USTR 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers — areas of concern with a focus on China

Every year for the last 36 years, USTR releases a National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. This year’s forward provides a little background on the report. See USTR, 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, page 1, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2021/2021NTE.pdf.

“The 2021 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE) is the 36th in an annual series that highlights significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports, U.S. foreign direct investment, and U.S. electronic commerce. This document is a companion piece to the President’s 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report, published by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in March.

“In accordance with section 181 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended by section 303 of the Trade and Tariff Act of 1984 and amended by section 1304 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, section 311 of the Uruguay Round Trade Agreements Act, and section 1202 of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, USTR is required to submit to the President, the Senate Finance Committee, and appropriate committees in the House of Representatives, an annual report on significant foreign trade barriers. The statute requires an inventory of the most important foreign barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services, including agricultural commodities and U.S. intellectual property; foreign direct investment by U.S. persons, especially if such investment has implications for trade in goods or services; and U.S. electronic commerce. Such an inventory enhances awareness of these trade restrictions, facilitates U.S. negotiations aimed at reducing or eliminating these barriers, and is a valuable tool in enforcing U.S. trade laws and strengthening the rules-based system.”

This year’s report covers 65 countries or country groups, so not all trading partners are covered by the annual report. China has the largest section of the report for an individual country (36 pages) while the European Union (covering 27 countries) has the largest section overall (52 pages). Other important trading partners with significant sections in the report include India (24 pages), Russian Federation (20 pages), Japan (18 pages), Indonesia (16 pages), Republic of Korea (14 pages), Brazil (14 pages), Vietnam (14 pages). the USMCA partners had smaller sections — Canada (8 pages) and Mexico (12 pages). the countries covered account for nearly 100 percent of U.S. trade in goods and nearly 90% of U.S. services trade.

The USTR press release from March 31, 2021 (majority of release copied below) provides an outline of some of the major areas of concern. See USTR, Ambassador Tai releases 2021 National Trade Estimate Report, March 31, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/march/ambassador-tai-releases-2021-national-trade-estimate-report.

Significant Barriers to U.S. Exports in 65 Trading Partners Detailed

“WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today released the 2021 National Trade Estimate (NTE) Report, providing a detailed inventory of significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services, investment, and electronic commerce.

“’The President’s Trade Agenda released earlier this month outlined a clear vision for supporting America’s working families by promoting a fair international trading system that boosts inclusive economic growth,’” said Ambassador Tai. ‘The 2021 NTE Report identifies a range of important challenges and priorities to guide the Biden Administration’s effort to craft trade policy that reflects America’s values and builds back better.’

“Published annually since 1985, the NTE Report is a comprehensive review of significant foreign trade barriers affecting U.S. exports of goods and services. The 570-page report examines 65 trading partners and country groups, including the U.S.’ largest trading partners, all 20 U.S. FTA partners, and other economies and country groupings of interest such as the Arab League, the United Kingdom (included as a separate entity for the first time in this report), and the European Union. Together, these economies account for 99 percent of U.S. goods trade and 87 percent of U.S. services trade. 

“The NTE Report covers significant trade barriers in 11 areas, including (1) import policies such as tariffs, import licensing and customs barriers; (2) technical barriers to trade; (3) sanitary and phytosanitary measures; (4) subsidies; (5) government procurement; (6) intellectual property protection; (7) services barriers; (8) barriers to digital trade and electronic commerce; (9) investment barriers; (10) competition; and (11) other barriers. 

“Taken as a whole, the NTE Report highlights significant barriers that present major policy challenges with implications for future U.S. growth opportunities, and the fairness of the global economy. Examples of these significant obstacles include: 

Agricultural Trade Barriers:  The NTE Report details an array of tariff and nontariff barriers to U.S. agricultural exports across trading partners and regions, ranging from non-science-based regulatory measures, opaque approval processes for products of agricultural biotechnology, burdensome import licensing and certification requirements, and restrictions on the ability of U.S. producers to use the common names of the products that they produce and export. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on barriers that hamper the ability of U.S. farmers, ranchers and food processors to access markets worldwide. 

Digital Trade:  The 2021 NTE Report details restrictive data policies in India, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Turkey, among other countries; local software pre-installation requirements in Russia, Indonesian tariffs on digital products, and existing or proposed local content requirements for online streaming services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU, Mexico, Ukraine, and Vietnam; and discriminatory tax measures in Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the UK. USTR will continue to engage foreign governments on digital policies that threaten the regulatory landscape for U.S. exporters of digital products and services and undermine U.S. manufacturers’ and service suppliers’ ability to move data across borders. 

Excess Capacity:  China’s state-led approach to the economy and trade makes it the world’s leading offender in creating non-economic capacity, as evidenced by the severe and persistent excess capacity situations in several industries, including steel, aluminum, and solar, among others. China also is well on its way to creating severe excess capacity in other industries through its pursuit of industrial plans such as Made in China 2025, pursuant to which the Chinese government is doling out hundreds of billions of dollars to support Chinese companies and requiring them to achieve preset targets for domestic market share–at the expense of imports–and global market share in several advanced manufacturing industries. USTR will continue its bilateral and multilateral efforts to address these harmful trade practices.

Technical Barriers to Trade:   Technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures that unnecessarily restrict trade or curb the movement of innovative products risk lost opportunities to capitalize on America’s leadership in science and high-tech manufacturing, services, and agriculture. The NTE Report’s many examples of this challenge range from non-transparent European Union chemical regulations to Chinese Information Technology cybersecurity and encryption standards, to Indian and Brazilian testing and certification rules for telecommunications equipment, to technology. 

“The United States is taking steps to address these issues, and encourage flexible regulatory approaches and transparent, open processes, with these and many other partners. Within APEC, for example, the United States is engaged in projects on cybersecurity and blockchain to identify key public policy issues, and has projects in development on aerial drones and 3D printing. Another key example is USTR’s bilateral and multilateral work on standards and regulations related to electric cars, to ensure that vehicles from different manufacturers can all be charged reliably.

“The NTE Report details thousands of individual barriers to specific manufactured goods, farm products, and services. Each can reduce U.S. opportunities to export, invent, support jobs, and raise wages and incomes. These range from Argentina’s imposition of quota limits on imported books in September 2020 to India’s 38.8 percent average tariff on agricultural goods; the anomalous technical standards Saudi Arabia applies to shoes and electronic equipment; Ecuador’s mandatory and cumbersome process for allocating import licenses for agriculture products such as meats and dairy products; Indonesian local content requirements across a broad range of sectors; and Russian bans on imported food.”

What the NTE has to say about China 

The United States has for many years raised multiple concerns with China’s practices which the U.S. views as distorting trade flows and impeding market access to China. While the U.S. and China have engaged bilaterally extensively since China’s WTO accession and the U.S. has pursued several dozen disputes against Chinese practices that were clearly contrary to WTO obligations of China, little overall progress has been made in resolving the wide array of Chinese government distortions created and maintained over the years. These distortions contribute to the extraordinary trade deficit the United States has with China. See, e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, FEBRUARY 2021, April 7, 2021, https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/us-international-trade-goods-and-services-february-2021 (U.S. trade deficit in 2020 in goods with China was $310.2 billion; U.S. trade surplus in services was $22.1 billion; U.S. deficit in goods with China increased to $50.9 billion in the January – February 2021 period versus $42.1 billion in the first two months of 2020).

The Trump Administration pursued a 301 investigation on a number of intellectual property concerns with China, conducted Section 232 national security investigations on steel and aluminum — two sectors where Chinese actions have created massive global excess capacity — and negotiated with China the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement which took effect in mid-February 2020. The Agreement both addressed a number of problems in agriculture, intellectual property and services and committed China to expanded purchases of goods and services from the United States in 2021-2022 (and going forward). The NTE reviews where Chinese commitments under the Phase I Agreement apply and what progress is being seen. On the purchase commitments, China has not come close to meeting the commitments in 2021 though there were increased imports from the U.S. of agricultural products and energy products. See, e.g., March 20, 2021, The U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement under the Biden Administration, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/20/the-u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-under-the-biden-administration/. The U.S. has a long history of China promising reforms that are either not carried out or are undermined by additional restrictions. The list of areas of concern making it into the annual NTE is not exhaustive but illustrative of the challenges to obtaining conditions of fair trade with the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy.

Areas of concern for the United States with China shown in the 2021 NTE include:

Tariffs (there are some high agricultural tariffs, and the large tariffs imposed in retaliation to U.S. Section 232 actions on steel and aluminum and U.S. Section 301 actions for Chinese practices reviewed in the investigation).

Non-tariff barriers include

  • Industrial Policies (such as “Made in China 2025” and described generally as follows, “China continues to pursue a wide array of industrial policies that seek to limit market access for imported goods, foreign manufacturers, and foreign services suppliers, while offering substantial government guidance, resources, and regulatory support to Chinese industries. The beneficiaries of these constantly evolving policies are not only state-owned enterprises (SOEs) but also other domestic companies attempting to move up the economic value chain.),
  • State-Owned Enterprises (a number of concerns are raised including “China has also previously indicated that it would consider adopting the principle of ‘competitive neutrality’ for SOEs. However, China has continued to pursue policies that further enshrine the dominant role of the state and its industrial plans when it comes to the operation of state-owned and state-invested enterprises.”),
  • Industrial Subsidies (massive subsidies to industries creating excess capacity and causing harm to U.S. producers globally; U.S. is working with the EU and Japan on possible amendments to Subsidies Agreement to address certain aspects not effectively handled under existing rules)
  • Fisheries Subsidies (size of subsidies by China to its industry),
  • Excess Capacity (problem created in many sectors including steel, aluminum, solar panels and others through state programs, subsidies, etc.),
  • Indigenous Innovation (including preferences for IP developed in China),
  • Technology Transfer (301 investigation looked at “(1) the use of a variety of tools to require or pressure the transfer of technologies and IP to Chinese companies; (2) depriving U.S. companies of the ability to set market based terms in technology licensing negotiations with Chinese companies; (3) intervention in markets by directing or unfairly facilitating the acquisition of U.S. companies and assets by Chinese companies to obtain cutting-edge technologies and IP; and, (4) conducting or supporting cyber-enabled theft and unauthorized intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks for commercial gains.”)
  • Investment Restrictions (different systems for domestic and foreign investment; discriminatory treatment),
  • Administrative Licensing (problems continue to be experienced in a wide array of licensing situations)
  • Standards (ability of foreign companies to participate in establishing; development of Chinese standards regardless of international standards),
  • Secure and Controllable ICT Policies (cybersecurity law used to discriminate against foreign ICT prducts),
  • Encryption (“Onerous requirements on the use of encryption, including intrusive approval processes and, in many cases, mandatory use of indigenous encryption algorithms (e.g., for WiFi and 4G cellular products), continue to be cited by stakeholders as a significant trade barrier.”),
  • Competition Policy (“Many U.S. companies have cited selective enforcement of the Anti-monopoly Law against foreign companies seeking to do business in China as a major concern, and they have highlighted the limited enforcement of this law against SOEs.” “Instead, these remedies seem to be designed to further industrial policy goals. Another concern relates to the procedural fairness of Anti-monopoly Law investigations of foreign companies. U.S. industry has expressed concern about insufficient predictability, fairness, and transparency in Antimonopoly Law investigative processes.”),
  • Pharmaceuticals (some long standing issues addressed in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement; others to be addressed in the future),
  • Medical devices (China’s “pricing and tendering procedures for medical devices and its discriminatory treatment of imported medical devices”),
  • Cosmetics (“concerns with China’s regulation of cosmetics.” “Despite years of United States engagement with China via the JCCT, the International Cooperation on Cosmetics Regulation, and other fora to share views and expertise regarding the regulation of cosmetics, as of March 2021 China has not yet addressed key U.S. trade concerns, including basic concerns such as the need to use international standards to facilitate cosmetics conformity assessment, nor has it provided assurances that U.S. intellectual property will be protected.”),
  • Export restraints (need to bring multiple cases at WTO on inputs where violate Protocol of Accession),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (modifications of rates to change trade flows),
  • Import Ban on Remanufactured Products
  • Import Ban on Recyclable Materials
  • Trade Remedies (problems in transparency and procedural fairness; problems also in apparent use of trade remedies to go after trading partners who use WTO rights against Chinese products),
  • Government Procurement (failure to join the WTO GPA yet),
  • Corporate Social Credit System (“Foreign companies are concerned that the corporate social credit system will also be used by the Chinese Government to pressure them to act in accordance with relevant Chinese industrial policies or otherwise to make investments or conduct their business operations in ways that run counter to market principles or their own business strategies. Foreign companies are also concerned about the opaque nature of the corporate social credit system.”),
  • Other Non-Tariff Measures (“Key areas include China’s labor laws, laws governing land use in China, commercial dispute resolution and the treatment of non-governmental organizations. Corruption among Chinese Government officials, enabled in part by China’s incomplete adoption of the rule of law, is also a key concern.”).

Intellectual Property Protection (many issues were included in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, some progress on issues raised).

  • Trade Secrets (major area of concern and theft, some believed from government-supported entities; some improvements from U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Bad Faith Trademark Registration (a continuing major concern; some progress in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Online Infringement (“Online piracy continues on a large scale in China, affecting a wide range of industries, including those involved in distributing legitimate music, motion pictures, books and journals, software, and video games.” Some progress made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Counterfeit Goods (a major problem. “The Phase One Agreement requires China to take effective enforcement action against counterfeit pharmaceuticals and related products, including active pharmaceutical ingredients, and to significantly increase actions to stop the manufacture and distribution of counterfeits with significant health or safety risks. The Phase One Agreement also requires China to provide that its judicial authorities shall order the forfeiture and destruction of pirated and counterfeit goods, along with the materials and implements predominantly used in their manufacture. In addition, the Agreement requires China to significantly increase the number of enforcement actions at physical markets in China and against goods that are exported or in transit. It further requires China to ensure, through third party audits, that government agencies and SOEs only use licensed software.”).

Agriculture (“China remains a difficult and unpredictable market for U.S. agricultural exporters, largely because of
inconsistent enforcement of regulations and selective intervention in the market by China’s regulatory authorities. The failure of China’s regulators to routinely follow science-based, international standards, and guidelines further complicates and impedes agricultural trade. The Phase One Agreement addresses structural barriers to trade and aims to support a dramatic expansion of U.S. food, agriculture, and seafood product exports, which will increase U.S. farm and fishery income, generate more rural economic activity, and promote job growth. The Phase One Agreement addresses a multitude of non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture and seafood products, including for meat and meat
products, poultry, seafood, rice, dairy, infant formula, horticultural products, animal feed and feed additives, pet food, and products of agricultural biotechnology. The Agreement also includes enforceable commitments requiring China to purchase and import on average at least $40 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products per year in 2021 and 2022, representing an average annual increase of at least $16 billion over 2017 levels. China also agreed that it will strive to purchase and import an additional $5 billion of U.S. agricultural and seafood products each year.”).

  • Agricultural Domestic Support (China exceeds the limits allowed it; WTO dispute confirms China in violation of WTO obligations; U.S. seeking authorization to retaliate),
  • Tariff-rate Quota Administration (U.S. challenged China’s administration of TRQs on various products and won WTO dispute; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement requires China to comply on the products of concern),
  • Agricultural Biotechnology Approvals (China’s system has been a major problem for U.S. producers. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement includes commitments by China to address the major concerns of the U.S. in this area),
  • Food Safety Law (China’s actions have been quite burdensome and have failed to provide notices to the WTO in many cases. U.S>-China Phase I Agreement addresses the main concerns),
  • Poultry (China restricted U.S. exports after avian influenza in the U.S. and maintained restrictions despite actions by the U.S. that complied with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement has China committing to follow OIE guidelines and limiting restrictions to the region where there is a problem in future outbreaks),
  • Beef (“In the Phase One Agreement, China agreed to expand the scope of U.S. beef products allowed to be imported, to eliminate age restrictions on cattle slaughtered for export to China, and to recognize the U.S. beef and beef products’ traceability system. China also agreed to establish MRLs for three synthetic hormones legally used for decades in the United States consistent with Codex standards and guidelines. Where Codex standards and guidelines do not yet exist, China agreed to use MRLs established by other countries that have performed science-based risk assessments.”),
  • Pork (“China bans the use of certain veterinary drugs and growth promotants instead of accepting the MRLs set by Codex.” Some progress on opening the China market to U.S. pork products was made in the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement),
  • Horticultural Products (market access barriers for many U.S. products. U.S.-China Phase I Agreement obtains access for a number of products — fresh potatoes for processing, blueberries, nectarines and avocados from California, and barley, timothy hay and some other products.),
  • Value-added Tax Rebates and Related Policies (practice of varying rates on agricultural commodities).

Services (“In 2020, numerous challenges persisted in a number of services sectors. As in past years, Chinese regulators
continued to use discriminatory regulatory processes, informal bans on entry and expansion, case-by-case approvals in some services sectors, overly burdensome licensing and operating requirements, and other means to frustrate the efforts of U.S. suppliers of services to achieve their full market potential in China. These policies and practices affect U.S. service suppliers across a wide range of sectors, including express delivery, cloud computing, telecommunications, film production and distribution, online video and entertainment software, and legal services. In addition, China’s Cybersecurity Law and related draft and final implementing measures include mandates to purchase domestic ICT products and services, restrictions on cross-border data flows, and requirements to store and process data locally. China’s draft Personal Information Protection Law also includes restrictions on cross-border data flows and requirements to store and process data locally. These types of data restrictions undermine U.S. services suppliers’ ability to take advantage of market access opportunities in China. China also had failed to fully address U.S. concerns in
areas that have been the subject of WTO dispute settlement, including electronic payment services and theatrical film importation and distribution. The Phase One Agreement addresses a number of longstanding trade and investment barriers to U.S. providers of a wide range of financial services, including banking, insurance, securities, asset management, credit rating, and electronic payment services, among others. The barriers addressed in that Agreement
include joint venture requirements, foreign equity limitations, and various discriminatory regulatory requirements. Removal of these barriers should allow U.S. financial service providers to compete on a more level playing field and expand their services export offerings in the China market.”)

  • Banking Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement addresses some concerns re access including bank branches and supplying securities investment fund custody services),
  • Securities, Asset Management, and Futures Services (U.S.-China Phase I Agreement resulted in China eliminating limits on equity ownership and commits to nondiscrimination for U.S. suppliers of these services),
  • Insurance Services (despite commitments by China as part of the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement, U.S. participation in China’s insurance market remains very limited),
  • Electronic Payment Services (China has restricted access to foreign electronic payment services providers. U.S. won a WTO dispute and included provisions in U.S.-China Phase I Agreement. So far just one foreign electronic payment services provider has been licensed in China),
  • Internet-enabled Payment Services (major problems for foreign companies to obtain license to provide such services),
  • Telecommunications Services (range of barriers have limited foreign suppliers access to both basic telecom services and to value added services),
  • Internet Regulatory Regime (“China’s Internet regulatory regime is restrictive and non-transparent, affecting a broad range of commercial services activities conducted via the Internet, and is overseen by multiple agencies without clear lines of jurisdiction. China’s Internet economy had boomed over the past decade and is second in size only to that of the United States. Growth in China has been marked in service sectors similar to those found in the United States, including retail websites, search engines, online education, travel, advertising, audio-visual and computer gaming services, electronic mail and text, online job searches, Internet consulting, mapping services, applications, web domain registration, and electronic trading. However, in the Chinese market, Chinese companies dominate due in large part to restrictions imposed on foreign companies by the Chinese Government. At the same time, foreign companies continue to encounter major difficulties in attempting to offer these and other Internet-based services on a cross-border basis. China continues to engage in extensive blocking of legitimate websites and apps, imposing significant costs on both suppliers and users of web-based services and products. According to the latest data, China currently blocks a significant portion of the largest global sites. U.S. industry research has calculated that more than 10,000 foreign sites are blocked, affecting billions of dollars in business, including communications, networking, app stores, news, and other sites. Even when sites are not permanently blocked, the often arbitrary implementation of blocking, and the performance-degrading effect of filtering all traffic into and outside of China, significantly impair the supply of many cross-border services, often to the point of making them unviable.”),
  • Voice-over-Internet Protocol Services (“China’s regulatory authorities have restricted the ability to offer VOIP services interconnected to the public switched telecommunications network (i.e., to call a traditional phone number) to basic telecommunications service licensees.”),
  • Cloud Computing Services (foreign service providers can only operate in China by using a Chinese company and turning over brand, IP and other aspects; serious concern for U.S.),
  • Audio-visual and Related Services (“China prohibits retransmission of foreign TV channels, prohibits foreign investment in TV production, prohibits foreign investment in TV stations and channels in China, and imposes quotas on the amount of foreign programming that can be shown on a Chinese TV channel each day.”),
  • Theatrical Films (despite a WTO dispute and a resulting MOU where China agreed to expand number of U.S. films, China has not fulfilled its commitments)
  • Online Video and Entertainment Software Services (foreign suppliers are severely restricted),
  • Legal Services (very limited ability for foreign firms or foreign lawyers to practice in China)
  • Express Delivery Services (foreign service providers are banned from document delivery and face discriminatory and burdensome actions on package participation),
  • Data Restrictions (activities in China are likely to result in local storage requirements and limits on cross-border transfer; major concern to U.S. and many other countries).

Transparency (much work needed by China to meet obligations)

  • Publication of Trade-related Measures (WTO obligation to publish in one journal; spotty performance and many types of measures not published in the journal),
  • Notice-and-comment Procedures (little progress at sub-central government level; some progress at central government; U.S.-China Phase I Agreement commits China to provide 45 days notice and comment period for matters relating to the Agreement),
  • Translations (WTO commitment to provide translations in one of the three official WTO languages. “China does not publish translations of trade-related laws and administrative regulations in a timely manner (i.e., before implementation), nor does it publish any translations of trade-related measures issued by sub-central governments at all.”).

Conclusion

While the U.S. was the first country to produce a national trade estimate, a number of countries do so today. All trading partners have some practices which concern other trading partners, including the United States.

The length of the entry in the NTE for a give country is a reasonable indication both of the importance of the trade relationship and of the breadth of issues of concern. For the United States, the National Trade Estimate is a useful compilation of many of the major concerns raised by industries about problems in access to markets abroad or distortions created by practices of trading partners. Typically items found in the NTE will be part of USTR’s focus during the year in interactions with particular trading partners.

China is the country with the longest entry in the NTE and has been for many years. Considering the array of distortions and other problems identified in this year’s NTE, the focus on China is not surprising.

Some of the problems identified in this year’s NTE with China could be addressed through WTO reform, though China has indicated opposition to such an approach. On some of the issues, the U.S. has received repeated promises from China to address but without meaningful results to date.

What is clear is that U.S. trade relations with China are not balanced and haven’t been for the entire time of WTO membership for China. The challenge for the U.S. and the world is how to restore balance and save the global trading system. There are no obvious answers.

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