CLARIN

For Brazil And Argentina, How To Respond To New Trump Tariffs

President Trump's erratic strikes against the world's trading regime require a collective response, as unilateral state reprisals cannot check an 'arrogant' U.S. administration.

Argentine government restricts currency exchange after elections.
Argentine government restricts currency exchange after elections.
Felipe Frydman*

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — The decision by President Donald Trump to reimpose tariffs on Argentine and Brazilian steel and aluminum exports, as a response to the two countries' devalued currencies is a hard blow to both.

President Trump imposed tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum from any source in March last year. Argentina and Brazil were exempted after agreeing to limit these exports in a quota system. Now to end the exemption, the Trump administration cited national security reasons foreseen in Section 232B of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, adding farmers are also being harmed.

This would indicate the White House's concern over China redirecting its soy purchases in response to U.S. sanctions on its exportations. The excuse of manipulating exchange rates in lieu of a subsidy is not in line with any of the Uruguay Round accords and constitutes a unilateral decision in violation of international commitments.

The Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures says there must be a specific subsidy for an exporting firm or sector to justify applying compensatory tariffs. The problems of fluctuating exchange rates furthermore concern the International Monetary Fund, which is tasked with evaluating their effects on the balance of payments. It is not the first time the United States makes such allegations.

Trump has turned trade negotiations into a boxing match.

In August this year, the Treasury Department cited Section 3003 of the 1988 Trade Act in accusing China of manipulating its currency to compensate for punitive tariffs on its exports.

That contradicted the Department's own conclusions in its report of October 2018. President Trump has turned trade negotiations into a boxing match in keeping with his presidential style of the last three years. International norms are considered disposable, and both the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are always predisposed to find arguments to justify the president's unpredictable reactions.

Lack of predictability in trade negotiations is an impediment to investments, and ultimately slows global growth. The United States has also decided to block the World Trade Organization's Appellate Body, which has seven members and needs a minimum of three to function.

President Trump meets with Cabinet to discuss trade tariffs. –– Photo: Tia Dufour/White House/ZUMA

The United States has blocked the nomination of new members for disagreeing with the criteria used to resolve conflicts between parties. Countries have tried separately to face Trump's nonsensical reactions to avoid exacerbating the discord, but the lack of a consensual reaction appears merely to encourage such erratic measures, rather than to appease.

Our regional trade block Mercosur should question its trade policy with the United States at its next summit. It should take a collective complaint to the WTO to make the point that arrogance is not the way to solve trade conflicts.



*Frydman, an economist and diplomat, was Argentina's ambassador in Thailand.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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