Assume a VAT that adds up to 15 percent of the cost of a new car in Japan. If Toyota ships 1 million cars to the United States valued at $20,000 each, $20 billion worth of Toyotas, they can claim a rebate of the VAT of $3,000 on each car, or $3 billion -- a powerful incentive to export. But each U.S. car arriving at the Yokohama docks will have 15 percent added to its sticker price to make up for Japan's VAT.
This amounts to a foreign subsidy on exports to the United States and a foreign tax on imports from America. Uncle Sam gets hit coming and going. It is as though, after firing a round of 66 in the Masters, Tiger Woods has five strokes added to his score for a 71, and five strokes are subtracted from the scores of his rivals. Even Tiger would bring home few trophies with those kind of ground rules.
The total tax disadvantage to U.S. producers -- of VAT rebates and VAT equivalents imposed on U.S. products -- is estimated at $294 billion.
Exported U.S services face the same double whammy. A VAT equivalent is imposed on them, while the exported services of foreign providers get the VAT rebate. Disadvantage to U.S. services: $85 billion annually.
Why do our politicians not level the playing field for U.S. companies?
First, ignorance of how world trade works. Second, ideology. These robotic free-traders recoil from any suggestion that they aid U.S. producers against unfair foreign tactics as interfering with Adam Smith's "invisible hand," which they equate with the hand of the Almighty.
Third, they are hauling water for transnational companies that want to move production overseas and shed their U.S. workers.
How could we level the playing field? Simple. Impose an "equalizing fee" on imports equal to the rebates. Take the billions raised, and cut taxes on U.S. companies, especially in production. Create a level playing field for U.S. goods and services in foreign markets, and increase the competitiveness of U.S. companies in our own home market by reducing their tax load.
U.S. trade deficits would shrivel overnight. And jobs and factories lately sent abroad would start coming home.
Isn't it time we put America first -- even ahead of China?