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Energy & Economics
USA and China trade war concept. suitable also as South China Sea conflict

Are tariffs, of all things, the salvation of free trade?

by Dr. Jan Cernicky

We can talk about selective tariffs - but not about protective tariffs - Concerns about the effects of economic dependencies are increasingly overshadowing the benefits of open global trade. - In the current geopolitically charged situation, there may be situations in which trade policy dependencies - for example in the case of rare earths - can be mitigated by state intervention. - In such cases, selective tariffs are the best choice. Subsidies to build up own production capacities are significantly less efficient, more expensive and undermine the market principle. - Protective tariffs for industries whose products are sufficiently available on the global market, such as the automotive and steel industries, should be rejected. - The fundamental goal should be the preservation of rule-based world trade in accordance with WTO rules. Any kind of state intervention must be justified on the basis of solid data. Background During Chinese party leader Xi Jinping's visit to Europe in May, there was once again a lot of talk about economic dependencies. They are seen as a threat to the "economic security" of Germany and Europe. What often seems to fade into the background is that the arguments for a global division of labor remain valid: it enables general prosperity precisely because certain countries and regions concentrate on the production of individual goods and consequently do not produce others themselves. On the other hand, it is also true that the economic damage more than compensates for these advantages if a state such as China uses economic dependencies as political leverage and, in the worst case, stops supplying goods for which it has a monopoly. In principle, China has achieved such a monopoly for refined rare earths and some other smelted metals.1 However, this clearly does not apply to electric cars, steel or solar cells. The reason for such quasi-monopolies is simple: Chinese companies export the products in question so cheaply that production elsewhere in the world is not worthwhile. If this were solely due to the fact that Chinese companies produce better, the only correct response would be to roll up our sleeves and become better ourselves. In the case of rare earths from China, however, the advantage of Chinese manufacturers is largely due to direct and indirect subsidies. In such an environment, in which Chinese producers have massive cost advantages due to politically granted benefits, it is not worthwhile for private companies outside China to build up their own capacities for the production of rare earths, for example. Even if prices were to rise and economic production were possible, this would not be rational; state-supported Chinese companies can easily survive periods of low prices. The usual market mechanism, whereby companies with the most competitive solutions survive, does not apply here. Even technologically superior production methods do not prevail due to Chinese subsidies. Possible reactions The best economic solution is undoubtedly for the state not to react at all and to see the availability of very cheap products that are available for domestic consumption or for further processing as an advantage. The fact that the products in question have been made cheaper by Chinese taxpayers' money can be gratefully accepted. It would be a genuine and courageous system competition not to respond with the same instruments, but to maintain a market economy system and thus exploit the weaknesses of the counter-design. Shaping the economic framework conditions politically in such a way that innovations that provide alternatives to the use of the raw materials in question can be developed more easily would be a reaction that is still justifiable within the framework of the social market economy. This would be, for example, favorable recycling processes. In most cases, such innovations are possible. However, their introduction and application is significantly more expensive than importing standard products from China. If dependence on China is really not justifiable in individual cases,2 there are two possibilities for state intervention in the form of subsidies or tariffs, which may be justifiable in rare individual cases, but are not provided for within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Important indicators for the assessment of dependencies are, for example, the lack of substitutability of the imported good, the degree of concentration of supply in a country and the relevance of the good in question for the domestic economy. However, state intervention to protect domestic production sites, such as is being discussed for electric cars or steel, appears to be explicitly unjustifiable. There is a sufficiently diversified supply of such products on the global market and there is no dependency on just one country. Economic effects of tariffs and subsidies Tariffs and subsidies both aim to compensate for the price difference to cheaper foreign competitors. Tariffs make imports more expensive, while subsidies make domestic production cheaper through state subsidies. Both have a negative welfare effect, but the correlation is more harmful in the case of subsidies. Figure 1 uses a schematic example, which is not based on empirical data, to illustrate the effect if the costs of producing rare earths in Germany were reduced to the level of the import price from China (country 1) through subsidies.   With the subsidies, it is now economically viable for the subsidized companies to produce the rare earths from ore in Germany. The actually cheaper ways of importing rare earths from alternative countries or using other technical solutions remain more expensive and would hardly be used. The goal of reducing dependencies would therefore be achieved in a very expensive way. Large sums of taxpayers' money would be spent on this. In this example, the most expensive possible route is discussed in order to clearly demonstrate the negative consequences. In reality, however, it is very unlikely that the cheapest route in economic terms will be subsidized. This is because there are always many different providers and technical solutions, which means that all the options are often not even known or can only develop in the long term. It is therefore very unlikely that the optimal subsidy recipients will be selected. A benefit is created for a specific, relatively arbitrarily selected application, but not for others. The effectiveness of the market is thus distorted and the competitiveness of the location decreases as a result. As the subsidies compensate for a competitive disadvantage, it is unlikely that high additional tax revenues will be generated. The funds spent are no longer available for other state investments. The result is a loss of welfare on this scale. Only the subsidized companies benefit from this. The price at which rare earths can be purchased in Germany does not change. It is also possible to subsidize production abroad in order to reduce dependence on one country. Such models are being attempted via "raw material partnerships", for example. Such an approach can be significantly cheaper than subsidizing domestic production. In the example (Figure 1), only the significantly lower import price from country 2 would have to be subsidized. However, the other disadvantages of subsidies listed above also apply in this case. In particular, it is even more difficult to obtain all the necessary information for projects abroad and therefore even less likely to choose the most cost-effective option. The targeted tariffs discussed here are intended to respond to dependencies on supplies from a specific country. They are therefore only imposed on imports from this country. Other imports are not affected. To stay with the example, the importer pays a surcharge on the imported rare earths. This makes his product, for which he processes rare earths, more expensive domestically. Manufacturers abroad who are not affected by the duty become more competitive in comparison.    If the tariff rate were set in the same way as above so that the competitive disadvantage for the most expensive option - metal processing in Germany - is compensated for in terms of price, the tariff rate on imports from China would be very high. However, consumers of rare earths in Germany would still have access to the significantly cheaper other options. Metal processing in Germany would therefore remain unprofitable, while imports - now no longer from China, but from country 2 - would continue to be significantly cheaper. However, the price difference to the cheapest processing variant in Germany, in the example (Figure 2) recycling, would no longer be so great, so that this variant would be easier to make economically viable by scaling up or using innovative technical solutions. In reality, the introduction of customs duties would not divert all procurement to a single country; there is no capacity for this anywhere. The result would be a mix of different suppliers, which would make it more worthwhile to drive innovation in Germany. Changes in the price structure between the different providers and processes over time can be tracked by customers in this model - the best process (or the second best, if the best is used in China) then prevails on the market. The welfare loss here arises from the fact that consumption or further processing of the imported products becomes more expensive by at least the difference to the second cheapest source of supply. However, the volume of the welfare loss is significantly lower than in the case of subsidies. It can be argued that tariffs make the prices of downstream products in the supply chain more expensive, whereas subsidies do not. While this is true, it overlooks the fact that the much larger group of companies and consumers who are not directly affected do not suffer any direct additional costs in the case of tariffs, but bear the costs of subsidies through their taxes. Political effects of tariffs and subsidies In terms of their political and structural consequences, subsidies are more harmful than targeted tariffs. This is simply due to the procedure at the end of which individual companies receive a subsidy decision. An "objective" allocation is hardly possible here. On the contrary: the procedure is susceptible to personal relationships, political influence and direct corruption. Furthermore, subsidies that are only granted in one country of the European Union jeopardize the integrity of the European Single Market. Similar problems can arise with customs duties. This happens when they are used to protect certain domestic industries. In the case of targeted, selective tariffs, which are based on clearly defined, objective categories, such as the degree of dependence on a product from a country, there is little scope for political influence once the criteria have been established. Tariffs cannot harm the European single market either, as they can only be imposed at European level anyway. WTO conformity The reduction of tariffs and subsidies within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the predecessor agreement GATT are a central reason for the reduction of global poverty in recent decades and one of the cornerstones of Germany's prosperity. It is therefore self-evident that tariffs and subsidies not only contradict the idea of the WTO. They also contradict its two basic principles: Subsidies for domestic production contradict the non-discrimination principle3, tariffs against individual countries violate the Most Favorite Nation Clause4. There are exceptions for both in the WTO rules. For example, WTO members must notify subsidies so that they can be examined and other countries can object to them if necessary. In principle, subsidies are only intended - and within a narrow framework - for developing countries, which still includes China. However, the notification of subsidies to the WTO hardly works any more. For example, 64 countries (around a third of members) have not even notified their subsidies for 20175. Nevertheless, some of China's subsidies may indeed be legal according to the letter of the WTO rules. But they are certainly not legitimate, as the aim of the WTO is to liberalize world trade and not to cement the opposite. And even if subsidies are known, the WTO cannot take legally binding action against them due to the dispute settlement mechanism blocked by the USA. Consequently, the USA has not reacted to the unresolved problem of China's subsidies within the WTO framework. Although tariffs have been imposed on some Chinese imports, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a huge subsidy program. If the dispute settlement mechanism were to work, the IRA would almost certainly have to be declared WTO-incompatible. However, as this path is blocked, many countries and regions of the world - including Germany and the EU at the forefront - are reacting with their own openly WTO-incompatible subsidy programs. The current subsidy race is constantly creating new reasons to impose subsidies in response to the subsidies of others. This will further damage the multilateral trading system, which has been very successful for Germany in particular. Targeted tariffs, on the other hand, which can be used to eliminate competitive disadvantages caused by subsidies and which are therefore only levied on goods from the subsidizing country, are in principle in line with the basic idea of the WTO. This is because it balances out a distortion of the world market created by subsidies. Therefore, tariffs are generally permitted as a reaction to dumping and subsidies6. A reaction to subsidies via tariffs within the strict WTO framework is currently hardly possible for the reasons mentioned above. In this situation, it should be actively communicated that in an unsatisfactory legal situation, the path of the least evil will be taken with tariffs. At the same time, serious efforts should be made to reform the WTO. Conclusion The argument: "We want to have the production of certain things in Germany because we believe that we would no longer be supplied with them in crisis situations" is not an economic argument. Production for strategic reasons is always a financially subsidized business. Because if there was money to be made, the private sector would do it. Politically, this line of argument is perfectly legitimate - as is the attempt to steer the economy directly in a politically acceptable direction through subsidies. However, this has nothing to do with a social market economy, but rather the opposite. However, if Germany and Europe are to remain committed to the social market economy and open multilateral trade, the only economically sensible response to problematic dependencies from abroad (if one has to respond at all) is to impose targeted, selective tariffs - but certainly not protective tariffs for domestic production sites. The German government should work within the EU to set a clear framework for this and at the same time work on a reform at WTO level to finally reduce the rampant subsidies. Because these - and not tariffs - are currently the biggest threat to the open global trading system that is so important to us. References 1 Vgl. etwa die Darstellung der Abhängigkeiten von für die Energiewende nötigen Metallen in Cernicky (2022): https://www.kas.de/documents/252038/16166715/Energiewende+und+Protektionismus+-+Wie+gehen+wir+pragmatisch+mit+China+um.pdf/442ba770-d504-43cc-25f1-eaf7d970dfc1, genaue Zahlen vgl. etwa die Auflistung des BDI: https://bdi.eu/publikation/news/analyse-bestehender-abhaengigkeiten-und-handlungsempfehlungen/ 2 Zum Versuch einer entsprechenden Bewertung vgl. etwa die von der KAS und dem Ifo-Institut durchgeführte Studie zu Abhängigkeiten in Lieferketten, Flach et al (2021): https://www.kas.de/de/analysen-und-argumente/detail/-/content/globale-wertschoepfungsketten 3 Art. III GATT 4 Art. I GATT/ WTO 5 WTO | 2023 News items - Members reiterate concerns on lack of transparency with subsidy notifications: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news23_e/scm_02may23_e.htm 6 GATT Art VI, Dumping und Ausgleichzölle Publisher: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., 2024, Berlin Design: yellow too, Pasiek Horntrich GbR Produced with the financial support of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V. is for information purposes only. It may not be used by political parties or election campaigners or helpers for the purpose of election advertising. This applies to federal, state and local elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. The text of this work is licensed under the terms of "Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international", CC BY-SA 4.0 (available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.de).

Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Energy & Economics
SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2019: ZTE room at the High-Tech Fair China 2019 at Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center.

What should Europeans do about the U.S.-China Rivalry in key strategic technologies?

by Roberta Haar , Hengyi Yang

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском In October 2023, the EU Commission identified four technology fields as critical: advanced semiconductors; artificial intelligence (AI); quantum, and; biotechnologies.[1] All four areas are greatly impacted by the U.S.-China rivalry in technology, making it essential for Europeans to understand the Sino-American competition. This article examines this rivalry from the Chinese and U.S. perspectives. It recounts their prevailing attitudes, which are shaped by recent events, and that, in turn, mold Chinese and American strategic approaches. From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, its geo-technological competition with the U.S. is novel and passively learned. During Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese government still positioned technology under the economic-oriented strategy of innovation-driven development. This stance followed the idea that ‘science and technology constitute a primary productive force’ and the ‘peaceful development’ principles set during Deng Xiaoping’s era. However, around 2018, two sanctions incidents that targeted Chinese telecommunications giants shifted Chinese leaders’ understanding of tech strategy into the geopolitical context. The first sanction incident involved ZTE, China’s second-largest communications equipment manufacturer. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration accused ZTE of selling telecom equipment containing American chip technology to Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $1.2 billion. However, in 2018, Trump’s government stated that ZTE did not comply with the settlement agreement, coupling previous sanctions with export controls on ZTE in April 2018. The second incident involved Meng Wanzhou, then Vice-Chairwoman and CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, during a layover in December 2018. Her detention was at the extradition request of the Trump administration, which levied charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These included bank and wire fraud and outright violations of U.S. sanctions via a subsidiary called Skycom Tech, which allegedly concealed Huawei’s activities in Iran. The necessity of a strategic adjustment These two incidents caused an uproar in the Chinese media, followed by a surge in public patriotic sentiment. However, for the Chinese government, the impact and significance of the two cases were quite different. The essence of the ZTE case was commercial sanctions, which meant that ZTE violated business norms and deserved economic punishment. The official Chinese government stance was that ‘this is just an individual case of corporate violation.’ Despite this position, the fact that the government was actively involved nonetheless politicized the incident within China. It was Xi Jinping himself who negotiated with Trump to save ZTE from bankruptcy after which ZTE became a state-owned enterprise with absolute state control—a move that ultimately resulted in ZTE gaining a greater domestic market share than Huawei. At the international level, the top-level nature of negotiations prevented the ZTE incident from overly politicizing then-ongoing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. While the ZTE episode was resolved with little rancor, Chinese senior officials became concerned about the impact that the U.S. might have on China’s strategic technology companies.[2] In November 2018, Tan Tieniu, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported to China’s top leaders that they should learn from the ZTE incident. They should avoid overreliance on imports of core electronic components and chips, and they should not repeat mistakes made by ZTE. In the same month, Xi Jinping mentioned in a speech that ‘internationally, advanced technology and key technology is more and more difficult to obtain… forcing us to travel the road of self-reliance.’ Terms like technological security, technology ‘chokepoints’ (卡脖子), and core technologies in key fields (关键核心技术) began to appear frequently in Chinese official discourse. These reflected Chinese leadership’s views about the ZTE incident that were in turn shaping strategic thoughts on the geopolitical technology competition with the United States. It was the Meng Wanzhou incident at the end of 2018 that for Chinese leaders confirmed the necessity of a strategic adjustment. As in the ZTE case, Huawei was involved in a business violation that from the Chinese perspective should have resulted in corporate punishment. Instead, a personal arrest warrant was issued for Meng, thereby escalating a commercial sanction into a political and diplomatic incident. Le Yucheng, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urgently summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to China and issued a stern protest. The Chinese government also arrested two Canadian citizens in China, sentencing one to 11 years in prison. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada wrote that the Meng Wanzhou case was a ‘premeditated political act in which the United States wields its regime power to hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.’ Chinese Defensive Deterrence These two episodes shaped and reinforced Chinese leaders’ strategic thinking about its geopolitical technology competition with the U.S. The 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the CCP in 2020 proposed ‘making technological self-reliance’ a strategic goal. Soon all official documents established a new tone for China’s technology strategy based on self-reliance. Previously, China pursued a reassurance strategy, a strategy that showed goodwill towards the U.S. and the system it led. Thus, in theory, China had two strategic options: reassurance and/or deterrence. The former strategy involves showing friendliness towards the U.S. and its allies, thereby releasing tension, and maybe re-joining the U.S.-led system. A reassurance strategy allowed China more time for stable development—the logic of ‘keeping a low profile’ of the Deng Xiaoping era. The Xi Jinping government picked the second option, deterrence, which is to show strength or use countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of further U.S. trade or coercive action. To make a deterrence strategy work, however, Xi further believed China needed to gain strong capacity in key tech fields. Therefore, Xi first mobilized domestic R&D resources and tried to acquire advanced technologies before using diplomatic countermeasures. The core logic underlying this geopolitical technology strategy is one of ‘defensive deterrence.’ A typical example of this strategy in play concerns the semiconductor industry. Facing export controls on semiconductor equipment from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, the Chinese government first increased R&D investment in the sector, trying to overcome ‘chokepoint’ technologies. As a result, China’s investment in semiconductor R&D grew from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2022, an increase of 150%. At the same time, the Chinese government increased investment in the production of key raw materials (silicon, gallium nitride, etc.) and semiconductor production bases. It also guided industries upstream while also pushing for downstream integration through policies to improve and strengthen supply-chain security. Chinese policy also moved to increase international supply-chain dependence on China through its comparative advantages in the semiconductor industry (and even other industries) in a hedging move against the U.S. and its allies. For example, in the automotive chip sector, in the supply of vital raw materials, and in the semiconductor equipment markets, China sought to utilize its significant comparative advantages. In August 2023, the Chinese government announced export controls on gallium and germanium, two key materials for manufacturing semiconductors. China Seeking More Regulatory Power But in addition to responding to what was perceived as U.S. containment policies in the area of technology, China’s strategic use of technology followed another approach, one led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). This third approach sought more regulatory power, for example, in the areas of civilian AI where China has huge potential.[3] Starting in 2018, the Chinese government showed a strong determination to introduce and study AI ethics and technical standards.[4] Based on these domestic framework policies, various diplomatic initiatives, and standards proposals, the MFA and MIIT expanded China’s regulatory influence in the field of AI. For example, the MFA proposed the ‘Global Data Security Initiative’ in 2020 and the ‘Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative’ in 2023. Minister Wang Yi explicitly stated ‘We hope to provide a blueprint for related international discussions and rule-making.’ The China Electronics Standardization Institute, affiliated with the MIIT, also actively participates in the formulation of international new technology standards. Selectively decoupling: U.S. Attitudes and Strategies When it comes to strategic technologies, the Joe Biden administration has generally maintained a stance toward China that aligns closely with the previous administration led by Donald J. Trump. This is especially the case concerning competitive technologies such as 5G/6G, the specialized processors designed to handle the computational demands of AI, quantum computing, and electric vehicles (EVs). Taking a page from U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War playbook of outspending the Soviet Union, president Biden initiated a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan. This plan, not unlike China’s policy to increase domestic innovation and strength, allocated funds for sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy, clean water, and high-speed broadband for both wired and wireless technologies. The justification for these investments, part of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) policy and later incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, was that they were a response to Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals of doubling China’s economy by 2035, intending to establish China as a global leader in biotechnology, green energy, and AI. In addition to a spending strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness in strategic technologies, the Biden administration continued with some of Trump’s punitive measures. For example, Biden maintained tariffs amounting to approximately $300 billion. He also continued action against Huawei, which has the potential to outcompete in 5G/6G mobile network technology. The Trump administration used the Bureau of Industry and Security to exclude Huawei from global semiconductor supply chains and it placed the company on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, thus requiring U.S. companies to obtain a license before exporting to Huawei. As discussed above, Trump’s executive branch also brought fraud allegations against Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng. While Biden kept in place Trump-era prohibitions on sales of U.S. goods to companies like Huawei, as well as maintaining restrictions on exports of U.S. critical technology, he did quickly resolve the dispute over Meng. Within hours of the deal for her release, the two men caught up in the game of hostage diplomacy left China on a flight back to Canada. Highlighting the political nature of the incident, when Meng returned to China, senior local officials at the airport met her. Encourage Multilateralism to meet Global Challenges Along with strident measures, the Biden administration also sought a more nuanced stance. Indications that suggest a less hawkish approach to China include emphasizing a collaborative approach toward global challenges like climate change and future pandemics. Biden further pushed for engagement in high-level meetings with, for example, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held talks with their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021. These talks were frostier than U.S. officials would have preferred but they got the two sides to engage in some dialogue. Similarly, Biden sought to engage with China in multilateral forums and organizations where both countries are members, such as the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Biden hosted in November 2023. Even the choice of San Francisco as the venue was designed to be conciliatory as it has historic ties to Asia as well as a central role in global technology as the home of Silicon Valley. Still, one must keep in mind that in deciding on a strategy towards China, Biden must also contend with a Congress and public opinion that are growing increasingly skeptical of doing business with China, which they believe steals good jobs and sends balloons over American territory to spy on U.S. critical infrastructure. One primary shaper of U.S. attitudes towards China are the leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lead one of the last bastions of functioning bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. With their many investigations, subpoenas, and policy recommendations, the House China Committee has become the ‘beating heart’ of U.S. Congressional policy, which, with regards to technology, argues for selectively decoupling from China for national security reasons.[5] A way forward Faced with the U.S.’ decoupling or blunting strategies and China’s defensive deterrence strategy, what steps might European nations take to navigate through the choppy, contentious waters of strategic technologies? Are there also steps that Europeans can take to mitigate the impact on their own strategic technology vulnerability? First, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in the rapidly digitizing global economy, Europeans need to stress that it is in the collective interest of everyone to establish institutions, norms, and policies for effective global governance. Rather than engaging in reactive geopolitical maneuvers resembling a chess game, these institutions could concentrate on constructing a more cooperative foundation for crucial technology sectors. Second, along with this recognition, efforts could be directed toward the development of future institutions, policies, and norms that set standards for next-generation and sensitive technologies. Such efforts should take into account initiatives already made by the Chinese and the Americans. Such efforts could also coincide with a third approach of encouraging the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive multilateral approach. The U.S. needs to push for collaboration beyond issues such as climate change and economic inequality to encompass the intensely competitive areas in technology like those discussed in this article. For one, Europeans could point out that U.S. blunting strategies are simply not working and may even be backfiring by accelerating Chinese technological advances. In September 2023, Huawei released the Mate 60 Pro smartphone equipped with a 7nm domestic chip, revealing that China has overcome some hurdles that U.S. bans were designed to stymie.[6] Since no one knows how long China’s defensive deterrence strategy will hold (and shift to what Chinese leaders believe is a more offensive deterrence), nor whether Trump or someone as equally anti-multilateral as Trump will be (re)elected, Europeans have many incentives to encourage a softer engagement between China and the U.S. Changing the narrative is a fourth important recommendation. It is essential to recognize that the essence of the Sino-American technology competition is more about narrative construction than a description of the current situation. One indication of this is that both sides believe that the other side started what has been described as the ‘new Cold War.’[7] It does not help that both sides have engaged in behavior that supports the other side’s narrative with some hawkish actors employing similar bash-the-other tactics to gain political advantage.[8] Typically, the factual basis for technological competition is grounded in industrial competition, corporate rivalry, or intellectual property disputes. However, the high-tech relationship between China and the United States has been one of complementarity as well as rivalry. Both China and the United States, as well as European stakeholders, need to be careful of the narratives they espouse, lest they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This work has been funded by the REMIT project, funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101094228 Footnotes [1] EU Commission Recommendation of 3.10.2023 on critical technology areas for the EU’s economic security for further risk assessment with Member States. [2] Gregory C. Allen. 2023. ‘China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War.’ csis.org, May 3. [3] Jing Cheng and Jinghan Zeng. 2023. ‘Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance.’ Journal of Contemporary China 32(143): 794-810. [4] See White Paper on AI Standardization, a Guide to the Building of a National Standard Framework for New Generation AI, a report on Ethical Norms for New Generation AI, a White Paper on Trustworthy AI as well as other regulatory documents. [5] Robbie Gramer. 2023. ‘The Masterminds: Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.’ foreignpolicy.com, November 27. [6] Weiwen Wang. (2023). ‘China Breaks Through 7nm Chip Technology, Has the China-U.S. Tech War Entered Phase 2.0?’ (中国突破7纳米芯片技术 中美科技战进入2.0阶段?). Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), September 17. Retrieved from https://www.zaobao.com.sg/news/china/story20230917-1433739 [7] Patricia M. Kim, Matthew Turpin, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Jessica Chen Weiss, Eun A Jo, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball. 2023. ‘Should the US pursue a new Cold War with China?’ Brookings.edu, September 1. [8] Roberta N. Haar. 2020. ‘Will China replace the U.S. as the world’s predominant power?’ Atlantisch Perspectief 44(3):9-13.

Energy & Economics
Chinese Yuan on the map of South America. Trade between China and Latin American countries, economy and investment

Ahead of the curve: Why the EU and US risk falling behind China in Latin America

by Ángel Melguizo , Margaret Myers

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском As Beijing’s investment approach to Latin America focuses on industries of strategic importance, the EU and US will need to contend with growing Chinese competition China is pouring less foreign direct investment (FDI) into Latin America. But while this may seem like a sign of Beijing’s disinterest in the region, data suggests that Chinese companies are simply recalibrating, not retreating. In doing so, they are becoming important players in sectors key to Western interests: critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy. While the European Union and the United States have long been top investors in Latin America, increased competition with Chinese investment now jeopardises their interests in the Latin American industries that will become most crucial to the digital and green transitions. The number of Chinese projects in Latin America grew by 33 per cent from 2018-2023, compared with the previous five-year period of 2013-2017, even as the total value declined. In other words, Chinese companies are making more investments in the region but are pursuing smaller-scale projects on average. These investments are also more focused on what China calls “new infrastructure“ (新基建), a term which encompasses telecommunications, fintech, renewable energy, and other innovation-related industries. In 2022, 60 per cent of China’s investments were in these frontier sectors, a key economic priority for the country. Beijing also views smaller projects in these industries as incurring less operational and reputational risk, especially compared to some of the large-scale infrastructure investment projects often associated with the Belt and Road initiative. Like China, the investment priorities of the G7 grouping – particularly the US and the EU – are centring on critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy as they aim to grow and reinforce existing economic and political partnerships in Latin America. However, both the US and the EU risk falling short of China’s investment strategy in the region. The US has signalled want for greater economic engagement with the region, especially in sectors of strategic interest. However, to date, US efforts to compete with China remain largely focused on building US domestic capacity in these strategic sectors, even as some US companies, such as Intel, are increasingly focused on including regional partners in their supply chains. Some see opportunity for Latin America in Joe Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is aimed at incentivising the energy transition while also de-risking critical supply chains. For example, certain countries in the region may benefit from preferential market access for their lithium or other key inputs to new energy and technology supply chains. However, the reach of the IRA – which remains a largely domestic policy – does not stretch as far as China’s current investment reshuffle. The Americas Act, announced by members of Congress in March could generate promising new investment opportunities for the region, as it encourages US companies and others to move their operations out of China, to which Latin America stands as a promising replacement. But Americas Act reshoring would primarily incentivise textiles and potentially medical equipment manufacturing, with less overall focus on the range of “new infrastructure” industries that China is prioritising. Chinese interests in information and communication technologies reveal a similar story. While the US has focused its policy on 5G equipment sales, China is undertaking a process of vertical integration in Latin American tech sectors that will dramatically boost its competitiveness. For instance, Chinese company Huawei is rapidly expanding its focus to include data centres, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and other services, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. (Computing accounted for a sizable 41 per cent of total Chinese information technology investment in the region between 2018 and the first half of 2023.) At the same time, Global Gateway, the EU’s proposal for a global investment initiative is yet to reach its potential in the region. Brussels is looking to be Latin America’s partner of choice by building local capacity for making batteries and final products like electric vehicles, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted last year. Yet even as the EU signals renewed commitment, China is becoming increasingly dominant in the electric vehicle market in Latin America and other regions. China surpassed the US in electric vehicle sales in 2023, with Chinese companies accounting for 45 per cent of total global sales and three times that of Germany’s. What is more, China has invested $11 billion in lithium extraction in the region since 2018, as part of a bid to control a third of global lithium-mine production capacity. Meanwhile the EU has secured some access to lithium as part of trade deals with Chile, alongside other nations, but this pales in comparison to what will be required to fuel the future of EU battery production. Latin America as a whole accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Based on its current levels of engagement in the region, the EU risks falling short of lithium, stalling its battery production and subsequently, its electric vehicle sales, just as China advances in this field. The window is closing for the EU, the US, and other partners looking to both maintain market share and compete with China in these Latin American industries, despite still-high rates of US and EU investment in and trade with the region. Indeed, US automakers increasingly see Chinese competition across the globe as an “extinction-level event.” Ensuring competitiveness in “new infrastructure” and related sectors will require a continuous commitment by partners to building and supporting project pipelines, and to delivering products and services at price points that can compete with China’s subsidised offerings. Both the EU and the US remain critical economic partners for Latin America and are contributing in ways that China is not. Still, complacency risks allowing China to take the lead in emerging industries in the region, some of which weigh heavily in the EU’s green and digital transformation. To protect their own future industries, the EU and the US need to first take a longer look at Latin America’s – especially as China vies for a dominant position.

Energy & Economics
Export in Chains

Export bans and inter-state tensions: The need for a revised WTO export bans framework to address worrying state behaviour at the peak of the pandemic

by Dr. Seebal Aboudounya

Please note that this article is only available in English. Abstract: During the peak of the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, some states imposed export bans on medical goods to prevent their exportation during the emergency situation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the manner in which this policy was applied caused much discontent especially between neighbouring countries and allies, particularly due to the confiscation of pre-ordered goods destined for countries also experiencing a crisis situation. This paper analyses the rise of inter-state tensions due to export bans at the peak of the pandemic and calls for the need to revise the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) export bans framework which currently contains a number of gaps exacerbating the problem and leaving a legal gap. The paper discusses those gaps in the WTO’s legal framework and highlights the areas in need of revision to avoid repeating the troubles of the past pandemic. Introduction Faced with political pressure and an extraordinary situation during the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, some countries resorted to the use of export bans as a tool to ensure that they have enough medical supplies for their population. However, their use of export bans also involved the confiscation of medical goods destined for delivery to their neighbours and allies. Such behaviour provoked discontent among those states expecting the delivery of their ordered medical supplies which were urgently needed as the death-toll from Covid-19 was sharply rising. This article starts by explaining the instances where confiscations using export bans occurred, namely between the United States and Germany, the US and Barbados as well as France and the United Kingdom. The paper also discusses the ‘near misses’ involving some European states where the export bans were initially used to confiscate the goods of other European countries, but then those goods were ultimately allowed to be delivered abroad to their delivery location. The discussion then shifts to the international legal framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) governing the use of export bans and then shows how this legal framework is flawed in certain areas as it contains some gaps that may be exploited for conducting unconstrained confiscation operations. An overview of existing studies on export bans then reveals that this policy is already harmful in several ways (Evenett 2020a; Bown 2020; Barichello 2020). The article then ends with a concluding discussion emphasising how export bans are particularly harmful when used in relation to pre-ordered goods and reiterating the need for a revised WTO legal framework on export bans. Incidents of confiscations using export bans The three incidents below all occurred during the peak of the covid pandemic in 2020 when countries faced life and death situations. The three cases also involved the use of export bans to justify the confiscation of medical goods pre-ordered by other states. US vs Germany This incident occurred on 3rd April 2020 involving the United States and Germany (Crump 2020). This particular event captured a lot of media attention and included the release of high-level statements from both sides, with accusations of “modern piracy” being directed towards the US (BBC 2020a). The main issue here was that approximately 200,000 N95 masks that Germany had ordered for its police force were diverted to the United States (Selinger 2020). The masks shipment dispatched from China from an American company was diverted to the US during a transfer between planes in Thailand (Selinger 2020). Germany stated that the masks were confiscated in Bangkok by American officials and that those masks were ordered from a US producer (Crump 2020; DW 2020). The next day, the US company 3M denied Germany’s claims and told a German news agency that it did not have any paperwork regarding a shipment for Germany (DW 2020). However, Germany had made it clear on 3rd April that it had ordered and paid for those urgently needed masks from a US company (Berlin 2020). In fact, Germany referred to earlier accusations made by French officials against the US for buying France’s masks in China and added that “the U.S. administration has obliged the American conglomerate 3M by law to supply the U.S. with as many N95 respiratory masks as possible, such as those used in hospitals” and that “the group also manufactures in China” (Berlin 2020a). Significantly, the media was already reporting how the American company 3M “has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump” (BBC 2020a). The BBC (2020a) added that “on Friday [3rd April], Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act (DPA) to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand”. Zooming in on Trump’s official statements during the Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing reveals significant information when he stated that:  I’m also signing a directive invoking the Defense Production Act to prohibit export of scarce health and medical supplies by unscrupulous actors and profiteers. The security and Secretary — the Secretary of Homeland Security will work with FEMA to prevent the export of N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment. We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them. […] We’ve already leveraged the DPA to stop the hoarding and price gouging of crucial supplies. Under that authority, this week, the Department of Health and Human Services, working with the Department of Justice, took custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 600,000 gloves, as well as bottles — many, many, many bottles — and disinfectant sprays that were being hoarded (Whitehouse 2020, emphasis added).  Trump’s statements are important because they include the significant number of 200,000. Although Trump did not specify where those 200,000 N95 were confiscated from, the number remains important (BBC 2020a); it is the same number of masks that Germany reported. More importantly, the official statement also supports the fact that the DPA was used as a tool for confiscating goods. Trump’s statements describe these good as being ‘hoarded’ prior to their confiscation, however, the statements from Germany’s side indicate that those masks were intended for the German people. As significant as Trump’s statements were the ones made by Berlin’s Interior Senator who blamed the US for the confiscation of the N95 masks (DW 2020). In fact, he stated that:  We consider this an act of modern piracy. This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild west methods. I urge the federal government to urge the United States to comply with international rules (Berlin 2020b; BBC 2020a).  As such, this incident saw direct statements from the German side, indicating that Germany saw the US’ behavior as deviating from international rules. Yet despite Trump’s statements in the press briefing, he directly addressed the German incident, denying the claims by saying that “there has been no act of piracy” (Crump 2020). Similarly, the spokeswoman for the American embassy in Bangkok denied that the US had knowledge of the mask shipment bound for Germany (Tanakasempipat 2020). Despite the US’ constant denial of state involvement, it remains a fact that an order of 200,000 masks destined for Germany was never delivered. Moreover, at no point did the developments mention non-state entities, but rather, the discourse had remained solely at the inter-state level and the main issue for discussion was the US’ use of the Defence Production Act to secure vital medical goods. US vs Barbados On the 5th of April, Barbados was brought into the picture when 20 ventilators donated to Barbados by a Philanthropist where “barred from exportation” by the US government (Barbados Today 2020). Moreover, as stated by the Barbadian Health and Wellness minister, these ventilators were already “paid for” (Barbados Today 2020). In explaining this incident, the Health minister clarified that “it has to do with export restrictions being placed on certain items” (Connell 2020). Thus, the Barbados incident was another instance where export bans were used as the justification for confiscating important medical supplies that were destined for another country. As for the US’ response to this incident, The Miami Herald wrote that a State department spokesperson’s email response “seemed to suggest that some previous media reports about seized medical exports may not be accurate” (Charles 2020). However, given that this is an incident relating to a Caribbean Island whose relations with the US are far from hostile, it is unlikely that this confiscation incident was characterised by significant inaccuracies. France vs UK Another instance of confiscation via export bans was reported during the pandemic, but this time, the location was Europe. The incident happened in March 2020 and had the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) as the victim and France as the accused. France’s actions were reported by Euronews when it stated that:  France has forced a face mask manufacturer to cancel a major UK order as the coronavirus-inspired scramble for protective gear intensifies. The National Health Service ordered millions of masks from Valmy SAS near Lyon earlier this year as COVID-19 threatened. But amid a global shortage, France earlier this week ordered the requisition of all protective masks made in the country (Euronews 2020). France’s export ban placed the company in an uncomfortable situation as it was prohibited from fulfilling the NHS’ order. Indeed, the company director commented that "the requisition does not allow any wiggle room for us to deliver to the NHS, but it is complicated because the NHS was the first client to order and uses our masks all year long” (Euronews 2020). It is important to note that four months later, the Guardian revealed that Valmy had a contract with the NHS that was signed in 2017 where this company “was required to deliver almost 7m FFP3 respirator masks to the UK at 17p per mask in a pandemic situation as soon as the order was activated” (Davies and Garside 2020). The NHS did indeed activate the contract in early February, however, the French “sweeping requisition decree” ultimately meant that France seized the masks within its borders (Davies and Garside 2020). Near misses: tensions in Europe The incidents below can be described as “near misses" as the accused states initially confiscated other state’s products, but eventually gave them back to their neighbours. The cases here are particularly useful for showing how the misuse of export bans has the potential to harm diplomatic relations between neighbouring states and allies, especially when the ban is placed over other states’ pre-ordered goods. Germany vs neighbours One of such instances occurred between Germany and Switzerland, but this time Germany was the accused. The incident was reported on the 9th of March 2020 and caused a strain in Germany’s relationship with Switzerland during the pandemic. The “diplomatic spat” started a week after the German government banned exports on most protective medical goods (Dahinten and Wabl 2020). Switzerland was particularly angered when 240,000 masks travelling to it were blocked from crossing the German border to enter Switzerland (Dahinten and Wabl 2020). Switzerland then called the German ambassador for “an emergency meeting” regarding this issue amid a very tense situation, especially when it hardly manufactures protective equipment itself (The Local 2020). Eventually after a call was scheduled between the leaders of both countries, Germany modified the ban on the 12th of March, adding exemptions and then removed it completely the following week (Hall et al. 2020). Germany’s diplomatic relations were equally weakening with another neighbour, but this time, the neighbour was a European Union (EU) member. The point of conflict was of course the export ban on protective equipment. The Austrian Economy minister commented on this ban by stating that:  It can’t be that Germany is holding back products for Austria just because they happen to be stored in a German location […] these products are for the Austrian market, and unilateral moves by Germany are just causing problems in other countries (Dahinten and Wabl 2020).  Such statements indicate that placing export bans on other states’ goods seriously angers the importing states as such bans make them feel that their interests are being completely ignored by their counterparts. France vs neighbours France also got a share of the criticism in March when it seized the supplies of the Swedish company Mölnlycke located in France after announcing an export ban on masks and other medical goods (AP 2020; Marlowe 2020). The conflict erupted between France and Sweden when the French ban was placed over Mölnlycke’s Lyon Warehouse that is responsible for distributing personal protective equipment to Southern Europe as well as Belgium and the Netherlands (Marlowe 2020). Significantly, the seized stock was composed of 6 million masks, all of which “had been contracted for”, including a million masks each to Italy and Spain (Marlowe 2020). Eventually, France allowed the shipments to go to Italy and Spain despite initial reluctance to do so (AP 2020). However, the easing of the situation was mainly due to the “crucial efforts” of Sweden’s prime minister who was thanked by Mölnlycke on the 4th of April for his role in the removal of the French export ban on the Lyon Warehouse (Mölnlycke 2020). It is important to note that this instance also made its way to the European Parliament on the 3rd of April where the French export ban was questioned and criticised as “yet another demonstration of the lack of European solidarity” (EP 2020). Thus, this specific incident resonated across the whole of Europe, and not in a positive way. Export bans: the GATT framework The international law on export bans falls under the competence of the WTO, particularly the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 which itself is mainly composed of the 1947 GATT agreement (GATT 1994). Significantly, article XI of the agreement titled ‘General Elimination of Quantitative Restrictions’ prohibits the use of export bans when it states that:  No prohibitions or restrictions other than duties, taxes or other charges, whether made effective through quotas, import or export licences or other measures, shall be instituted or maintained by any contracting party on the importation of any product of the territory of any other contracting party or on the exportation or sale for export of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party (GATT 1994).  However, the agreement leaves out certain exemptions where this prohibition does not apply, the relevant one here being “export prohibitions or restrictions temporarily applied to prevent or relieve critical shortages of foodstuffs or other products essential to the exporting contracting party” where the GATT clearly states that “the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article shall not extent to” it (GATT 1994, XI, 2(a)). The emphasis on the temporary application of such measures is important and is further clarified in the WTO’s timely report on “export prohibition and restrictions” issued at the peak of the Covid pandemic where it explained that:  The reference to a measure that is "temporarily applied" indicates that the carve-out applies to measures applied for a limited time, taken to bridge a "passing need". In turn, "critical shortage" refers to deficiencies in quantity that are crucial, that amount to a situation of decisive importance, or that reach a vitally important or decisive stage, or a turning point (WTO 2020, annex 1).  Of relevance to the export bans legal framework is also Article XX of the GATT (1994) titled “General Exceptions” that states how:  Subject to the requirement that such measures are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent the adoption or enforcement by any contracting party of measures […] (b) necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health.  Thus, here the GATT agreement allows countries to use export bans when it is necessary to protect lives. The WTO’s report confirms the relevance of this exception to the Covid-19 situation when it explains that:  In the context of COVID-19, Article XX(b) of the GATT 1994 could be used to justify a ban or quantitative restriction on the exportation of goods, so long as such a measure would be necessary and effective in contributing to protecting the health of that country's citizens (WTO 2020, Annex 1).  Thus, in terms of international law, countries are allowed to make use of export bans when faced with exceptional circumstances. During the Covid pandemic, the WTO member states did indeed make use of the exceptions and exemptions codified in the GATT agreement while informing the WTO of their new policies (Pauwelyn 2020, 107). However, when life is back to normal, their use remains illegal. Thus, overall, the export bans legal situation can be described as residing in a ‘legal grey zone’ whereby their use, though normally prohibited, can be justified and permitted in serious situations requiring them (Pelc 2020, 349). Nonetheless, it is important to note that the international legal framework here does not provide clarification for situations where the export ban exemption is placed on pre-ordered or pre-paid-for goods supposed to go to other countries. Indeed, the current legal framework suffers from a number of ambiguities as explained below. The first ambiguity relates to the term “destined goods.” When prohibiting export bans, article XI speaks of “export of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party”. Thus, clearly, countries cannot put their hands on goods going to other countries for this would be illegal. However, the carve-out intended to “prevent or relieve critical shortages” is not detailed enough as to clarify if this also applies to goods “destined” for other countries (GATT, article XI, 2(a)). Even if the “destined” statement is applied to the exemption, the ambiguity remains. Much of the ambiguity rests on how to interpret the term “destined” from the export prohibition paragraph: is the term “destined” applied here generally whereby a company in Country X is an exporter and thus it’s goods will naturally be “destined” for other countries, or does the term imply goods that are ready-to-travel to other countries who have already placed an order or paid for goods? Clearly, it’s the second interpretation when applied as an exemption that has been the cause of conflict between the states in the previous section. However, regardless of which interpretation is intended in the GATT, instances where countries confiscate orders destined for other countries is seen as politically and morally unacceptable by the latter; “modern piracy” was how Germany described it. Thus, whatever the world leaders had in mind when they agreed to this exemption, clearly it now needs a lot of clarification. Secondly, there is ambiguity over the situation regarding donated goods. This is an important question especially given the Barbados case. Here the goods sold in country X were already bought in Country X (from a philanthropist in Country X) to be sent to country Y. Thus, a transaction had already taken place and the goods now belong to the philanthropist who is kindly giving this order to Country Y. Does an export ban apply to this situation? Logically, there is little to no justification for its application in this scenario, but the GATT agreement still needs to confirm this. Thirdly, there is ambiguity over the situation of “guest” companies. Given the globalised world we live in, does this exemption apply to international companies geographically located in country X? This was the main cause of tension between Sweden and France when France imposed the export ban over the Swedish company’s Warehouse. A logical consideration of this situation would lead to a ‘no’ answer to this question, but it is also acknowledged that the company may be subject to the geographical jurisdiction and the laws of the country that it is located in. Thus, it is important that the relationship between the host country and the foreign company is clarified when it comes to export prohibitions. Fourthly, there is ambiguity over the timeline of enforcing an export ban policy. The Covid crisis saw quick decisions being taken and implemented. This was particularly the case with export bans and was to the detriment of the importing states. In the case of the US-Germany incident, the confiscation of the masks on their way to Germany occurred hours before the US president announced invoking the defence production Act. In fact, the US policy on export restrictions became official on the 7th of April after the Federal Emergency Management Agency published it (Bown 2020). Significantly, FEMA stated that “this rule is effective from April 7, 2020 until August 10, 2020” (FEMA 2020). Thus, the obvious question arises: on what basis were the masks going to Germany confiscated? Similarly, on what basis were the ventilators destined for Barbados blocked by the US on the 5th of April? If the WTO steps in to advise on the implementation of such export bans, the situation would be greatly improved. Finally, there is ambiguity over the extent to which one country may enforce its policy, particularly in other countries. The US-Germany case was sensationalised by an “international hunt” for masks in Bangkok; thus, here the US officials imposed the export ban on an American company in a foreign country outside their national jurisdiction. However, the question remains, is this permissible under the GATT? The GATT articles did not go that far, but it is important that the international legal framework answers this question. Overall, several unanswered questions resulting from the brevity of the GATT’s article on export bans require answers. Filling in those gaps in the GATT would greatly improve the legal framework on export bans and ease tensions between member states. The next section takes a closer look at export bans, particularly their discussion in the literature and their unwelcome effects. The effects of export bans The academic literature on export bans mainly focuses on their effects, either on several states or on specific case-studies. Prior to Covid-19, a number of studies were mainly concerned with the effects of export bans following the food price crisis in 2007-2008 when countries made use of export restrictions on agricultural commodities in an attempt to stabilise domestic markets (e.g. Liefert, Westcott, and Wainio 2012; Dorosh and Rashid 2013; Timmer 2010). However, following the coronavirus pandemic, some studies have focused on their use on medical goods and agricultural goods as well as on their effects (Koppenberg et al. 2020; Pelc 2020; Evenett 2020b). Nevertheless, what unites almost all the studies on export restrictions is that they mainly agree that such bans do more harm than good. The recent studies on export bans are important because they demonstrate how this policy results in negative effects. For example, Simon Evenett (2020a, 831) in his recent work argues that “export bans on masks, for example, erode the capability of trading partners to cope with the spread of COVID-19. Rather than beggar-thy-neighbour, export bans on medical supplies effectively sicken-thy-neighbour”. He further analyses the effect of the export ban from the perspective of the developing countries cut-off from receiving advanced medical equipment such as ventilators, and explains that whenever this policy is implemented, “a significant share of the world’s population” is prevented from accessing this vital equipment (Evenett 2020a, 832). Evenett (2020a, 833) therefore recommends that governments consider other alternatives to export bans that “do not impede foreign purchases”. Significantly, Evenett also discusses the effect of the export curbs on the exporting country itself and argues that this policy is counter-productive:  Whatever temporary gain there is in limiting shipments abroad, the loss of future export sales will discourage local firms from ramping up production and investing in new capacity, which is exactly what the WHO has called for. In practical terms, during a pandemic this mean that an export ban “secures” certain, currently available medical supplies at the expense of more locally produced supplies in the future (Evenett 2020a, 832).  Internationally, export bans have also been shown to have severe effects on several countries at once. Chad Bown’s (2020, 43) work on the Covid pandemic demonstrates how “taking supplies off the global market can lead to higher world prices and reduced quantities, harming hospital workers in need in other countries”. He also cautions that their use during the pandemic may invoke a “multiplier effect”, similar to the one observed during the sharp price increases of agricultural goods in the 2000s when “one country’s export restriction led to additional global shortages, further increasing world prices, putting pressure on other countries to impose even more export restrictions” (Bown, 2020, 44). Richard Barichello’s (2020, 223) study on Covid-19 and the agricultural sector also highlights the negative effect of export bans while observing how some countries have already imposed export restrictions on staple goods such as rice and cereal products during the pandemic. Barichello acknowledges that such export bans could have a positive effect on countries such as Canada if a consequence of such a ban increases the price of a commodity that it exports. However, he also explains the gravity of the adoption of export bans during current times when he writes that:  The distributional effects of adding export restrictions will, like the COVID-19 crisis itself, fall most heavily on the poor in importing countries by reducing trade, raising food prices, and reducing food security in all but the export countries of that commodity (Barichello 2020, 223). Export bans have also been shown to have “intangible” negative effects that are also significant. Hoekman, Firoini and Yildirim’s (2020) study focuses on export bans from an “international cooperation” perspective and emphasises the foreign policy damages resulting from export bans. The authors write that “in the case of the EU, the immediate policy responses of some member states may have damaged the European project by eroding trust among European partners” (Hoekman, Firoini and Yildirim 2020, 78). Simon Evenett (2020b, 54) adds that export restrictions are a “gift to those economic nationalists abroad that want to unwind or shorten international supply chains”; such nationalists can then claim that relying on the foreign market is unreliable. It is significant that the WTO itself discusses a similar point in its Covid-19 report on export restrictions when it lists the following as part of the “other possible consequences” of export bans:  An erosion of confidence in the multilateral trading system, in particular if restrictions negatively impact the most vulnerable, especially least-developed countries, whose healthcare systems are already strained. It would be difficult for importing members to trust a system that fails to produce tangible benefits in times of crisis and may lead to general calls to ensure that production of medical and other products only take place at the national level (WTO 2020, 9).  The WTO (2020, 9) also highlights how from a health-perspective, export bans may ultimately weaken the fight against the coronavirus when it states how: “given its global nature, if some countries are not able to combat the disease, this coronavirus, or mutated strains of it, will inevitably recirculate and contaminate the populations of all countries, including those imposing the export restrictions”. Thus, an export ban on medical goods is not the soundest policy to implemented during a pandemic. Effects of export ban confiscations & concluding thoughts It is important to consider the consequences of using export bans specifically as a confiscation technique. The points raised above are still of high relevance. However, there are three main disadvantages that are particularly prominent when countries place export bans on other states’ goods. Firstly, enforcing this policy on the goods of other states creates severe tensions between countries at different levels. The first one is at the diplomatic level whereby the officials of country Y express their discontent to officials of country X. Such tensions then easily transmit to other places. Indeed, at the citizenry level, these tensions take the foreground as the citizens in country Y read the news and frown at what their neighbouring states are doing to them in times of need. Thus, the misuse of export bans can be seen as a threat to diplomacy, international trade, and to the principles of establishing friendly relations between states and peoples. Secondly, shortages and stress are another effect of this policy when enforced on other states’ goods. When countries place orders, it is usually because they have a need for those orders. When those orders are then confiscated, those expecting the orders are left empty-handed and in a stressful situation. The stress is generated after the realisation that their plans for fighting the virus have been compromised; orders placed months or weeks ago will now not reach their borders despite those orders being just hours away from arrival. In the above cases, the German police and the NHS had to deal with the unpleasant news that their mask orders will not arrive. Such export bans create a difficult situation for the importing nations and for their institutions, as they then try to seek alternative suppliers at a very short notice. Finally, the implementation of this policy on other states’ orders sends worrying empirical signals. Scholars of IR when they first learn about international politics naturally ask whether the world we live in is a very “realist” world characterised by “survival of the fittest” instinct, or whether it is a world that accommodates international law and inter-state cooperation, despite anarchy. This is the essence of the classical debate between Realists and neo-Liberal Institutionalists (Mearsheimer 1994; Walt, 1997; Ikenberry 2011; Martin 1992). It is reassuring that in the previous discussion, the WTO still had a role to play. The European Commission also tried to solve the disputes arising between its members over the export bans (EC 2020). However, despite those interventions, it was clear that the cause of the problem was the unilateral export ban policy that was quickly being implemented at the discretion of the member states over what was destined for other states. As such, there is an urgent need for the WTO to revise its export ban legal framework to prevent the above scenarios from ever repeating in the future. Bibliography AP. 2020. “Scramble for virus supplies strains global solidarity.” Associate Press. 3 April. https://apnews.com/article/health-ap-top-news-international-news-global-trade-virus-outbreak-b37eadbf9885767d01270117820f4b37 Barichello, Richard. 2020. “The COVID‐19 pandemic: Anticipating its effects on Canada's agricultural trade.” Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, 68 (2), pp. 219-224. https://doi.org/10.1111/cjag.12244 Barbados Today, K. 2020. “Ventilators destined for Barbados seized by U.S.” Barbados Today. 6 April. https://barbadostoday.bb/2020/04/05/ventilators-destined-for-barbados-seized-by-u-s/ BBC. 2020a. “Coronavirus: US accused of ‘piracy’ over mask ‘confiscation’”, BBC, 4 April. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52161995 Berlin. 2020 a. “USA confiscate protective masks for Berlin”, Berlin.de, 3 April. https://www.berlin.de/en/news/coronavirus/6131492-6098215-usa-confiscate-protective-masks-for-berl.en.html Berlin. 2020b. “The delivery of masks for the Police has not reached Berlin [German].” Berlin.de, 3 April. https://www.berlin.de/sen/inneres/presse/pressemitteilungen/2020/pressemitteilung.915948.php Bown, Chad. 2020. “COVID-19: Demand spikes, export restrictions, and quality concerns imperil poor country access to medical supplies.” in Richard E. Baldwin and Simon J. Evenett eds., COVID-19 and Trade Policy: Why Turning Inward Won’t Work. London: CEPR press, pp. 31-47. https://cepr.org/publications/books-and-reports/covid-19-and-trade-policy-why-turning-inward-wont-work Charles, Jacqueline. 2020. “Barbados accuses U.S. of blocking ventilators for coronavirus, then walks back allegation.” Miami Herald. 6 April. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article241783756.html Connell, Antoinette. 2020. “Bostic: Ventilators not seized.” Nation News. 6 April. https://www.nationnews.com/2020/04/06/bostic-ventilators-not-seized/ Crump, James. 2020. “US denies diverting masks headed for Germany after Trump administration accused of ‘modern piracy’.” The Independent, 6 April. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-masks-update-trump-germany-facemasks-bangkok-modern-piracy-a9449976.html Dahinten, Jan and Matthias Wabl. 2020. “Germany Faces Backlash From Neighbors Over Mask Export Ban.” Blomberg. 9 March. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-09/germany-faces-backlash-from-neighbors-over-mask-export-ban Davies, Harry and Juliette Garside. 2020. “Revealed: NHS denied PPE at height of Covid-19 as supplier prioritised China.” The Guardian. 20 July. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/20/revealed-nhs-denied-ppe-at-height-of-covid-19-as-supplies-sent-to-china-coronavirus Dorosh, Paul. A. and Shahidur Rashid. 2013. “Trade subsidies, export bans and price stabilization: Lessons of Bangladesh–India rice trade in the 2000s.” Food Policy, 41, 103-111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2013.05.001 DW. 2020. “US firm denies German ‘piracy’ claims over vanished face masks.” DW, 4 April. https://www.dw.com/en/us-firm-denies-german-piracy-claims-over-vanished-face-masks/a-53017112 EC. 2020. “Communication from The Commission To The European Parliament, The European Council, The Council, The European Central Bank, The European Investment Bank And The Eurogroup: Coordinated economic response to the COVID-19 Outbreak.” European Commission, 13th March, Brussels. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0112 EP. 2020. “Parliamentary questions, subject: Masks intended for Italy blocked by France.” European Parliament. 3rd April. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2020-002075_EN.html Euronews, R. 2020. “Coronavirus: French protective mask manufacturer scraps NHS order to keep masks in France.” Euronews, 6 March. https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/06/coronavirus-french-protective-mask-manufacturer-scraps-nhs-order-to-keep-masks-in-france Evenett, Simon J. 2020a. “Sicken thy neighbour: The initial trade policy response to COVID‐19.” The World Economy, 43 (4), pp. 828-839. https://doi.org/10.1111/twec.12954 Evenett, Simon .J. 2020b. “Flawed prescription: Export curbs on medical goods won’t tackle shortages.” in COVID-19 and Trade Policy: Why Turning Inward Won’t Work, edited by Richard E. Baldwin, and Simon J. Evenett. London: CEPR press, pp. 49-61. https://cepr.org/publications/books-and-reports/covid-19-and-trade-policy-why-turning-inward-wont-work FEMA. 2020. “Prioritization and Allocation of Certain Scarce or Threatened Health and Medical Resources for Domestic Use.” Federal Emergency Management Agency, 85 FR 20195, 10 April. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/10/2020-07659/prioritization-and-allocation-of-certain-scarce-or-threatened-health-and-medical-resources-for GATT. 1994. “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994.” World Trade Organization. https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/06-gatt_e.htm Hall, Ben. et al. 2020. “How coronavirus exposed Europe’s weaknesses.” Financial Times. October 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/efdadd97-aef5-47f1-91de-fe02c41a470a Hoekman, Bernard, Matteo Fiorini, and Aydin Yildirim. 2020."COVID-19: Export controls and international cooperation." in Richard E. Baldwin and Simon J. Evenett eds., COVID-19 and Trade Policy: Why Turning Inward Won’t Work. London: CEPR press, pp. 77-87. https://cepr.org/publications/books-and-reports/covid-19-and-trade-policy-why-turning-inward-wont-work Ikenberry, G. John. 2011. Liberal Leviathan: The origins, crisis, and transformation of the American world order. Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7rjt2 Koppenberg, Maximilian, Martina Bozzola, Tobias Dalhaus and Stefan Hirsch. 2021. “Mapping potential implications of temporary COVID‐19 export bans for the food supply in importing countries using precrisis trade flows.” Agribusiness, 37(1), pp.25-43. https://doi.org/10.1002/agr.21684 Liefert, William .M., Paul Westcott, and John Wainio. 2012. “Alternative policies to agricultural export bans that are less market-distorting.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 94(2), 435-441. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aar103 Marlowe, Lara. 2020. “Coronavirus: European solidarity sidelined as French interests take priority.” The Irish Times. 30 March. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/coronavirus-european-solidarity-sidelined-as-french-interests-take-priority-1.4216184 Martin, Lisa. 1992. “Interests, power, and multilateralism.” International Organization, 46(4): 765-792. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300033245 Mearsheimer, John .J. 1994. “The false promise of international institutions.” International security, 19(3): 5-49. https://doi.org/10.2307/2539078 Mölnlycke. 2020. “French export ban for face masks lifted.” Mölnlycke, 4th April. https://www.molnlycke.com/news/news-archive/french-export-ban-for-face-masks-lifted/ Pauwelyn, Joost. 2020. “Export restrictions in times of pandemic: Options and limits under international trade agreements.” In COVID-19 and Trade Policy: Why Turning Inward Won’t Work, edited by Richard E. Baldwin and Simon J. Evenett. London: CEPR press, pp. 103-109. https://cepr.org/publications/books-and-reports/covid-19-and-trade-policy-why-turning-inward-wont-work Pelc, Krzysztof. 2020. “Can COVID-Era Export Restrictions Be Deterred?.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 53(2), 349-356. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423920000578 Selinger, Hannah. 2020. “Stealing masks and stockpiling hydroxychloroquine – What America has become during this epidemic is deeply worrying.” The Independent, 6 April. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/coronavirus-us-masks-trump-hydroxychloroquine-covid-19-drug-a9450261.html Tanakasempipat, Patpicha. 2020. “Accused of 'piracy', U.S. denies diverting masks bound for Germany.” Reuters, 6 April. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-masks/accused-of-piracy-u-s-denies-diverting-masks-bound-for-germany-idUKKBN21O0YR The Local. 2020. “Coronavirus: Germany blocks truck full of protective masks headed for Switzerland.” The Local. 9 March. https://www.thelocal.com/20200309/germany-blocks-protective-masks-headed-for-switzerland/ Timmer, C. Peter. 2010. “Reflections on food crises past.” Food policy, 35(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2009.09.002 Walt, Stephen, M. 1997. “The progressive power of realism.” American Political Science Review, 97(4): 931-935. https://doi.org/10.2307/2952177 Whitehouse. 2020. “Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing.” Whitehouse.gov., 3 April. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-members-coronavirus-task-force-press-briefing-18/ WTO. 2020. “Export prohibitions and restrictions.” World Trade Organization, information Note, 23 April. Available from: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/export_prohibitions_report_e.pdf

Energy & Economics
Concept of the trade war between the USA and China.

How to better equip the U.S. DFC to compete with China

by Andrew Herscowitz

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français When U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi met in November 2023, Biden remarked that the countries must “ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.” A recent ODI report Hedging belts, de-risking roads: Sinosure’s role in China’s overseas finance illustrates the scale of the competition and reveals how one of China’s less-known institutions – Sinosure – has been giving China the edge. This blog offers some thoughts about how the U.S., through its U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) can better compete. Competing requires resources, but really not as much as you think Competing credibly requires money, dedicated staff, and creativity. It requires studying the competition. Infrastructure development requires low-cost financing, capacity-building, and getting everyone aligned. As Sinosure has demonstrated again and again, deploying guarantees and insurance – particularly from official financing – can de-risk overseas investment, reducing costs of finance and mobilising commercial investment from the private sector. When it comes to infrastructure, China has a far more robust, albeit imperfect, track record when compared to others. The U.S. and its G7 partners have not been much of a match for China in financing infrastructure worldwide. The G7 could successfully compete with China, and doing so does not have to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The U.S. Congress, despite its strong desire to counter BRI, has yet to appropriate the resources necessary to compete credibly in a battle of influence against China in developing countries. There’s been plenty of rhetoric, repurposing of existing programs and resources into initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and the Global Gateway. Each time the U.S. launches a new overseas economic development initiative, however, it rarely dedicates sufficient resources to help it scale – examples include the Partnership for Growth, Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and PGII. When it was fully funded, Power Africa, which coordinated the efforts of 12 U.S. government agencies, helped 120 power projects in Africa get across the finish line in just a few years, building a strong brand for the U.S. in Africa for economic development for the first time in decades. Then the U.S. cut Power Africa’s budget by 75% because of political shifts. The initiative stalled in its progress on new infrastructure, while still helping 200 million Africans get access to more reliable electricity. PGII, which has no dedicated budget, involves a handful of smart people working hard to deliver on a G7 promise of $600 billion in global infrastructure by 2025. Other than the Lobito Corridor project, it has not been clear to date what PGII is able to deliver at scale in Africa without additional resources. That could be about to change, though. The State Department just requested another $4 billion from Congress to up its game against China, which should help tremendously if that funding is secured to support PGII. Why Sinosure has been such an effective tool for China, despite its low margins BRI has not been particularly innovative, but it’s been steady. Sinosure, along with other Chinese export credit agencies, offers highly favorable terms and longer-term finance – this approach has well suited Global South governments in advancing their development and political objectives. While some projects have been problematic, Chinese creditors have provided the low-cost, patient capital at scale that many countries need for long-term productive infrastructure investment. But as the report shows, this approach has challenged established regimes governing the use of public money (link to blog 2). Sinosure insurance covers non-payment up to 95% of the insured equity or debt for up to 20 years, but most OECD Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) only provide 85% coverage for up to 10 years – though this policy soon will soon change [link to blog 2] Sinosure can work anywhere, except where there’s a live conflict or in cases of repayment arrears. By contrast, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has a list of over 100 countries where it cannot do business. Sinosure’s premiums max out at 7% of the total debt servicing cost of a project, making it relatively cost-effective. In this aspect, it is surprisingly transparent. DFC’s fees and costs are numerous and opaque, with DFC passing some of its own costs on to its clients. By the end of 2022, Sinosure had provided over $1.3 trillion-worth of insurance on export and investment, with a quarter of this going only to BRI countries. In 2022 alone, it supported a total portfolio of $900 billion through its insurance for over 170,000 clients, of which $80bn went to overseas investment and long-term finance, which mostly supports projects in infrastructure such as power, transportation, construction, telecoms and shipping. It received a total net insurance premium of $1.9 billion and paid out $1.5 billion in insurance claims. Despite its significant payouts, however, Sinosure continues to earn a modest profit of $102 million – not much of a margin, but enough to propel China’s global leadership on trade and infrastructure development.     By contrast, DFC’s current total portfolio-wide exposure is $41 billion, with just over $9.3 billion committed in fiscal year 2023 for 132 transactions – of which only around $3.5bn of this was for guarantees and risk insurance. DFC has many of the same tools available to it as the Chinese government, and DFC is not even legally required to earn a return on its investments. Yet DFC has not made full use of its capital resources and has not deployed its capacity for risk-mitigation finance in the same way. An unleashed DFC could make the U.S. more competitive It’s not too late for the U.S. and others to compete. The U.S. has an opportunity to further change how it conducts business to compete with China, while promoting sustainable development. DFC is starting to flex its competitive muscles with its own insurance product, recently using political risk insurance to support a $1.6 billion debt-for-nature swap in Ecuador and another $500 million debt-for-nature swap in Gabon, which support broader debt relief efforts, as well as channelling money towards climate and conservation goals. Moreover, those deals come at a very low cost to the U.S. government given DFC’s pricing models. DFC is up for reauthorisation in 2025. It has both foreign policy and development mandates. In a previous blog, we laid out 10 recommendations about how DFC could be more effective in achieving its development mandate. Here are 9 recommendations to help DFC be more effective in competing with China and achieving its foreign policy mandate: 1. Spend some money and spend it right All it took for Sinosure’s expansion in the early 2010s was a capital injection of $3 billion. To make its financial institutions just as competitive, the U.S. only needs to commit a few extra billion dollars of appropriated resources per year, just as State Department has proposed, not hundreds of billions. Sinosure, with its somewhat loose investment criteria, still managed to earn over $100 million profit on a $900 billion portfolio in 2022. Even if DFC were to spend $1 billion/year of additional budgetary resources – for the purpose of leveling the playing field with China and providing developing countries with the type of inexpensive financing they need – that could be money well spent for the U.S. taxpayer. That money could cover legal fees that DFC currently passes on to clients. It could be deployed through innovative instruments: to take on some of the currency risk on strategic transactions, to cover first loss on strategic investments, or to provide technical assistance that does not need to get repaid–comparative advantages that Chinese financial institutions still sorely lack. That funding also could be used, simply, to reduce interest rates and fees, at a time when borrowing costs for lower-income countries have risen astronomically. 2. Structure deals to outcompete China Encourage DFC to structure transactions to use its funding to maximize competition with China in a way that promotes a more level playing field. DFC should not crowd out competitively tendered and transparent private sector investment, but where inexpensive or even concessional DFC co-financing might help the private sector out-compete opaque Chinese investment, DFC should be equipped to support those projects. 3. Don’t obsess over returns Even though DFC is not legally required to earn a return on a portfolio-wide basis, most members of Congress expect DFC to be revenue neutral to the U.S. Treasury. If members of Congress would adjust their return expectations even slightly, DFC could significantly advance its development and foreign policy goals. Effective development and foreign policy are not free – especially when competing with China. Even earning back $.95 on the dollar on a portfolio-wide basis would be a significant leverage of 1:20 of appropriated resources to private investment – giving DFC broad flexibility to structure deals that prioritise development impact and foreign policy. 4. Remove DFC’s limits Eliminate ceilings on DFC financing – including the $1 billion transaction limit, the $10 billion annual portfolio limit, and the $60 billion total portfolio exposure. It really doesn’t cost anything to do this. It’s like raising its credit card limit. 5. Let DFC work anywhere when necessary Give DFC the authority to determine the countries where it can do business on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the foreign policy and development priorities are. DFC should be required to continue to prioritize investments in low and lower-middle income countries, but it should have flexibility to respond quickly and selectively anywhere that doing so will credibly advance a compelling U.S. national security interest, such as financing a strategic port or lithium processing. To prevent DFC from sliding into becoming just a national security tool, abandoning its development mandate, DFC should be required to clearly articulate the compelling national security interests of projects and should provide a detailed report to Congress each year on its investments in upper-middle income and high-income countries to explain these interests (even classified, if necessary). 6. Empower DFC to support “nearshoring” DFC can help the U.S. diversify its supply chains and reduce dependencies on China. To encourage companies to move operations out of China and into the Americas (if operating in the U.S. is not commercially viable), give DFC broader authority to support strategic transactions in the region. 7. Make it easier for DFC to support equity investments in strategic infrastructure When DFC takes an equity position in a company or an investment fund, it gets a seat at the ownership table. That allows DFC to drive decisions regarding sourcing of goods and services (i.e., making sure contracts do not always go to Chinese companies). Investing in equity funds that develop and finance a portfolio of infrastructure projects is an effective way for DFC to increase and spread its strategic influence -- except that DFC often struggles to make these types of investments because U.S. legal requirements make DFC a slow and clunky, and hence, an unattractive investment partner. DFC needs flexibility to bypass some of these requirements. 8. Help DFC scale its risk insurance instrument For years, DFC has been hugely innovative in deploying its insurance products to leverage capital from others. DFC used its political risk insurance tool to crowd in private investment in Ukraine, and to catalyze pioneering debt-for-nature swaps worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Ecuador and Belize. But according to recent reports, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has been threatening to start treating insurance investments like guarantee instruments from a budgeting standpoint. This will make it more expensive for DFC to deploy this tool. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? As we’ve shown, one of the main factors behind China’s competitiveness abroad is through Sinosure’s expansive use of its insurance tool: OMB’s changes will make it more expensive and difficult for the U.S. to scale its own. OMB needs to read the room. We’re not going to suddenly balance the U.S. budget by tinkering with a formula that has worked for decades. Let DFC do more of what it does well. 9. Help speed DFC up Before committing any transaction over $10 million, DFC is required to notify Congress in advance. This “Congressional notification” requirement provides a valuable extra level of oversight to ensure that DFC does not doing anything out-of-whack with Congressional priorities. But the process slows DFC down, when Chinese financiers are known for their speed. Even though DFC only is required to “notify” Congress of its deals, and not seek “approval,” practically and politically speaking nobody wants to run afoul of any one of the 535 members of Congress. Consequently, DFC rarely moves forward on a project until it can resolve the concerns of members of Congress. DFC needs to work with Congress to come up with a reasonable alternative to the Congressional notification process that balances speed with continued close collaboration with Congress. In addition, DFC’s Board can help speed things up by focusing its efforts on high level policy guidance instead of individual transactions. The Board should delegate more decision making on individual deals to DFC’s CEO. It makes no sense for the Secretary of State, who chairs DFC’s Board, to dig into a $20 million investment into a healthcare fund, not to mention the hundreds of State Department staff with little development finance experience who review the documentation before it goes to the Secretary with a recommendation for a vote. U.S. taxpayers probably would prefer to have the State Department focus on resolving the Middle East conflict. From the perspective of many Global South countries, this competition between the G7 countries and China is not inherently bad if it brings them more desperately needed resources and improves the quality of their infrastructure. The U.S. could be more competitive if it empowered its development finance professionals to use DFC’s tools the way they were designed to be used. DFC must be properly resourced with enough people and enough money to allow it to grow its portfolio. While development impact remains the key priority for DFC, delivering for the needs of partner countries is what also will deliver long-term influence. That is how the U.S. can compete – and all at relatively low cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Energy & Economics
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi addresses BJP activist during an election campaign rally ahead of Lok Sabha or general election 2019 on April 03, 2019

Strategic Advantages of India in Shaping the Global Order

by Talal Rafi

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français India, being the largest country by population, has a great responsibility and right to show global leadership. Having chaired the recent G20 summit successfully, and as a member of important global partnerships such as BRICS and Quad, India is strategically placed to play a crucial role in geopolitics in the coming decades. Being the world’s largest democracy places a responsibility on India to drive a global agenda that will foster democracy in other countries. As a member of the Quad, with three other democracies, India can play a key role in upholding a rules based international order. Today, we live in a world that is much different to the world that emerged in 1945, after the Second World War, or in 1991 when the Cold War ended. In both instances, the United States emerged as the dominant superpower. American power, relative to the rest of the world, is now in clear decline and therefore even a loose alliance of democracies that includes India shifts the tide against competing structures of governance. Economic Rise of India India is the fastest growing major economy in the world today and is set to be the third largest economy in the world by the end of this decade. Of course, an alternative way to assess India’s development may be to measure its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita which is relatively low at less than US$3,000. However, the sheer size of its overall GDP and growing population gives the overall economy serious importance. India’s large population and the steady expansion of its middle class positions India as a lucrative economic ally for many countries in the world, both as a market and supplier of goods and services. It also makes India an attractive market to invest in, particularly in the current climate of de-risking and diversifying supply chains. Many global corporate powerhouses such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Saudi Aramco have invested in India. Economic cooperation also inevitably results in stronger political relations, and it is very likely that this trend will continue. Strategic Advantages of India India’s greatest asset in terms of geopolitics and economics will be its democratic system of governance. India presence in the Quad for instance has legitimising effect. All members are democracies, but India is by far the world’s largest democratic nation. Democracy will also help India on the economic front. All advanced economies, with the exception of a few oil rich nations and city states, are democracies. That is because, as argued in a piece for the IMF in 2022, economic growth needs innovation, and innovation is better fostered in a democracy where there is free thinking and creativity. Many nations can become middle-income nations without democracy, but to transition to an advanced economy, they need stronger democratic values. South Korea and Taiwan provide examples of middle-income nations that evolved into high-income economies after a stronger transition toward democracy. Democracy together with population diversty can be a major factor that pushes India to break through the middle-income trap. Meanwhile, the median age of India, which is 32 years, is around 10 years younger than China’s. This is a strategic advantage not only in economic terms but also politically in international relations for India. This will mean an increase in the workforce which can help produce India’s industrial and services goods. A younger population will also result in a larger consumer market and will, more importantly, drive greater inward foreign direct investment. Additionally, a younger population will also result in larger tax revenue for the Indian government which can be used for development. It also results in less financial resources being directed towards an ageing population. As countries such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh grow, with outsourced manufacturing playing a large role in their economic agendas, India, which is weaker on manufacturing, has the advantage when it comes to services exports, such as consulting, IT-BPM, and education. India is a center for services outsourced by Western companies, with services exports anticipated to hit US$2 trillion by 2030. English proficiency in India adds to the advantage, but many other factors also play major roles. India has a large skilled workforce especially in information technology, software development, and business process outsourcing. Technology hubs around the country, such as in Bangalore where large global tech companies and startups are based, and government support, add to the scale at which India can expand this critical export in the coming decades. The software services industry, for example, has matured, resulting in sector upscaling. Interestingly, 20 percent of the world’s semiconductor design engineers are employed in India. These aforementioned attributes position India as an ideal strategic partner for many countries. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, European nations, Japan, Australia, Canada, and South Korea consider India a natural ally. India is also building ties in its region with the Gulf nations to its west and with the ASEAN nations to its east. India’s neighbour to its south, Sri Lanka, recently went through its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. After defaulting in April 2022, Sri Lanka came to a standstill with no fuel for 3 weeks, 12 hour power cuts, and food and medicine shortages. It was India that came to the rescue, with US$4 billion at its most vulnerable time, giving a clear message to the world that India is a partner that will stand up for them. Talal Rafi is an Economist and Expert Member of the World Economic Forum. He is currently a Consultant on Economic Policy at the Asian Development Bank, and also a Regular Columnist for the International Monetary Fund. His work has been published by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum, London School of Economics, UNFCCC, Chatham House London, Deloitte and Forbes.

Energy & Economics
The Cambodian government building

Reality tempers Cambodia’s renewed economic optimism

by Heidi Dahles

Only days after Cambodia’s recently elected national assembly endorsed Hun Manet as the country’s new prime minister, the young leader revealed his vision for the next 25 years of economic growth and prosperity. Cambodia is aspiring to become a high-income country by 2050. To make this happen, Manet released his Pentagonal Strategy, centring on the five objectives of sustained economic growth, more and better employment, human capital development, diversification of the economy and increased competitiveness. For those who have been advocating sweeping reforms to Cambodia’s economy, the new strategic objectives comprise all the right catchwords. But it remains uncertain whether the ambitious new strategy will help Cambodia reach its targets. Despite GDP forecasts for 2023 not living up to expectations, the Cambodian government forecasts 6.6 per cent GDP growth in 2024. The Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund downgraded their 2023 economic growth projections to 5.3 per cent, down from 5.8 per cent in April 2023, while the World Bank projects 5.4 per cent growth, down from 5.5 per cent in May 2023. The minor adjustments were made in response to global geopolitical tensions and a worldwide economic slowdown, as well as the country’s structural issues, which include limited productivity and competitiveness, a lack of economic diversification and dependence on a small number of external markets. The government’s optimistic growth projection for 2024 is based on the anticipated revival of key sectors including garment manufacturing. Cambodia’s garment sector showed continuing decline throughout 2023 but is expected to surge by around 8 per cent in 2024. For Manet’s pentagonal ambitions to become a reality, Cambodia must diversify its product range, upgrade its production capacity and productivity and process resources at home instead of exporting them. The garment sector is not conducive to such transformations. The sector is already on life support — a tax break is in place for garment factories until the end of 2025 — but a continued reliance on garment manufacturing also exacerbates Cambodia’s economic vulnerability. Primarily a cut, make and trim industry employing low-skilled labour, garment manufacturing relies on the import of raw materials sourced from other Asian countries, predominantly China. It exports to the major economies where Cambodian products enjoy increasingly precarious preferential treatment under the European Union’s Everything But Arms scheme. To move Cambodia beyond being a cheap labour hub, the Pentagonal Strategy outlines a comprehensive makeover of three sectors identified as the engines of future economic growth — agriculture, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and tourism. With nearly 70 per cent of Cambodian households depending directly on agriculture, an overhaul of this sector is long overdue. The new strategic objectives bolster agribusiness to better serve Cambodia’s export markets. The turn to ‘smart farming’ advances local processing of Cambodian crops and high-value products instead of high-volume cash crops. Loans have also been made available for agribusiness and are being directed to ‘economic poles’ spread across the country. The transformation of over 500,000 MSMEs in Cambodia is a core agenda under the new strategic plan. MSMEs closely entwined with agribusiness and digitisation will have access to a new loan scheme established in partnership with the private sector and Wing Bank. Efforts will also be made to integrate the informal sector into the formal economy under the National Strategy for Informal Development 2023–2028, encouraging informal businesses to register and receive benefits such as penalty waivers, tax incentives and skills training. Tourism, heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is forecasted to bolster GDP as international arrivals, particularly from China, begin to surge. Foreign tourists are returning to Cambodia, with 4.4 million arriving in the first 10 months of 2023. But the rising numbers have not generated the desired income, as most of the arrivals are low-spending visitors from neighbouring countries. Crowds from China are not as anticipated despite major efforts including the new Siem Reap airport operating direct flights to and from a variety of Chinese destinations, the reintroduction of Chinese package tours and the launch of the China Ready program. Efforts to diversify the tourism sector are ongoing, with India and Indonesia identified as likely markets for outbound tourism. The Ministry of Tourism is also implementing a new tourism strategy and action plan with a focus on cultural heritage, coastal and eco-tourism. As the new government pushes economic reforms with vigour, old habits die hard. International attention was recently drawn to a new investigation by Amnesty International into the 2022 evictions of 10,000 families making a living on the premises of the Angkor Archaeological Park. The Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is pivotal to the new tourism action plan. While the Cambodian government claims these families were squatters causing overdevelopment at the complex, the report revealed that the evicted families were relocated to a remote site lacking infrastructure, jeopardising their livelihoods. Similarly, the voluntary registration of informal businesses under the new development strategy was temporarily suspended due to pushback from small business owners concerned about the regulatory burden imposed by the measure. The economic reforms outlined in the Pentagonal Strategy are long overdue and will have beneficial impacts on Cambodia’s socioeconomic development. But as Cambodia’s new leadership pursues growth, it should consider that even well-intentioned interventions can have detrimental bearings on people’s livelihoods and may be reminiscent of past injustices suffered at the hands of authorities. This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2023 in review and the year ahead.

Energy & Economics
EURO vs. Yuan. European and Chinese flags

Overcoming an EU-China trade and trust deficit

by Shairee Malhotra

Beijing seeks normalisation of ties with Europe; however, for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences On 7-8 December, European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will be in Beijing for the 24th European Union (EU)-China summit, but the first in-person one in four years, taking place at a critical juncture in EU-China ties. At the previous EU-China virtual summit in April 2022, the Ukraine conflict was the primary talking point for the Europeans and other issues such as climate and economics were relegated to the back burner. This time, the focus is likely to be economics. A relatively constructive meeting between United States (US) President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on 15 November, which led to the resumption of US-China high-level military dialogue and Xi’s assurances on Taiwan, has contributed to paving the way for the EU to focus on ironing out economic irritants. Deficits, dependencies and de-risking With daily EU-China trade amounting to 2.2 billion euros, the EU is concerned about its widening goods trade deficit with China—400 billion euros in 2022—referred to by EU Ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo, as the “highest in the history of mankind”. In the context of China’s restrictive environment for foreign companies, the EU is keen for a level playing field and greater reciprocity in trade. Another major area of contention is Chinese overcapacity through subsidies in key industrial export sectors such as electric vehicles (EVs) that are undermining European automotive industries. The European Commission has already launched a probe for the EVs sector and is now considering other major sectors including wind energy and medical devices. In addition, Europe is heavily dependent on critical raw materials such as lithium and gallium from China, which are intrinsic to its green transition. While over 90 percent of the EU’s supply of raw materials comes from China, the EU aims to address this dependency through its Critical Raw Materials Act. Factors such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, human rights violations in Xinjiang, and pandemic-era supply chain disruptions have deteriorated European perceptions of China. The downswing in EU-China ties was further accentuated by Beijing’s posture in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the failure of European leaders to coax China to positively use its influence with the EU’s most immediate security threat, Moscow. Thus, a major trust deficit has accompanied the trade deficit. On 6 November, only a month before the summit, von der Leyen in her speech warned against “China’s changing global posture” with its “strong push to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China”. While acknowledging China as Europe’s most important trading partner, she emphasised the “explicit element of rivalry” in the relationship. Another dialogue of the deaf? The EU and its member states are recalibrating their China policies, with countries such as Germany even releasing China-specific documents outlining their approach. The EU’s “de-risking” strategy aims to reduce dependencies in critical sectors, and through an expansion of its policy toolbox, the Union is implementing a range of measures including greater scrutiny of inbound-outbound foreign investments, anti-coercion instruments, and export controls for dual-purpose technologies. In this context of an evolving European approach, the upcoming summit is a much-anticipated one for EU-China watchers. Despite the strain in relations, high-level diplomatic exchanges have continued in full swing, many of which, such as von der Leyen’s visit to China in April, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis’s visit in September, and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s visit in October were conducted in preparation for this summit. A sluggish Chinese economy gives Europe room to wield its economic leverage. However, grey areas in Europe’s China policy remain, especially with regard to the implementation of measures and the need for more effective coordination, often compromised by a lack of unity amongst member states and tendencies of leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to prioritise business interests over all else. Thus, straddling the fine balance between economic opportunities and security risks will continue to be a test for how Europe manages its interdependence with the lucrative Chinese market. Previous EU-China summits have not produced a joint statement, and according to sources, this summit is unlikely to produce one as well. Yet it is an opportunity for the EU to put forward unresolved concerns and forge some common ground. Without concrete deliverables, the upcoming summit risks being another “dialogue of the deaf” as Borrell famously described the previous one. Amidst renewed transatlantic solidarity, Beijing’s rhetoric indicates that it seeks normalisation of ties with Europe and a more independent European policy towards China away from Washington’s influence. Yet for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences.

Energy & Economics
Page of the book highlighting the words

Disquiet in the world’s middle class

by Homi Kharas

“Originally published by Homi Kharas at Brookings Future Development on 21 November 2023,” “Middle-class life satisfaction rests on two pillars. The first is the idea that hard work and self-initiative will lead to prosperity. The second is that thanks to this prosperity, the children of middle-class families will enjoy even more opportunities for the good life. Both pillars are shaking.” Joining the middle class has been a ticket to the good life for two centuries now, a history I trace in a new book “The Rise of the Global Middle Class.” The American Dream, the glorious years of European reconstruction after World War II, miracle economic growth in Japan and other East Asian countries, Xi Jinping’s great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and India’s software revolution each brought hundreds of millions of people into the ranks of the global middle class. Today, thanks to this progress, most of the world, upwards of 4 billion people, enjoy a middle-class or better lifestyle for the first time ever. Yet, across the world there is a clear sense of disquiet in the middle class. In the U.S., Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have documented the prevalence of “deaths of despair” due to suicides, opioids, and alcohol poisoning among non-college educated white middle-class males. The Japanese have coined a specific word, karoshi, to describe deaths due to overwork among salaried professionals. China is seeing a campaign of tang ping, or lying flat, to protest the “996” expectations of employers—9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 6 days a week. India ranks 126th out of 137 in the rankings of the 2023 World Happiness Report. What is amiss? Middle-class life satisfaction rests on two pillars. The first is the idea that hard work and self-initiative will lead to prosperity. The second is that thanks to this prosperity, the children of middle-class families will enjoy even more opportunities for the good life. Both pillars are shaking. The first is threatened by the effects of technological change on jobs. The foundations of the second are being undermined by climate change, pollution, and the destruction of nature. For most of history, technology has changed the nature of work by reducing repetitive, routine, and manual labor. During COVID-19 and the ensuing recovery, many workers changed occupations. Those with good jobs, requiring cognitive, non-routine tasks, did better than those engaged in manual, repetitive tasks. There are pathways to high-wage work, but, as my Brookings colleagues Maria Escobari and co-authors have shown, access to these paths is unequal, and that is creating stress and mental health problems for many middle-class workers. Stepping-stone occupations that serve as a bridge between low-and higher-wage occupations, and even high-wage occupations themselves, are increasingly under threat from artificial intelligence. When the Writers Guild of America went on strike in May 2023, they demanded that ChatGPT be used only as a research tool, not for actual script writing, the creative process that is at the heart of their jobs. The wobbly second pillar of middle-class satisfaction is that young people are worrying that the mass consumption of the middle-class is responsible for unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and species extinction. On current trajectories, children born today will live in a world that is at least 3 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels. The impact of such changes, according to the best available science, is terrifying. “Is a middle-class lifestyle consistent with a livable planet? Thankfully, the answer is yes, but only if there is significant change in economic policies.” This science forces the middle class to confront an existential question. Is a middle-class lifestyle consistent with a livable planet? Thankfully, the answer is yes, but only if there is significant change in economic policies. Consider the case of Switzerland, one of the richest economies in the world. The Swiss emit only 5 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person per year, less than one-third the U.S. level. One reason is that Switzerland buys a lot of electricity from France’s nuclear reactors. But on other measures, too, such as building efficiency, moving people on electric trains and buses, and insulating homes, the Swiss middle class outperform many of their peers. True, this is not enough. The 5 tonnes must be reduced to zero by 2050, but Switzerland’s case shows that most of the current levels of carbon emissions are not tied to middle-class standards of living but simply to bad or thoughtless policies in rich countries that can be readily corrected. In similar vein, pollution is a man-made problem, not a necessary corollary of high living standards. In its current form, recycling is not effective. A new concept of a circular economy offers much more promise. The idea is to “design out” waste and pollution, recycle materials and regenerate nature. One of the first problems the circular economy concept is tackling is the issue of plastic packaging. Because of its ubiquity, plastic continues to accumulate in our oceans (and increasingly in our bodies). There are, however, alternative materials that can be used for packaging, and already the European Union is on track to make all packaging recyclable by 2030. A third area of concern is human encroachment into nature. The current global system of food production is based on expanding croplands to grow feed or as pasture for animals, especially cattle and sheep. This system has a double cost. It contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, and it destroys wildlands and biodiversity. The simplest option would be to encourage the middle class to switch to a vegetarian diet. If this magically happened in the world, a land area stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego could be returned to nature. In a less extreme version, if beef and lamb were taken out of our diets, an area the size of North America could be re-wilded. These examples are not offered as realistic policy options in the medium term. They do, however, serve to make a point. If the middle-class is serious about preserving nature, it will require a major change in diet. That could come about through taxes on land-intensive foods or through technology—lab-grown meat is available but only at a higher price point, and it has yet to scale. The common theme in these threats to a middle-class lifestyle is that the values of hard work and personal responsibility that are the hallmark of middle-class success are no longer enough. Policymakers are caught in trying to deliver higher living standards to their citizens and more sustainable living standards for their children. There are long-run strategies where economic growth and sustainability go hand-in-hand, but no countries have yet shown how to manage the transition onto these low-carbon pathways in a rapid, credible way. So the future is uncertain, and the middle-class, which hates uncertainty, will remain disquieted until they are clear about how to best secure the lifestyles and progress to which they have become accustomed.