14 December 2019   Leave a comment

The US went to the World Trade Organization some time ago and argued that the subsidies offered to the European airplane manufacturer, Airbus, constituted an unfair trade subsidy. The US won that case and the WTO offered its standard remedy for such violations: it gave the US the right to impose countervailing tariffs on European products. Needless to say, the Europeans denied the subsidy and contested the ruling. The US Trade Representative just released a list of products that will be hit with new tariffs of up to 100% and that list includes some distinctively European products such as Scotch Whisky and French Cognac. (Parenthetically, it should be noted that such rulings favoring the US will not occur in the near future because the US refuses to appoint judges to the WTO tribunal).

In the recent climate talks in Madrid, there was much discussion of imposing carbon taxes in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some European state have already moved in that direction and the Europeans are now contemplating imposing carbon taxes on products produced in other countries, such as the US, in order to force other states to enact similar measures. According to Politico:

“The European Union charges a fee of 25 euros — nearly $28 — per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted by EU companies such as oil refineries, steelmakers and paper producers. Because other major economies such as the U.S. refuse to set a carbon price for their own industries, the EU’s approach risks making many European companies uncompetitive, and it has prompted calls for a ‘border adjustment’ tariff based on imports’ climate impact in their home countries.

“Spanish Economics Minister Nadia Calviño Santamaría told reporters at the U.N. conference that she wants a carbon tariff ‘as soon as possible’ that would target any country that doesn’t abide by its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump has said he intends to pull the U.S. out of the pact next year.

“’We need to ensure that climate policy does not create an unlevel playing field between those players which operate in jurisdictions which have higher standards and those that maybe do not,’ Calviño said.”

The possibility of linking climate change matters to trade matters makes negotiations on both issues very complex. This European tactic of linking the two is likely to infuriate US policy makers. I doubt that this tactic will take place quickly, but it is a possibility that we should monitor closely.

One of the most curious aspects of the current domestic political situation in the US is the extent to which Some politicians and journalists seem to be sympathetic to Russia. In many respects they have been forced into that position because they seek to downplay the significance of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the US because of a concern that the evidence undermines the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. Indeed, on his Fox news program, Tucker Carlson said:

“‘Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?!’ Carlson shouted without a hint of irony. ‘And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.'”

Later in the program, Carlson insisted that he had been joking, but there does seem to be some truth to the matter. I am deeply concerned by the extent to which some members of the Republican Party are, deliberately or not, making arguments defending Russia despite the evidence proving that Russia interfered in the election. President Trump, at this meeting with Russian President Putin in Helskinki, Finland, made clear that he accepted Putin’s denial of interference over the unanimous opinion of US intelligence agencies. Anne Applebaum has written a fascinating essay on the romance between US conservatives and Russia. And Lucian Truscott has written a more pointed essay for Salon entitled “Russia and the Republicans: How Vladimir Putin got an American subsidiary”. Truscott writes:

“We’ve got a president of the United States who praises Russian President Vladimir Putin every chance he gets, yet spent the NATO summit last week looking like his mommy was making him eat his peas and carrots. He’s pressuring the other members of the Group of Seven to let Russia back in the club. At a recent meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, he told the president of Ukraine he hoped Zelensky could “make a deal” with Putin, clearly indicating whose side Trump was on in the dispute over Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Trump and his Republican puppets have spent the last three months spreading Russian propaganda that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who hacked our 2016 election. When Trump pulled U.S. troops out of northern Syria, he turned over abandoned American bases to the Russians.

“Trump’s allies in the Republican Party have parroted his pro-Russia line. ‘Moscow Mitch’ McConnell pushed for lifting sanctions on Russian aluminum company Rusal, which was largely owned by the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a buddy of Vladimir Putin’s who has been under sanctions since he was named in the Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election.” 

I doubt very much that we will find out much about why some in the US have decided to defend Russia against all available evidence in the immediate future. But I have no doubts that at some point, analysts in the future will investigate this question thoroughly. At this point, we should all be concerned about the extent to which Russian interests have penetrated US decision-making.

Posted December 14, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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