Pressure for revaluation of the RMB continues to mount on both the financial markets as well as on the Chinese government. Meanwhile, debate continues among economists, financial analysts, and currency traders as they remain vigilant for signs of an impending change in China’s currency policy.
The Financial Times’ Richard McGregor reports that yesterday for around 20 minutes the RMB traded 8.27 to the dollar, slightly higher than its set band of between 8.2760 and 8.8600. Although there was no confirmation as to whether the Chinese government was involved in any trades at this higher price, some observers took it as a sign that the government was testing the waters for a revaluation in the near future.
“…[T]he point is that they are ready to do it and could move at any time,” [Frank Gong, a strategist with JP Morgan in Hong Kong] said. He said the higher rate remained on trading screens for up to 20 minutes, a sign that the authorities may have been testing the market “to see how much ammunition they may need to keep everything under control”.
Beijing has been sending strong signals in recent weeks that it has completed all the technical preparations necessary to remove the US dollar peg and allow greater flexibility for the currency.
Congress is clearly worried about the harm an undervalued Yuan may do to politically sensitive sectors of the U.S. manufacturing industry. They have been especially concerned following the expiration of the multi-fiber agreement on January 1st of this year, motivated by fears that a surge of cheap Chinese textile imports would put more Americans out of work.
the People’s Republic of China with a significant trade
advantage by making exports less expensive for foreign consumers and by making foreign products more expensive for Chinese consumers. The effective result is a significant subsidization of China’s exports and a virtual tariff on foreign imports.
Schumer proposes a 27.5%* tariff on all Chinese exports to the U.S. unless Beijing agrees to revalue the RMB. Frighteningly, the bill survived a preliminary vote earlier this month and is scheduled for one final vote in July.
Passage of the legislation would unquestionably violate WTO regulations, though Fred Bergsten, Director of the Washington, DC basedInstitute for International Economics has suggested that one possible way around this restriction might be for the United States, along with other IMF member countries to seek:
…World Trade Organization authorization on the grounds that persistent currency manipulation represents both an illegal export subsidy and “nullification and impairment” of previously negotiated liberalization.
Whatever China’s decision, it will not be an easy one. (Anymore than Senator Schumer’s proposed quick fix be quick or a fix for U.S. industry and our widening trade deficit. But I digress.) Pegging the RMB to the dollar is a dangerous and double-edged sword. Although revaluation may ease international pressure on Beijing for now, it will likely create a set of new and equally difficult economic challenges both internationally and domestically.
The next post will examine some of implications of a currency revaluation and look at these problems in more detail.
*27.5% is the average undervaluation of the RMB cited in the text of the legislation.