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Are China’s Trade Practices Really Unfair?

Even if China’s non-tariff barriers remain high, they are lower than in the past. In fact, current complaints about unfair Chinese trade practices are actually complaints about the mismatch between the slow pace of economic opening and the very fast pace of modernization.

BRUSSELS – The temporary truce reached by US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the just-concluded G20 meeting in Buenos Aires should give both sides some time to reflect on the issues in question. And the most fundamental of those issues is whether American grievances against China – shared by many of the advanced economies – are justified.

To be sure, unilateral US measures are indefensible under global trading rules. But some pushback conceivably could be warranted if the advanced economies – which have already created an informal contact group of “China losers,” including representatives of the European Union, Japan, and the United States – are right that China has been engaging in unfair trading practices.

For the US, the biggest concern seems to be so-called forced technology transfer – that is, the requirement that foreign companies share their intellectual property with a domestic “partner” in order to gain access to the Chinese market. But this is a misnomer, at best, because companies that do not want to share their technology can always choose not to invest in China.

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