Tony Nash joins the BBC Business Matters podcast for a discussion around what’s happening in the world right now: Malaysia’s working class, Tesla’s new branch in Germany, Biden’s recent visit to Europe, lifting of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, energy crises in Europe, and so much more.
This podcast first appeared and originally published at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172xvqwxfg1cr7 on March 23, 2021.
ST: Tony Nash, economist in Texas, CEO of Complete Intelligence and host of The Week Ahead, a weekly YouTube show on markets and geopolitics. Hello. Good evening, Tony.
TN: Hi. Good evening. Good morning.
ST: Tony, let me bring you in here on this one as well. I mean, you may be living in Austin, Texas, at the moment, but is there anything you want to pick up on because you grew up in this area?
TN: Sure. Yeah. I think what Jessica says about the migrant labor is a key issue because it prices a lot of Malaysians out of working class jobs. So if those minimum wages apply also to migrant workers, then it presents a fairer playing field for Malaysians. Without that, it’s a labor arbitrage and it’s a domestic labor arbitrage. So I think the Minister has a tough job ahead of him in that respect. I do think, though, as you mentioned in your interview, it’s a good time for energy. And I think if Malaysia can swing the current energy prices into investment and technology, I think they could look at some seriously interesting opportunities.
ST: Yeah, indeed. As he said, he was being helped by the price of oil at the moment. All right, Tony and Jessica, for the moment. Thank you both very much. Tony, let me come to you on this one. You’re based there in Austin, in Texas. So is Tesla. Now, when are they opening their big factory there?
TN: First, I want to say I love the statement that Germany is not known for risk affinity. I thought that was a highlight, but the Tesla factory in Austin started production in December of 21, and they have a grand opening on April 6 of this year. So they’ll start rolling cars off the factory line. It should be in April.
TN: So it’s a hugely optimistic statement by Tesla to do all of these openings. It’s fantastic.
ST: Yeah. We have to wait and see where the plans are for the next one then. Tony Nash in Austin, Texas, what do you make of this? How is this going to go down with American producers?
TN: I think when these restrictions were put in by the Trump administration, the sense that I always got was that the UK got caught up within some of its Brexit and immediately post Brexit issues. My understanding of that time, that era was that the tariffs were really focused on countering subsidies and nontariff barriers. And the UK steel industry is not as reliant on subsidies and nontariff barriers as the European steel industry is. Of course, there are some, but my understanding was that that wasn’t as big of an issue for UK steel. So I was always confused why the UK got caught up in this. So since it’s out, I don’t think specifically UK steel is the issue. I think Chinese steel is the bigger issue by American producers, and the dumping of Chinese steel on global markets is really the main focus.
ST: Just as a quick aside, the other items that got caught up in this. I don’t know whether they’re sort of like a little footnote and almost like an aside to this, the jeans, the whiskey and the Harley Davidsons.
TN: Look, the UK is suffering on that side of the deal, right? I mean, if you can’t get American. I’m sorry. I’m just kidding. So anyway, once it’s done, all that stuff will go through, which is great. So a little bit of bourbon next time I visit London would be great.
ST: Oh, no, we need to take you to enjoy some Scottish whisky, I’m sure. But that is the other question that’s always in the background now of this one now coming through to the forefront is now this is out the way. Could there be talks again, restarted again on that sort of full scale free trade deal with the US? Do you see that as happening anytime soon?
TN: I think Americans would welcome it. Absolutely. I think there is a warm spot in many Americans heart for the UK, and I think Americans would absolutely welcome it. There would be almost zero opposition to it.
ST: All right, Tony, for the moment. Thank you. Tony. Let me bring you in. Now, President Biden is traveling to Europe in the next few hours. He’s starting with a NATO meeting, also meeting with EU, European Union and G7 leaders. They’re now to Poland for discussions about the humanitarian response. What do you expect from this felt that this is more of a signal that he’s actually there. He’s made the trip or something more significant?
TN: Well, I think he has an opportunity to do something very significant when he speaks to the European Council. The EU right now is developing a defense plan and putting together plans for hundreds of billions of euros worth of spending on defense. And if Biden were to endorse that at the European Council, it would send the message that the US is very supportive. Unfortunately, within US government, within State and Department of Defense, there are career bureaucrats who are opposed to Europe defending itself. So if Biden were to make a very clear statement at the European Council that he supports Europe putting this debt package together to put its own very strong defense together, it could be a significant trip.
ST: How is this playing back at home for him? I was looking at his approval ratings earlier. He’s a new low of 40% as according to a poll conducted or in the last couple of days. Is that as a result of what he is saying or what he is doing at the moment or anything else?
TN: The biggest thing that’s dragging him down right now is inflation. And the White House has really tried to say that inflation started when Russia invaded Ukraine, and Americans know that it started much earlier. And so Americans have been very skeptical since the White House has tried to say that inflation lays at the feet of Russia. They’re very skeptical. His polling has really declined over the past, say, two months, partly because Americans feel like they’re being misled on that, and it hits people’s petrol tanks and it hits their pocketbooks and everything else. That’s the biggest issue that can make him unpopular.
ST: But I mean, just staying, though, with his stance on Russia and Ukraine, how is that particularly playing out at home? Would people like him to get more involved or less involved? And is it purely just domestic matters that they have on their minds at the moment?
TN: I think people see the news and hear the news on it and kind of the headline, Putin is a bad guy. It’s hard to disagree with that. But I think many Americans that I speak it to and many who I see say in social media and other forums, they just don’t want to get directly involved. Americans are happy for Europe and happy to support Europe to solve this problem. But Americans generally, from what I can tell, just don’t want to get involved. So we’re happy to send aid, we’re happy to send materials and so on and so forth. But most of the Americans, at least that I talk to, maybe I’m only talking to a minority of people, but they really don’t want to see American personnel on the ground there.
ST: Yeah. There are suggestions that he will announce measures to end European reliance on Russian energy, or at least some sort of plan or ideas or opinions on that. What could he possibly suggest? What could he put on the table, throw on the table for that?
TN: Texas where I’m living, we have a lot of gas in Texas, a lot. We flare a lot of it, which means we burn it at the well, that will require many more vessels to transport liquefied natural gas, sure. But we’re very happy in Texas to support the energy to Europe. So I would think that part of a plan has to include US energy going to Europe. It may not be all of it, but it surely should be part of it.
ST: Not just the tankers, but obviously the ports that are able to take that on board and then the infrastructure that would be needed there. Tony, it’s cost of living that’s dominating the headlines for you, isn’t it?
TN: It is, yeah. I’m really curious to see what Jessica is going to say after that. So we live in Texas for the energy capital of at least the Western Hemisphere, if not the world. So seeing, say, WTI and Brent at the prices they are is really helpful to my neighbors. It’s really helpful to the state government here and the taxes that we raise. Unfortunately, there has also been a massive influx of people into Texas over the past year or two years. So I have a friend who’s selling a house right now in Houston, and the price has risen by 30% in the past six months or something like that. So real estate inflation here. It’s not just petrol or gasoline, it’s not just energy, it’s real estate. It’s everything. As I said, we’re seeing an influx of people from outside California, New York, other places coming into Texas and they’re used to paying a lot more for things. So people moving here will find a house online without seeing it and buy it. And the prices are relatively cheap to what they’re paying in wherever they’re from. So Texans are facing what people in Idaho and Oregon and some of these other States where Californians have moved in the past.
We’re starting to face some of those issues and the cost of living is becoming a real issue here.
ST: Totally cutting out people who now can no longer afford to buy them where they’ve been born and grown up. Tony Nash. Joining us from Austin, Texas and you, wherever you are in the world, listening to us today on Business Matters. Thank you very much for your company. This is Business Matters here on the BBC. See World Service. Until next time, thanks for listening. Bye.