In its analysis of multiple Senate races as well as the 2012 Presidential campaign, NTUF has noted several candidates making reference to currency manipulation in some countries - particularly China - and the need to "crack down" on our trading partners' monetary practices. The position has found its way into the agendas of:
- Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who spent significant time on the issue during the presidential debates;
- Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren;
- Wisconsin Senate hopeful Tammy Baldwin; and
- Ohio Senate candidate Sherrod Brown.
The alleged issue is that some countries artificially lower the value of their currency. This increases the cost of U.S. exports to those countries, and decreases the cost for the U.S. to import those countries' goods. Policymakers have proposed various regulations in response, hoping to make U.S. exports more competitive on the international market.
The topic can be a confusing one to examine from a taxpayer's perspective not only because of the complexity of international trade, but also because these types of policies can significantly affect revenues in addition to outlays.
However, there are some regulatory and administrative costs associated with these policies that we can examine. Let's take a look at how the campaign proposals might translate into actual dollar figures.
What Has Been Proposed
The basis that NTUF used for its analysis of the above candidates' "currency crackdown" proposals was Senate Bill 1607, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2007, which lawmakers introduced in the 110th Congress. That bill would have directed the Treasury to:
- identify currencies that were "fundamentally misaligned" with equilibrium exchange rates; and
- change international monetary policy accordingly to penalize them should they not address the problem. The penalties would be coordinated with the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.
The bill as introduced would apply to the currencies of countries with whom the United States has "major" trade relationships. Clearly, China would be included amongst those countries: in 2011, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported $103.9 billion in exports to China, and imports of $399.3 billion.
What It Could Cost
The CBO's report on S. 1607 estimated that the bill would cost about $4 million per year to implement; over the course of 5 years, that would amount to $20 million. Part of the cost would be a result of the extra workload imposed on the Treasury: tracking exchange rates and identifying whether or not certain countries may be manipulating them.
Additionally, the legislation would require the formation of an entirely new federal agency, the Advisory Committee on International Exchange Rate Policy. The Committee would advise the Treasury on how to penalize countries found to be manipulating the value of their currencies. These penalties would depend on Congressional approval and would be proposed after consulting with the WTO and IMF.
Be sure to take a look at NTUF's candidate studies for more on how this issue fits in to the rest of the candidates' proposed spending agendas.
NTUF does not endorse any candidate or position mentioned.