I find it hard to be surprised nowadays by how low trade policy can sink. So I was depressed rather than surprised when I read this update on Magnesium trade.
Those of us who complain about protectionism often complain that its proponents mindlessly cite the seen (ie jobs lost to foreign competition) without taking into account the unseen (numerous consumers and consumer industries benefited by imports). What I did not know is that this is not just bad economics, but is cemented into legislation:
In 2005, U.S. Magnesium Corporation, the sole producer of magnesium in the United States, succeeded in convincing the U.S. International Trade Commission and U.S. Commerce Department to impose duties on imports of magnesium from competitors in Russia and China. Before toasting this outcome with some clichéd or specious utterance about how the antidumping law ensures fair trade and a level playing field for U.S. producers, it is important to understand that downstream, consuming industries (those U.S. producers that require for their own production the raw materials and intermediate goods subject to the antidumping measures) have no legal standing in these cases. Statute forbids the U.S. International Trade Commission from considering their arguments or projections about the likely consequences of prospective duties. Statute requires that the ITC consider only the conditions of the petitioning industry. In other words, the analysis is slanted. The antidumping law codifies these evidentiary asymmetries, which makes it easier for U.S. suppliers to cut-off their U.S. customers’ access to alternative sources of supply.
In other words, in the case of magnesium, on the interests of the US Magnesium Corporation can be considered by the US Government in evaluating trade policy - the interest of the other 300 million of us is illegal even to mention.
This was also funny, from the government as Abbot and Costello files:
But on trade policy formulation, it seems that the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. Last year, while magnesium imports from China were subject to U.S. antidumping duties, the Obama administration launched a WTO case against China for its restraints on exports of raw materials, including magnesium. That’s right. The U.S. government officially opposes China’s tax on exported magnesium because it imposes extra costs of U.S. consuming industries, but it insists on enforcing its own antidumping duties on magnesium imported from China despite those costs.