Currency Undervaluation in International Law : A Case for the WTO?

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Title: Currency Undervaluation in International Law : A Case for the WTO?
Author: Katila, Pauliina
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Oikeustieteellinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law
Helsingfors universitet, Juridiska fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2014
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: International law
Kansainvälinen oikeus
Abstract: Currency undervaluation is a well-known and commonly used method for stimulating economic growth. Although the exact effects of exchange rate arrangements on international trade are highly debated, the fact that strong interlinkages between the two exist is unquestionable. This thesis departs from the generally accepted truth that an undervalued currency functions in practice as a subsidy to exports and tariff on imports. By using the method of legal dogmatics, the thesis analyzes how currency undervaluation can be assessed under international law, focusing on the examination of whether invoking the provisions of the IMF Articles of Agreement or WTO agreements to challenge currency undervaluation could be successful. In order to understand the issues behind this question, the first part of this thesis provides a short overview of the history of international regulation of currencies and the rise and fall of the Bretton Woods system. Parting from the principle of monetary sovereignty and its implications, the thesis provides a cursory glance at the development of international obligations regarding currencies and exchange rates. The second part deals shortly with the relevant provisions of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement and the shortcomings related thereto. Article IV(1)(iii) of the IMF Articles of Agreement places an obligation on member states to avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other members. Despite in theory providing an answer to the problem of currency undervaluation, this provision is in practice essentially inoperative, due to the subjective element included in it. Even in the unlikely case that the IMF were to reach the decision that one of its members was in breach of this Article, it has no effective dispute settlement system it could avail itself of if the said member state did not comply with the IMF’s recommendations to remove the breach. With the IMF being unable to effectively deal with the issue, the attention of politicians and academics alike has turned to the WTO, which provides an extremely effective dispute settlement mechanism. Due to its tariff-cum-subsidy effects, currency undervaluation makes it possible for WTO members to circumvent their obligations under the WTO agreements by nullifying, or at least diminishing, the effects of tariff concessions and eluding the prohibition on granting export subsidies. This thesis aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the WTO provisions that are most probable to be invoked with the aim of curbing currency undervaluation: Article XV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the WTO provisions on subsidies. As an integral part of this examination, the thesis first discusses the relationship between the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization in currency-related matters and the division of jurisdiction between the two institutions. The main finding in this regard is that although the interpretation of these provisions could in theory be stretched in order to cover currency undervaluation, the WTO cannot at present provide a sustainable answer to the issue of currency undervaluation. This thesis argues that the problems in adjudicating currency manipulation essentially arise from historical developments and the failure to adapt the instruments of international law to a new economic reality. This, together with the fear of overlapping jurisdictions between international institutions, has led to a loophole in international economic law. Initially the division of authority between the WTO and the IMF was clear: exchange rate issues under the par value system were a matter to be dealt with exclusively within the IMF. After the breakdown of the par value system, misuse of monetary policies became easier and more frequent, but nothing was done to reinforce the authority of the IMF. This has led to a situation where the IMF has the jurisdiction to deal with exchange rate issues, but lacks an effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that its rulings are followed. The WTO on the other hand has at its disposal an extremely effective dispute resolution mechanism but lacks jurisdiction regarding currency issues.

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