Monday, January 14, 2008

The case for according MES (Market Economy Status) to China

It is another good piece in today’s ET that is worth our attention in the context of our PM’s ongoing visit to China. It makes a strong case for India’s according MES to China. Do you remember our noting on the subject earlier in our blogs? Look at it here. Then the case was that according such recognition is not in India’s interest. But today’s piece argues for according such status. Look at the reasons:

Not according the status to China on grounds of its extending subsidies to a whole range of sectors is not correct. While government subsidies do remain an issue in some industries in China, there is no evidence that this problem is endemic throughout large sectors of the Chinese economy. Also, other countries (such as Russia) which suffer from similar problems already enjoy a Market Economy Status.

Whether or not a country grants MES to China has minimal impact on trade balance with China. Take the US as an example. Even though the US has not granted MES to China, its trade deficit with China was $162 billion in 2004, $202 billion in 2005, and $232 billion in 2006. Thus, from China’s point of view, whether or not a country grants MES to it has little substantive value. The value is entirely “symbolic” and, as we know well, symbolism is a hugely valued commodity in China.

In any case, China will automatically get the Market Economy Status around 2015-16. Thus, for China, the symbolic value of getting MES goes down with each passing year. If India were to grant MES to China now (rather than after Japan, the US, or the EU have done so), the symbolic value to China will be much greater than if India were to be a mere follower.

Granting MES to China will not take away India’s rights to file legitimate anti-dumping cases. Even after China is granted MES, it has to provide verifiable information to the country filing an anti-dumping complaint. If such information is not provided, the latter retains the right to use the best information available, including third-country (surrogate) information. As it is, the current anti-dumping cases filed by India against China total less than 5% of China’s annual exports to India. In short, the substantive value of granting or not granting MES to China is insignificant not just for China but also for India. Yes, India will have a $9-10 billion trade deficit with China in 2007; however, MES has little if anything to do with the trade deficit.

Substance aside, if India were to grant MES to China before Japan, the US, and the EU do so, the symbolic value to China will be very high. If India is smart, it should exploit this opportunity to the maximum by getting quid-pro-quo concessions from China on issues that matter enormously to India (e.g., a settlement of the border disputes). In essence, India should look at MES for China as an issue whose salience rests almost totally in non-economic rather than economic domains.