Monday, July 15, 2024

U.S. Mirrors China’s Tech Protectionism: A Closer Look at the Impact on Global Trade and Leadership


The United States is mirroring China’s technology protectionism and reversing decades of free trade: Here’s why this is bad news for U.S. leadership

The landscape of international trade is witnessing a dramatic transformation under the Biden administration, indicating a departure from the long-cherished U.S. tradition of championing free trade. This shift, primarily orchestrated by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), not only threatens the U.S. economy and its businesses but also signals a disquieting trend towards protectionism, mirroring practices prevalent in countries like China.

On March 28, the USTR unveiled its annual National Trade Estimates Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. Unlike in previous years, the 2023 report highlighted the sovereign right of governments to regulate in the public interest, a stance that permits the imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers under the guise of major policy shifts. This revelation forms part of a broader strategy that seems misaligned with traditional U.S. foreign policy, favoring a protectionist agenda under the “Buy America” initiative at the expense of global trade harmony.

The consequences of this inward turn are profound. The USTR’s decision abandons the interests of thousands of U.S. companies that facilitate approximately $250 billion in trade of goods and services across borders, diminishing the global trade presence of the United States. Furthermore, in a puzzling move, the USTR has withdrawn support for key digital trade provisions at the World Trade Organization (WTO), forsaking principles America has long stood for—principles that have underpinned the nation’s innovation economy.

America’s pivot away from advocating for cross-border data flows, intellectual property protection, and the prohibition of data localization requirements risks endorsing authoritarian practices, stifling innovation, and undermining fair competition. The rationale behind this shift—to protect small businesses from the supposed domination of big tech—fails to hold water, as it is precisely these digital trade barriers that disproportionately disadvantage small and medium-sized enterprises.

The U.S.’s retreat from championing digital trade norms and its adoption of a protectionist stance jeopardize its leadership role in shaping global trade policies. Importantly, it undermines America’s moral authority, granting authoritarian regimes a playbook to further restrict free trade under the guise of national interest. It is critical for the USTR to abandon its current trajectory and embrace trade policies that serve the interests of U.S. businesses, regardless of their size.

The stakes are high. As protectionism and authoritarian impulses gain ground globally, the U.S. must reaffirm its commitment to open and fair trade. Sound trade policies are imperative not only for economic prosperity but for the upholding of democratic principles and values that define the United States.

The call to action is clear: it is imperative to revitalize America’s role in the global economy and safeguard the integrity of the international trading system before it’s too late. Shifting away from protectionism towards a recommitment to free trade principles is essential for maintaining American leadership, innovation, and moral authority on the global stage. Failure to do so not only represents a disavowal of American legacy but also a relinquishment of the very ideals that have propelled the nation to the forefront of the world economy.

Natalie Kimura
Natalie Kimura
Natalie Kimura is a business correspondent known for her in-depth interviews and feature articles. With a background in International Business and a passion for global economic affairs, Natalie has traveled extensively, providing her with a unique perspective on international trade and global market dynamics. She started her career in Tokyo, contributing to various financial journals, and later moved to London to expand her expertise in European markets. Natalie's expertise lies in international trade agreements, foreign investment patterns, and economic policy analysis.

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