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China’s Exaggerated Semiconductor Trade Deficit No Justification for Mercantilist Policies

As ITIF has long argued, China pursues an autarkic, indigenous economic growth and innovation development strategy, particularly with regard to high-tech products. For example, in the semiconductor sector, China has launched a $100 billion National IC (integrated circuits) Industry Development plan designed to significantly increase domestic IC production and to reduce China’s imports of semiconductors—by half in 10 years and entirely in 20 years. To justify its mercantilist industrial development policies China claims hardship: we import too many semiconductors. This argument has been broached again recently given the potential merger between two semiconductor companies, one of which, Western Digital, has a major Chinese stockholder. This simplistic analysis needs to be called out for what it is—false—and a façade for a policy which breaches rules China agreed to when joining the WTO.

One reason China has tried to give for its aggressive and mercantilist IC industry development plan is that it runs a “large” trade deficit in semiconductors—$232 billion in 2013—which supposedly justifies efforts to replace foreign imports with domestic production, but this rationale is wrong on several levels. First, this simplistic narrative fails to account for the fact that

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Top 9 False Promises That China Made in Joining the World Trade Organization

After almost 15 years in the World Trade Organization (WTO), China has still failed to follow through on many of the trade-liberalizing commitments it made in order to convince free trade-oriented nations to approve its membership in 2001. These broken promises have harmed the global trading system as   well as both economic growth and the health of innovative industries across the United States and Europe. Here are nine commitments China made, but never lived up to:

  1. Refraining from requiring technology transfer as a condition of market access

Although its WTO accession agreement included rules forbidding China from tying foreign direct investment or market access to technology-transfer requirements, it remains commonplace for China to compel firms to hand over their technology in exchange for the privilege of investing, operating, or selling in China.

  1. Significantly reducing intellectual property (IP) theft and violations

Joining the WTO required China to recognize the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which provides protections for patents, copyrights, trademarks, service marks, industrial designs, digital content, and other intangible property. Unfortunately, Chinese IP theft grows unabated. The IP Commission Report on the Theft of U.S. Intellectual

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One Hand Tied Behind Our Backs: Why America Must Do Much More to Curb China’s Dangerous Innovation Mercantilism

Ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States this week, ITIF arranged an expert panel to discuss the ramifications and potential U.S. responses to China’s aggressive, mercantilist strategy of shutting American technology companies out of Chinese markets. Panelists referred to a number of the key points in ITIF’s latest report—“False Promises: The Yawning Gap Between China’s WTO Commitments and Practices”—which was released to coincide with the event.

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA), founder and chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, provided opening remarks explaining how China’s mercantilist strategy unfairly tilts the playing field against U.S. technology companies to such a degree that it threatens to undermine the U.S culture of innovation. The systemic nature of China’s mercantilist approach to stealing cutting-edge technology and intellectual property—through forced technology transfers and other means—has only grown more pervasive over the last decade. It is now critical that the U.S. government and others conduct a clear-eyed assessment and create accountability for China’s actions. Thus far, in the absence of real opposition, China has been using “controlled friction” to push as far as it can.

Robert Atkinson, president and founder of

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Congress Needs to Prioritize TPA Passage

Today, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will address the 114th Congress regarding the necessity of passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) as a predicate for completion of the ambitious U.S. trade agenda. TPA allows the President to “fast-track” trade agreements for approval or disapproval by Congress; essentially, TPA asks the House and Senate to accept or reject a trade agreement, without amendment, within 90 days of its submission to Congress by the President. The process enables the United States to negotiate more beneficial trade agreements with other countries, in part because of the reduction in approval time compared to other pieces of legislation (that often languish in committee markup) and because it incentivizes foreign countries to make good faith trade negotiations with the United States, since they know that Congress cannot rewrite the deal.

Presidents need fast-track negotiating authority because the simple reality is that finding consensus on trade agreements becomes nearly impossible if all 535 members of Congress get a chance to rewrite the terms of trade agreements American officials have spent painstaking years negotiating with multiple foreign partners. And as Representative Froman wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs

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Think the Trade Deficit Couldn’t Get Any Worse? Think Again

For a country that has not run a trade surplus since Gerald Ford was in office 40 years ago, the United States is surprisingly optimistic in its widespread belief that the trade deficit is going to eventually correct itself. After all, as tidy macroeconomic models of international trade show, a nation’s trade deficit should lower the value of its currency, lowering the cost of exports and raising  the cost of imports, thereby gradually reversing the deficit. After all, the models show that in the long term, current accounts must balance.

As Martin Feldstein, former Chairman of the Reagan administration Council of Economic Advisors, predicts:

“The United States cannot continue to have annual trade deficits of more than $100 billion, financed by an ever-increasing inflow of foreign capital. The U.S. trade deficit will therefore soon have to shrink and, as it does, the other countries of the world will experience a corresponding reduction in their trade surpluses. Indeed, within the next decade the United States will undoubtedly exchange its trade deficit for a trade surplus.”

Unfortunately, Feldstein wrote this in 1987.

Far from his predictions coming true, the U.S. trade

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Hallelujah, Forward Progress on Trade Facilitation

This afternoon, the United States and India resolved their differences over New Delhi’s insistence for an interim mechanism for public stockholding programs for food security to continue until members reach a permanent solution – paving the way for breaking the impasse over implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The TFA seeks to create binding commitments across 159(+) WTO Members to:  1) expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods; 2) improve cooperation among WTO Members on customs matters; and 3) help developing countries fully implement these obligations. In addition, the agreement promises to increase customs efficiency and effective collection of revenue, and help small businesses access new export opportunities through measures like transparency in customs practices, reduction of documentary requirements, and processing of documents before goods arrive.

Consequently, the TFA’s potential impact on facilitating global trade should not be overlooked. One study estimated the TFA could increase global output by about $1 trillion, while adding as many as 21 million new jobs, most of which would have flowed to developing nations such as India. The OECD estimated that it would cut global trade

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WikiLeaks-leaked TPP IP Chapter Much Ado About Nothing

Over the past week, critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement—a free trade agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated by the United States and 11 of its trading partners across the Asia-Pacific region—have made a large hue and cry regarding a draft chapter of the agreement leaked on WikiLeaks pertaining to the TPP’s intellectual property (IP) provisions. Critics have lodged a litany of complaints against the TPP in general and the IP sections of the agreement in particular, including that the TPP has been negotiated “in secret,” that America’s TPP negotiators are attempting to surreptitiously circumvent existing U.S. law in negotiating the agreement, that the “onerous” protections for innovative products such as novel biologics would compromise access to medicines in the developing world, and that the TPP is likely to lead to much greater surveillance by Internet service providers (ISPs) on citizens’ online surfing habits. Yet each of these criticisms is either downright unfounded or significantly overblown, and the reality is that the “leaked TPP IP chapter” is really much ado about nothing, despite its scandalous trumpeting by those who wish to sow fear, doubt, and uncertainty regarding the TPP.

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New Government Report Confirms Benefits of Digital Trade

The digital economy has been a major boon to U.S. domestic and international trade, as is documented by a new report by the United States International Trade Commission entitled Digital Trade in the U.S. and Global Economies (summary here). And even though the report shows important benefits from digital trade, those benefits are likely understated. This is because the report limited its analysis to “digitally intensive” sectors, which means that its numbers exclude contributions from firms that only use digital trade as a smaller part of their business.

Still, digital trade has made quite an impact: the report estimates that digital trade has raised real U.S. GDP by $517.1-$710.7 billion (3.4−4.8 percent) by increasing productivity and lowering the costs of trade. By raising GDP, digital trade increased average wages, and the increased wages likely contributed to increased employment by as much as 2.4 million jobs.

Within digitally intensive industries (and likely within many non-digitally intensive industries, although the report focused on the former), the internet has come to play a major role in everyday commerce. Firms in these industries sell nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of goods and services

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The Need for an AGOA Renewal

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is set to expire in September 2015, and last week at the United States-Africa Business Forum, President Obama pitched the idea of an early renewal, building on the growth of the Administration’s “Doing Business in Africa Campaign.”  AGOA is the cornerstone of U.S. trade and investment with Africa; over its 14 year history, the program has contributed to a doubling of U.S. trade with Africa.  In 2013, U.S. goods imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program totaled $26.8 billion, more than three times the amount in 2001, the first full-year of AGOA trade.

Indeed, by providing duty-free entry into the United States for almost all African products, AGOA has helped expand and diversify African exports to the United States, while at the same time fostering an improved business environment in many African countries through streamlined eligibility requirements. These eligibility requirements remain important in the renewal process though, as part of increasing the desirability of African countries as a business destination lies in making sure that these nations have an environment that fosters growth and investment. Congress

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Squiggle

Salsa Dancing into the Digital Economy

Colombia’s national soccer team famously taught the world how to properly celebrate a World Cup goal; now the nation is poised to teach the world a thing or two about innovation. In 2010, Colombia’s Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MinTIC) devised a plan to connect 27 million people, or more than half of its population, to the Internet by 2018. This plan, called Vive Digital, has had many accomplishments, which include increasing the number of Colombia’s Broadband Internet connections from 2.2 million to more than 8.2 million. In the past four years, the Colombian government has reduced the barriers for adoption of broadband technologies, efforts that brought computers and tablets to schools and created a robust network for digital entrepreneurs.  MinTIC has also poured investment into Internet infrastructure, and is in the process of extending fiber-optic Internet access to 96 percent of the country’s municipalities—many of which are isolated in remote areas.

The man behind these aggressive efforts is the minister of MinTIC, Diego Molano Vega.

Mr. Molano wants to solve what he says is his country’s most important problem: poverty. In an interview

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