A complication in trade policy caused by the globalization of supply networks occurs in the incidence of policy. An increase in customs duties in the United States, for instance, may end up raising costs not only for the foreign exporter but for the American headquarters of a company that has a supply chain with a foreign subsidiary that manufactures the product for export to the United States. It also usually raises the cost of the import to the American consumer.
For example, some have proposed raising tariffs on all imports from China in response to its arguably undervalued exchange rate, a rate which is seen as making Chinese exports cheaper and harming import-competing industries in the United States. Under traditional economic models, imposing tariffs on imports from China would increase the price of such imports (assuming no change in exchange rates), reduce the quantity of imports from China purchased in the United States, and shift some production either to a competing supplier located in the United States or to an exporter in another country that makes similar products. Such protection of domestic industries helps import-competing industries in the United States and hurts exporters from China, although it also may help exporters from Mexico, Southeast Asia, or other countries that make products that compete with those from China. However, more than half of China’s exports originate from foreign-owned or foreign-affiliated companies located there. Most of these companies are parts of globalized supply networks. A Chinese exporter, therefore, actually may be a company wholly or partly owned by an American multinational corporation. An increase in an import tariff, therefore, may help U.S. companies competing with imports from China, but it also may end up hurting the U.S. headquarter company as well as its associated Chinese supplier. It also may hurt a U.S. retail-oriented supply chain (such as a discount big box store) that stocks its shelves with items from China.
Debate over the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) also highlighted the effect of globalized supply networks on trade policy. Among the Big Three U.S. automakers, Ford and Chrysler were reported as opposing the KORUS FTA, while GM has remained neutral. GM’s position is thought to stem partly from its ownership of Daewoo Motors in Korea.32 Opponents of the FTA point out that the United States exported only 6,500 cars to Korea in 2007 (for a market share of less than 5%), while Korean automakers sold 775,000 automobiles in the United States (for a market share of nearly 30%). What these figures do not indicate, however, is that GM Daewoo sold some 125,000 automobiles in the Korean market in 2007. If these cars are counted as U.S. sales there, the American market share in Korea would be about 12.8%. That is still considerably less than the 30% market share for Korean automakers in the U.S. market, but this Korean share also includes about 250,000 vehicles that were made at the Hyundai plant in Alabama.33 This illustrates the complexity for policy caused by multinational corporations with significant operations in foreign countries. In the GM case, its Korean operations are primarily aimed at the Korean market, and Hyundai’s U.S. operations are mainly aimed at the U.S. market. Each subsidiary hires local workers, while profits (not reinvested) flow back to the parent companies.
32 CRS Report RL34330, The Proposed U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implications, by William H. Cooper et al.
33 Troy Stangarone, Moving the KORUS FTA Forward in a Time of Economic Uncertainty , Pacific Forum CSIS, PacNet No. 66, Honolulu, HI, December 11, 2008.