused on RCEP. In the meantime, UK is yet to confirm its intent. UK is looking to deepen ties with other countries to boost trade after Brexit, thus, joining the TPP might be a good decision, as this might possibly allow the country to have direct access to the markets of the current eleven member countries. However, UK would need to objectively weigh in the estimated benefits of joining TPP as against the stringent requirements of the deal.

At this stage, the future of TPP is uncertain. In the end, all countries act in the best interest of their own economies as well as own political aspirations. Though the ambitious TPP proposal laid out a strong vision for international rules-based trade and investment system for global digital economy, it is far from implementation unless it ensures satisfactory benefits for all the countries involved.

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