President Trump has been a harsh critic of China throughout his political career. Indeed, even before entering the world of politics President Trump railed against China for being a currency manipulator. In the campaign, President Trump complained that China was “ripping off” America and that new trade deals should put American workers first.
Following up on campaign promises, President Trump has ordered a probe into China’s intellectual property practices. Particularly, President Trump is calling for more accountability from China when it comes to patents and copyrights on products coming out of the United States. This is the first time that President Trump has demanded his economic advisers and regulations take on Beijing directly.
The timing of this direct trade measure is probably not coincidental since there has been increasing international pressure for China to be tougher on North Korea. Trump may view a direct trade measure against Beijing and the Chinese economy as a more forceful way of making the point.
Robert Lighthizer is the man tasked with looking into China’s alleged intellectual property theft. Mr. Lighthizer is a trade representative from the United States and will have an entire year to document and analyze claims that China is increasingly stealing patents and copyrights on products originating in the United States.
At issue is the fact that these patents and copyrights are fully protected by the United States’ patent office but might not be protected under international law. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that President Trump bitterly denounced during the campaign, sought to remedy this situation by internationalizing patents and copyrights to prevent abuse by foreign transnational companies.
So, there’s a long backstory to this recent move by President Trump…and a not insignificant amount of money at stake. Trump’s economic officials estimate that there could be over a half-trillion dollars a year at play. That is, Trump’s team surmises that when you add up all of the intellectual property theft from China it tallies up to about $600 billion annually. That, if true, is nothing to scoff at and could well be hamstringing U.S. business’ ability to thrive in the international marketplace.
This recent move by Trump to investigate China is surprisingly novel since Trump promised to immediately label China as a currency manipulator and half U.S. imports of steel from Beijing. This could well be a way to put China on notice for its support of North Korea.