Ireland joins US watch list amid trade tensions with EU

State meets two of three criteria specified by US for inclusion on list

On the face of it, the placing of Ireland on a US “watch list” for countries manipulating their currency is odd. We don’t, after all, manage our own currency. Indeed, as the report from the US treasury points out, the European Central Bank has not unilaterally intervened in the currency markets since 2001. However, there are three criteria used for inclusion on the list and Ireland is included by dint of meeting the other two – a large trade surplus on goods with the US and a large surplus on the current account of the balance of payments.

The main focus on the list, which the treasury department must submit twice a year, was whether the US would call out China as a currency manipulator, thus deepening existing tensions. In the event, China just remains on the watch list, along with Ireland, Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy , Singapore and Malaysia. The report points out that Ireland had a goods trade surplus of $47 billion with the US last year and a current account balance of payments surplus of 9.2 per cent of GDP. In the world of Trump economics, these are seen as evidence of unfair practices.

Reading the report, Ireland’s inclusion seems to be almost automatic – the criteria were changed this year to include more trading partners and we tick two of the three boxes. The short section on Ireland shows a sophisticated enough understanding of the role of multinationals in affecting Ireland’s economic figures – notably the current account surplus. It also concedes that the US has a large surplus on services trade with Ireland – though multinational accounting is a factor here, too. Ironically, a large part of the goods surplus is due to US pharma and chemical companies making products here and exporting them back to the US.

So perhaps there is nothing to worry about? It’s hard to know, but with US threats of trade sanctions against the EU still in the air and ongoing controversy about our corporate tax structure, this will not be welcomed in Dublin. It will surely come up in media questioning when President Donald Trump visits Ireland and most likely be raised by the Taoiseach with him. The president’s reply will be interesting.