The horror of public interest

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"Was thinking about writing something in relation to Halloween and horror movies but decided not to. Instead, here’s something even more boringly scarifying: the intricacies behind the concept of 'public interest' in trade remedy measures."


Our president and theirs

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"It must be emphasized that we should treat these academic credentials and past experiences as the minimum requirements. On top of that, we need a leader who has integrity, judgment, genuine love of country, and a clear idea of where he wants to lead this country to.

It’s up to the voters of today if they want to settle for less and continue the practice of the past by voting for the least common denominator. Or take the time and effort to look for somebody we can rightly trust the presidency with.

It’s quite true, really: people get the leaders they deserve. If we compromise or set low standards or (worse) are corrupt, then we shouldn’t complain if those are the characteristics of the leaders we get."

Of course there's the lie going around nowadays that credentials and achievements and experience doesn't matter. Which is ridiculous. For how else would we know if that person can achieve the promises he gives if it weren't for the indications that his background brings? If the presidents of academic and executive experience in the past somehow didn't live up to expectations, then our response should be is to be even more stringent and demanding in our standards and not to do away with it all together.

Besides, with today's global economy, the job just got much harder and gentlemen leaders from the 'elite' (if there is such a thing) can't realistically be expected to handle it with a mere sense of noblesse oblige as their sole qualification. If there's one thing that's quite obvious from the backgrounds of world leaders I surveyed is that one senses a long and arduous preparation for the job. They went through rigorous academic training and then a series of ministerial or executive positions (some of which involving stints with the military, which gives excellent training on organization) before landing the top job. Even men like Lee Hsien Loong, who would have been expected to be handed the job simply because he is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, actually had a perceivably methodical and purposeful training before he got the prime minister position of Singapore.

Those are the kind of people we should be looking for to fill leadership spots. Not some rich kid who happened to have his mother die and whose main outstanding trait seems to be his inoffensiveness or some articulate rich kid who happens to be the lookalike of a lead singer of a local band.

Change, real change, isn't really pretty and usually isn't nice. We need somebody we trust can get the job done and done with integrity and love of country.


Taxing liquor

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"It would be interesting to see how that turns out. The dispute is formally lodged as Philippines — Taxes on Distilled Spirits (docketed as DS396). There have been three (only three) liquor tax disputes that went through the gauntlet of the WTO dispute settlement system and all three were resolved in favor of the complainants. For avid students of trade legal history, all three cases included the EC as complainant. Although, theoretically, stare decisis is not followed in international law, recent empirical studies have shown that complainants in WTO disputes remarkably win over 90% of the cases that go into litigation. This is a win-rate far above that of any domestic tribunal. Nevertheless, the Philippines certainly has deep expertise on its side as our very own (and founding WTO Appellate Body member) Justice Florentino Feliciano sat as a judge in the three-man tribunal for the second case (on Korean liquor taxes) and presided over the third (Chilean liquor taxes)."


Trade on top

Trade wins over protectionism (as it should). This is what Dani Rodrik seems to be saying in this quite appreciated article:

"There was a dog that didn’t bark during the financial crisis: protectionism. Despite much hue and cry about it, governments have, in fact, imposed remarkably few trade barriers on imports. Indeed, the world economy remains as open as it was before the crisis struck."

The reasons for international trade's triumph is laid out in the article as well:

"The reality is that the international trade regime has passed its greatest test since the Great Depression with flying colours. Trade economists who complain about minor instances of protectionism sound like a child whining about a damaged toy in the wake of an earthquake that killed thousands.

Three things explain this remarkable resilience: ideas, politics and institutions.

Economists have been extraordinarily successful in conveying their message to policymakers—even if ordinary people still regard imports with considerable suspicion. Nothing reflects this better than how “protection” and “protectionists” have become terms of derision. After all, governments are generally expected to provide protection to their citizens. But if you say that you favour protection “from imports”, you are painted into a corner with Reed Smoot and Willis C. Hawley, authors of the infamous 1930 US tariff bill.

But economists’ ideas would not have gone very far without significant changes in the underlying configuration of political interests in favour of open trade. For every worker and firm affected by import competition, there is one or more worker and firm expecting to reap the benefits of access to markets abroad."

Now if only local protectionists could be exposed for their intellectual bankruptcy, the sooner the Philippines could get economic competitiveness.


About work

Here's a very good article (A Philosophical Proposal for the Sanctification of Work) by Maria Pia Chirinos of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Excerpts:

"Although the newness of this message has already been the object of a number of insightful studies, it is worthwhile considering once again the cultural parameters that made it hard for people to grasp the unity between work, virtue and contemplation during the early decades of the twentieth century.

A first answer comes from the history of Catholic spiritual theology. It is here that the separation (and at times the opposition) between the contemplative and active life presented a strong impediment to accepting this innovation. At the same time, it is also true that the topic of work had already found an echo in the concern of the Church’s magisterium for social questions. Nevertheless, although the timeliness of the topic of work was clear, the cultural parameters also included philosophical, economic and social outlooks that impeded a positive approach to work and an adequate anthropological grounding."


RP-EC trade row

BusinessWorld reports that the consultations held last 08 October 2009 (erroneously reported as last Friday) still left unresolved the ongoing dispute (DS396) between the Philippines and the EC over the former's liquor taxes:

"Talks aimed at resolving a trade dispute over Philippine taxes on imported liquor failed to deliver a compromise last week, an official of the Western bloc said.

No decision has yet been made as to whether the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be asked to step in, although the European Commission (EC) is no longer interested in continuing the bilateral negotiations, the official said.

The Philippines, however, hopes further talks will still be held, representatives said.

Consultations were held last Thursday and Friday in Manila after the EC complained that Republic Act 9334 unfairly increased excise tax rates by 50% for imported spirits, compared to only 30% for locally made spirits. Officials from the US, another major liquor exporter, attended the meeting as well.

'A solution was not found, but we remain open to a proposal from the Philippines removing the discrimination so as to avoid the need for the next step in the WTO litigation process,' Gabriel Munuera Vinals, commercial counselor of the EC delegation to the Philippines, said in an e-mail on Friday. 'The EC does not intend to request a second round of formal consultations.'"


Dumping, China, and penalties

. . . is the topic of my latest Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpt:

"Anti-dumping proceedings were initiated against China and Indonesia last week, alleging that companies from the two countries had been dumping tons of shiny, coated paper (the kind used in car brochures or annual reports) and that imports of the same grew by a whopping 40%. The anti-dumping petition itself seemed to be a massive effort, composed of four separate petitions totaling more than 2,000 pages."


Trade, Doha, and governance

. . . is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Excerpts:

"However, considering the looming election year for the Philippines, it would be a pity if those seeking office would resort to populist rhetoric in favor of sounder and more beneficial trading policies. Because aside from the expected trade benefits that a developing country like the Philippines could expect from a successful conclusion of the Round, one little known expected after effect of a successful Doha Round is something that most people here are clamoring after and for which a lot of perceived candidates are spouting motherhood statements about: 'governance.'

Governance could be looked at in two ways, global and country governance. Andrew D. Mitchell (Melbourne Law School) and Elizabeth Sheargold (University of Melbourne) look at trade and governance from the latter perspective. They examined WTO’s contribution to governance from both administrative and democratic viewpoints. Interestingly, they look at how the WTO’s dispute settlement process contributes to better governance. The other is the WTO’s insistence that laws be applied 'in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner.'

More directly, Daniel Sokol (University of Florida) looked at how government regulations 'intentionally or unintentionally generate restraints that reduce competition.' Keeping in mind that the Philippines have recently been found to have a high degree of red tape, Sokol’s 'public restraints' findings have considerable relevance. Public restraints seemingly allow 'a business to cloak its action in government authority' and allow private businesses to 'misuse the government’s grant of antitrust immunity to facilitate behavior that benefits businesses at consumers’ expense.' To local proponents of competition policy laws (such as myself), Sokol depressingly notes that 'domestic institutions seem ill-equipped to adequately limit these restraints.'"