There are some in the United States who are frustrated with the administration’s willingness to toss out the traditional trade policy playbook, but if trade talks over soybeans and intellectual property protections can be leveraged to address illicit trade in deadly fentanyl, we can all get on board with that.
Discussions are now underway as to whether EU antitrust policies need to be relaxed in order to allow greater latitude to meet the challenge posed by Chinese mega-firms.
China went from a net importer of critical intermediary goods such as glass, paper, steel, and auto parts, to becoming the leading producer and dominant global exporter of these products. How could this seismic shift occur in industries where China does not maintain a particular advantage in labor, technology, or natural resources? The answer in large part is subsidization of Chinese production in the form of state-directed capital flows.
The announcement that trade talks in Beijing between the United States and China had been extended by a day sparked an uptick in stocks and renewed optimism that a resolution to the trade war might be in the offing. A minimal face-saving agreement should be possible before the March deadline, but this would only delay the ultimate day of reckoning. Friction points between China’s state-directed economic system and the United States’ ostensibly free market, free trade system will reassert themselves sooner rather than later.
Chicken trade has been a sore spot in bilateral agricultural trade since 2004 when the United States and China banned each other’s poultry products after an outbreak of avian flu. If these long-simmering disputes are resolved in the context of ongoing U.S.-China trade talks, millions of Chinese could again see American chicken feet grace the dim sum buffet at Chinese New Year festivities.
Manufacturers of labor-intensive products like apparel have already been looking elsewhere in Asia as labor costs continue to rise in China. China has not substantially increased market access for foreign investors in many sectors, causing foreign investment to slow or flatline in recent years. With lingering doubts about the worsening investment climate in China, the trade war is hastening decision-making that had already been underway.
Chinese investments in the United States plunged while U.S. investments in China flatlined. See what’s driving these trends on the US-China FDI Project website.
The meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping in Argentina in late November may prove to be a turning point for not only for the US-China relationship, but for global trade. Both leaders enter these discussions knowing the far more important question is whether there can be a sustainable co-existence between a Western market-driven economy with democratic ideals and a centrally-managed Chinese economy led by the Communist Party of China.
Trade wars, like real wars, are costly. But people are willing to sacrifice — at least up to a point — when they believe a cause is worth fighting for. Doing nothing in response to China’s policies would have cost nothing in the short run. But if the concerns raised by China’s policies are legitimate, doing nothing to fix them now will cost more to fix over time — if they remain fixable at all.
In its June 2018 report, the White House creates a taxonomy of ways the Chinese government acquires American technologies and intellectual property to aggrandize Chinese productive capabilities, stand on the shoulders of American innovation, siphon information from open and proprietary sources, and enlist Chinese nationals to accrue knowledge through research arms of universities and companies in the United States.