Outlook 2019: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

In January 2019, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2019–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. Any comments and suggestions are more than welcome!

1: What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2019, and why?

In my view, uncertainty will remain the single biggest challenge facing the apparel industry in 2019, ranging from a more volatile global economy, the unpredictable outlook of the U.S.-China trade talks to the various possible scenarios of Brexit. While uncertainty creates exciting new research opportunities for scholars like me, it could be a big headache for companies seeking a foreseeable market environment to guide their future business plan and investments. 

Meanwhile, the increasing digitalization of the apparel supply chain based on big-data tools and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies means a huge opportunity for fashion companies. Indeed, the apparel industry is quickly changing in nature—becoming ever more globalized, supply-chain based, technology-intensive and data-driven. Take talent recruitment as an example. In the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), as much as 68 percent of surveyed leading U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers say they plan to increase hiring of data scientists in the next five years. Googling “apparel industry” together with terms such as “big data” and “data science” also returns much more results than in the past. It is hopeful that the advancement of digital technologies and the smarter use of data will enable apparel companies to overcome market uncertainties better and improve many aspects of their businesses such as speed to market, operational efficiency and even sustainability.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2019, and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?

Based on my research, I have three observations regarding apparel companies’ sourcing trends and the overall sourcing landscape in 2019:

First, apparel companies overall will continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base. For example, in a recent study, we examined the detailed sourcing portfolios of the 50 largest U.S.-based apparel companies ranked by the Apparel Magazine. Notably, on average these companies sourced from over 20 different countries or regions using more than 200 vendors in 2017. Similarly, in the 2018 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), we also found companies with more than 1,000 employees typically source from more than ten different countries and regions. Since no sourcing destination is perfect, maintaining a relatively diverse sourcing base allows apparel companies to strike a balance among various sourcing factors ranging from cost, speed, flexibility, to risk management.

Second, while apparel companies are actively seeking new sourcing bases, many of them are reducing either the number of countries they source from or the number of vendors they work with. According to our study, some apparel companies have been strategically reducing the number of sourcing facilities with the purpose of ensuring closer collaborations with their suppliers on social and environmental compliance issues. Some other companies are consolidating their sourcing base within certain regions to improve efficiency and maximize productivity in the supply chain. Related to this trend, it is interesting to note that approximately half of the 50 largest U.S. apparel companies report allocating more sourcing orders to their largest vendor in 2017 than three years ago.

Third, nearshoring or onshoring will become more visible. Take “Made in the USA” apparel for example. According to the 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, around 46 percent of surveyed U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers report currently sourcing “Made in the USA” products, even though local sourcing typically only account for less than 10 percent of these companies’ total sourcing value or volume. In a recent study, we find that 94 out of the total 348 retailers (or 27 percent) sold “Made in the USA” apparel in the U.S. market between December 2017 and November 2018. These “Made in the USA” apparel items, in general, focus on fashion-oriented women’s wear, particularly in the categories of bottoms (such as skirts, jeans, and trousers), dresses, all-in-ones (such as playsuits and dungarees), swimwear and suits-sets. The advantage of proximity to the market, which makes speedy replenishment for in-season items possible, also allows retailers to price “Made in the USA” apparel substantially higher than imported ones and avoid offering deep discounts. Looking ahead, thanks to automation technology and consumers’ increasing demand for speed to market, I think nearshoring or onshoring, including ”Made in the USA” apparel, will continue to have its unique role to play in fashion brands and retailers’ merchandising and sourcing strategies.

3: What should apparel firms and their suppliers be doing now if they want to remain competitive further into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

2019 will be a year to test apparel companies’ resources, particularly in the sourcing area. For example, winners will be those companies that have built a sophisticated but nimble global sourcing network that can handle market uncertainties effectively. Likewise, companies that understand and leverage the evolving “rules of the game”, such as the apparel-specific rules of origin and tariff phase-out schedules of existing or newly-reached free trade agreements, will be able to control sourcing cost better and achieve higher profit margins. Given the heavy involvement of trade policy in apparel sourcing this year, companies with solid government relations should also enjoy unique competitive advantages. 

On the other hand, as apparel business is changing in nature, to stay competitive, apparel companies need to start investing the future. This includes but not limited to exploring new sourcing destinations, studying the changing consumer demographics, recruiting new talents with expertise in emerging areas, and adopting new technologies fitting for the digital age. 

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2019 to be better than 2018, and why?

Two things are at the top of my watchlist:

First, what is the future of China as an apparel sourcing base? While external factors such as the U.S.-China tariff war have attracted most of the public attention, the genuine evolution of China’s textile and apparel industry is something even more critical to watch in the long run. From my observation, China is playing an increasingly important role as a textile supplier for apparel-exporting countries in Asia. For example, measured by value, 47 percent of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2017, up from 39 percent in 2005. Similar trends are seen in Cambodia (up from 30 percent to 65 percent), Vietnam (up from 23 percent to 50 percent), Pakistan (up from 32 percent to 71 percent), Malaysia (up from 25 percent to 54 percent), Indonesia (up from 28 percent to 46 percent), Philippines (up from 19 percent to 41 percent) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 percent to 39 percent) over the same time frame. A key question in my mind is how quickly China’s textile and apparel industry will continue to evolve and upgrade by following the paths of most other advanced economies in history.

Second, how will the implementation of several newly-reached free trade agreements (FTAs) affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the existing regional apparel supply chains? For example:

  • The newly-reached U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or commonly called NAFTA2.0) includes several interesting changes to the textile and apparel specific rules of origin provisions, such as the adjustment of the tariff-preference level (TPL) mechanism. Whether these changes will boost textile and apparel production in the Western-Hemisphere and attract more sourcing from the region will be something interesting to watch.
  • The implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) will allow Vietnam to get access to nearly 40% of the world apparel import market (i.e., EU + Japan) duty-free. However, restrained by the country’s relatively small population, the apparel industry is increasingly facing the challenge of competing for labor with other export-oriented sectors in Vietnam. Realistically, what is the growth potential of apparel “Made in Vietnam” after the implementation of CPTPP and EVFTA?
  • In 2017, close to 80% of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from around 70% in the 2000s. Similarly, in 2017, 85.6% of Asian countries’ apparel imports also came from within the region. The negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive and Economic Partnership (RCEP) is likely to conclude in 2019, whose membership includes member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other six economies in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). Will RCEP result in an ever more integrated Asia-based textile and apparel supply chain and make the Asia region even more competitive as an apparel sourcing destination?  

Regional Supply Chain Remains an Import Feature of World Textile and Apparel Trade

The full article is available HERE

Key findings:

The deepening of the regional production and trade network(RPTN) is a critical factor behind the increasing concentration of world textile and apparel exports. RPTN refers to the phenomenon that geographically proximate countries form a regional supply chain.

In general, three primary textile and apparel regional supply chains are operating in the world today:

Asia: within this regional supply chain, more economically advanced Asian countries (such asJapan, South Korea, and China) supply textile raw material to the less economically developed countries in the region (such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam). Based on relatively lower wages, the less developed countries typically undertake the most labor-intensive processes of apparel manufacturing and then export finished apparel to major consumption markets around the world.

Europe: within this regional supply chain, developed countries in Southern and Western Europe such as Italy, France, and Germany, serve as the primary textile suppliers. Regarding apparel manufacturing in EU, products for the mass markets are typically produced by developing countries in Southern and Eastern Europe such as Poland and Romania, whereas high-end luxury products are mostly produced by Southern and Western European countries such as Italy and France. Furthermore, a high portion of finished apparel is shipped to developed EU members such as UK, Germany, France, and Italy for consumption.

Western-Hemisphere(WH): within this regional supply chain, the United States serves as the leading textile supplier, whereas developing countries in North, Central andSouth America (such as Mexico and countries in the Caribbean region) assemble imported textiles from the United States or elsewhere into apparel. The majority of clothing produced in the area is eventually exported to the UnitedStates or Canada for consumption.

Associated with these regional production and trade networks, three particular trade flows are important to watch:

First, Asian countries are increasingly sourcing textile inputs from within the region. In2017, close to 80 percent of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from around 70 percent in the 2000s.

Second, the pattern of EU intra-region trade for textile and apparel stays strong and stable. Intra-region trade refers to trade flows between EU members. In 2017, 55 percent of EU countries’ textile imports and 47 percent of EU countries’ apparel imports came from within the EU region. Over the same period, 68 percent of EU countries’ textile exports and 75 percent of their apparel exports also went to other EU countries.

Third, trade flows under the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain are becoming more unbalanced. On the one hand, textile and apparel exporters in the Western-Hemisphere still rely heavily on the region. In 2017, respectively as much as 80 percent of textiles and 89 percent of apparel exports from countries in the Western Hemisphere went to the same region.  However, on the other hand, the operation of the Western-Hemisphere supply chain is facing growing competition from Asian suppliers. For example,  in 2017, only 24.8 percent of North, South and Central American countries’ textile imports and 15.7 percent of their apparel imports came from within the region, a record low in the past ten years.

Look ahead, it will be interesting to see how will the reaching and implementation of several new free trade agreements, such as CPTPP, RCEP, EU-Vietnam FTA, and the potential US-EU and US-Japan FTAs,  affect the regional pattern of world textile and apparel trade.

Recommended citation: Lu,S. (2018). How regional supply chains are shaping world textile and apparel trade. Just-Style. Retrieved from https://www.just-style.com/analysis/how-regional-supply-chains-are-shaping-world-textile-and-apparel-trade_id135021.aspx

How Has the Apparel Trade Flow Reacted to the Section 301 Tariff Action against China? (updated November 2018)

While apparel products are not subject to the Section 301 tariff yet, the trade action nevertheless has created huge market uncertainties for U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. Here is how the monthly trade flow of U.S. apparel imports has reflected the impacts of the U.S.-China tariff war:

First, U.S. companies did NOT stop importing from China. Seasonally adjusted data shows that between January and September 2018, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China decreased by 0.6 percent in volume and 0.05 percent in value year on year. Despite the decline, China remained the No.1 apparel supplier for the U.S. market in the first nine months of 2018, accounting for 32.3 percent market share in value and 41.3 percent shares in quantity, only marginally dropped by 1 and 0.7 percentage points from a year earlier respectively .

Second, apparel “Made in China” are becoming even cheaper. Notably, the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China dropped from $2.5/SME in 2016,$2.38/SME in 2017 to $2.36/SME in the first nine months of 2018. On the one hand, this result suggests that cost concern is not the most influential factor that drives U.S. companies to source less from China. However, it is also likely that Chinese exporters are intentionally reducing their price to keep their orders and overcome the challenges caused by the Section 301.

Third, there is no perfect replacement for “Made in China”. In response to the market uncertainty created by the Section 301 trade action, U.S. apparel importers are diversifying their sourcing base. That being said, it is difficult to identify a single largest beneficiary–notably, the market shares of apparel exports from Vietnam, Bangladesh, NAFTA, and CAFTA regions only marginally increased in the first nine months of 2018 compared with a year ago.

Additionally, it remains unclear whether the section 301 trade action has benefited U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing. Data shows that in the first ten months of 2018, the production index (2012=100) of textile manufacturing in the United States slightly increased from 92.8 in 2017to 94.3. However, over the same period, the index of apparel manufacturing decreased from 73.6 to 72.4.

Looking ahead, the volume of US textile and apparel imports from China is likely to increase in the short run since U.S. importers are eager to complete their sourcing orders before the new tariff hit.  Usually, companies place sourcing orders several months ahead of the selling season. However, it will be interesting to see if the trade data in the first half of 2019 will reveal the negative impact of the Section 301 action on China’s apparel exports to the U.S. market.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), US Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

Textile and Apparel Items Removed from USTR’s Original Proposed Product List for the Section 301 Action (September 2018)

On September 17, 2018, President Trump formerly announced to take the Section 301 action against another $200 billion worth of imports from China. The additional tariffs will be effective starting September 24, 2018, and initially will be in the amount of 10 percent.  Starting January 1, 2019, the level of the additional tariffs will increase to 25 percent.

The $200 billion imports from China targeted include 5,745 full or partial lines of the original 6,031 tariff lines that were on a proposed list of Chinese imports announced on July 10, 2018. Included among the products removed from the original proposed list are certain consumer electronics products such as smart watches and Bluetooth devices; certain chemical inputs for manufactured goods, textiles and agriculture; certain health and safety products such as bicycle helmets, and child safety furniture such as car seats and playpens.

Below are the textile and apparel related products removed from the original proposed list:

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Data source: CCCT (2018) 

However, the final $200 billion product list still covers several textile and apparel-related products such as backpacks, handbags, purses, wallets, baseball gloves, hats and leather, and fur apparel, as well as textiles and machinery that are used for domestic manufacturing. In general, the final $200 billion product list includes about 20% consumer products (v.s. only 1% in the $50 billion already subject to the 25% additional tariff), 50% intermediary goods and 30% capital goods.

Trade War Looms over New York Fashion Week

Discussion questions:

  • Why does the U.S. textile industry call for additional tariffs on textile and apparel imports from China whereas U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers oppose the tariffs?
  • Based on the trade theories we have learned so far, why or why not would you recommend President Trump to impose 25% punitive tariffs on imports from China?

Appendix: Comments on the Proposed Section 301 Tariffs on Imports from China (August 2018)

For the complete timeline of the U.S. Section 301 tariff action against China, please click HERE

2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key findings of this year’s study:

Business challenges facing U.S. fashion companies: Protectionism is the top challenge for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018. More companies worry about increases in production or sourcing cost, too. For the second year in a row, “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” ranks the top challenge for U.S. fashion companies in 2018.

Industry outlook: Despite concerns about trade policy and cost, executives are more confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018 than they were a year ago, although confidence has not fully recovered to the level seen in 2015 and 2016. In addition, 100 percent of respondents say they plan to hire more employees in the next five years, compared with 80-85 percent in previous studies; market analysts, data scientists, sustainability/compliance related specialists or managers, and supply chain specialists are expected to be the most in-demand.

U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy: When it comes to sourcing, diversification is key for many companies.

  • Most respondents continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base, with 60.7 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 57.6 percent in 2017.
  • Larger companies, in general, continue to be more diversified than smaller companies.
  • Reflecting the U.S. fashion industry’s growing global reach, respondents report sourcing from as many as 51 countries or regions in 2018, the same as in 2017. Asia as a whole continues to take the lead as the dominant sourcing region. Meanwhile, with the growing importance of speed-to-market and flexibility, the Western Hemisphere is becoming an indispensable sourcing base.
  • Keeping a relatively diverse sourcing base will remain a key element of U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy. Nearly 80 percent of respondents plan to source from the same number of countries, or more countries, in the next two years. However, respondents are equally divided on whether to increase or decrease the number of suppliers they will work with.
  • China plus Vietnam plus Many” has become an ever more popular sourcing model among respondents. And this model is evolving as companies further diversify their China production. In particular, China now typically accounts for only 11-30 percent of companies’ total sourcing value or volume, compared with 30-50 percent in the past.
  • Although China’s position as the top sourcing destination is unshakable, companies are actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China.” This does not seem to be due to concerns about cost, but rather the worries about the escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.
  • Benefiting from the diversification away from China, Vietnam and Bangladesh are expected to play a bigger role as apparel suppliers for the U.S. market in the near future.

Rules of origin and the utilization of trade agreements for sourcing: Rules of origin, and exceptions to the rules of origin, significantly impact whether companies use free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs for sourcing.

  • While FTAs and trade preference programs remain largely underutilized by U.S. fashion companies, more companies are using NAFTA (65 percent), CAFTA-DR (58 percent) and AGOA (50 percent) than in the past two years.
  • Still, it’s concerning that companies often do not claim the duty-free benefits when sourcing from countries with FTAs or preference programs. Companies say this is primarily due to the strict rules of origin.
  • Exceptions to the “yarn-forward” rules of origin, including tariff preference levels (TPLs), commercial availability/short supply lists, and cumulation, are priorities for respondents; 48 percent say they currently use these mechanisms for sourcing. These exceptions provide critical flexibilities that make companies more likely to use FTAs and source from FTA regions.

NAFTA: U.S. fashion companies call for a further reduction of trade barriers and urge trade negotiators to “do no harm” to NAFTA, the most-utilized free trade agreement by respondents.

  • Respondents predominantly support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to restrictive rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
  • More than half of respondents explicitly say NAFTA is important to their business—and they have grave concerns about the uncertain future of the agreement.

Sourcing in sustainable and socially compliant ways: Overall, U.S. fashion companies are making more commitments to sustainability and social responsibility.

  • 85 percent of respondents plan to allocate more resources for sustainability and social compliance in the next two years, in areas including providing training to suppliers and internal employees, adding more employees, and working more closely with third-party certification programs on sustainability and social compliance. However, the availability of operational budget remains the primary hurdle for companies that want to do more.
  • 100 percent of respondents map their supply chains (i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers), up from 90 percent in 2017. Over 80 percent of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers (i.e., factory where the final product is assembled), but also Tier 2 suppliers (i.e., subcontractors or major component suppliers, such as fabrics). However, it’s less common for companies to map Tier 3 (i.e., yarn spinners, finding and trimming suppliers) and Tier 4 suppliers (i.e., raw materials suppliers, such as cattle/pig hides, rubber, cotton, wool, goose down, minerals/metals and chemicals).
  • 100 percent of respondents audit their suppliers for issues including building safety, fire safety, and treatment of workers. The vast majority of respondents (96 percent) currently use third-party certification programs to audit, with both announced and unannounced audits.

The US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study from 2014 to 2017 can be downloaded from HERE

U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry Responds to Trump’s Tariff Announcement against China

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On June 15, 2018, the Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its Section 301 investigation, which targeted against China’s unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of American technology and intellectual property. The additional duty will first apply to 818 lines of products on July 6, 2018, which cover approximately $34 billion worth of imports from China. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said it would issue a final determination on the second set of 284 proposed tariff lines, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of imports from China shortly. The total 1,102 tariff lines targeted by USTR generally focuses on products from industrial sectors that contribute to or benefit from the “Made in China 2025” industrial policy, which include industries such as aerospace, information and communications technology, robotics, industrial machinery, new materials, and automobiles.

In response to the U.S. action, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) quickly announced its proposed countermeasures, including a 25% punitive tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of U.S. soybean, autos, and fruits effective July 6, 2018. China is also ready to impose the punitive tariff on another list of products, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of medical device, chemicals and energy imports from the United States.

The U.S. textile and apparel industry keeps a close watch on the U.S.-China trade dispute since as much as 36% of U.S. textile and apparel imports come from China. In an announcement released on June 16, 2018, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) called a victory that no textile and apparel products are subject to the punitive tariff proposed by USTR. The June 15 USTR list also removes the majority of the textile machinery initially on the retaliation product list back in April 2018. However, U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers remain deeply concerned about Trump’s tariff action and its potential negative economic impacts on the apparel sector.

In contrast, the U.S. textile industry, represented by the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) praised the Trump administration’s tariff announcement. NCTO also called on the Trump administration to include finished textile and apparel products on any future lists of imports from China to be made subject to Section 301 tariffs.  Not surprisingly, NCTO’s proposal is opposed strongly by AAFA and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, representing U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. As argued by USFIA, the U.S. tariff rates on apparel and fashion products are already the highest among manufactured goods, reaching 32 percent for man-made fiber apparel and 67 percent for footwear. Any additional tariff would constitute a huge, regressive tax increase and have a negative impact on the American jobs.

Appendix: Timeline of U.S. Section 301 Investigation against China

June 15, 2018: The Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its section 301 investigation

June 4, 2018: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross concluded his two-day trade negotiation with China in Beijing. A White House statement said “the meetings focused on reducing the United States’ trade deficit by facilitating the supply of agricultural and energy products to meet China’s growing consumption needs, which will help support growth and employment in the United States. The United States officials conveyed President Donald J. Trump’s clear goal for achieving a fair trading relationship with China.” While the announcement didn’t mention the next round, it says that the delegation will “receive guidance on the path forward.”

May 29, 2018: President Trump suddenly announced that the United States will impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China containing industrially significant technology, including those related to the “Made in China 2025” program.  The final list of covered imports will be announced by June 15, 2018. The announcement also said that the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) will continue WTO dispute settlement against China originally initiated in March to address China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements. Additionally, the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The list of restrictions and controls will be announced by June 30, 2018.

May 19, 2018: A joint statement released by the White House said that the United States and China had led to an agreement for China to buy more goods and services, including “meaningful increases in U.S. agriculture and energy exports.” The statement also said that both sides attach importance to intellectual property protections, agreed to encourage two-way investment and to strive to create a fair, level playing field for competition, and agreed to engage at high levels on trade and investment issues. Additionally, the statement said that the United States would send a team to China to work out the details of the agreement. However, the statement did not contain a specific target for reducing the $375 billion trade deficits.

April 5, 2018: President Trump announced that he has instructed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to consider $100 billion additional retaliatory tariffs on China, in response to China’s own retaliation against the Section 301 tariffs announced in late March. In a statement released the next day, USTR confirms the proposed new measures. USTR also says that any additional tariffs proposed will be subject to a similar public comment process as the proposed tariffs announced on April 3, 2018. No tariffs will go into effect until the respective process is complete. 

April 3, 2018: USTR released the proposed list of Chinese products to be subject to the retaliatory tariff under the Section 301 action. The proposed list covers approximately 1,300 separate tariff lines and will undergo further review in a public notice and comment process, including a hearing (scheduled at around May 15, 2018). The USTR statement says it will make a final decision on whether to implement the proposed tariff action after the whole process. 

March 26, 2018: USTR filed a WTO case against China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements (DS542). The US claimed that China’s measures appear to be inconsistent with Articles 3, 28.1(a) and (b) and 28.2 of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). As of April 8, 2018, the European Union, Japan, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have requested to join the dispute as third parties. According to the WTO rule, China shall enter into consultation with the US no later than April 26, 2018. If the dispute is not resolved by May 25, 2018 (i.e., 60 days after the request for consultation), the United States may request a WTO panel. As of June 17, 2018, the case is still in consultations.

March 22, 2018: President Trump announced his decisions on the actions the Administration will take in response to China’s unfair trade practices covered in the USTR Section 301 investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer initiated the investigation in August 2017 at the direction of President Trump. In the Memorandum he signed, President Trump directed the US Trade Representative to level tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. 

January 2018: the U.S. Trade Representative Office submitted its annual report on China’s WTO Compliance to U.S. Congress. The report says that “It seems clear that the United States erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO on terms that have proven to be ineffective in securing China’s embrace of an open, market-orientated trade regime.”

August 14, 2017: President Trump issued a memorandum directing the USTR to determine if China’s policies regarding IPR theft and forced technology requirements “may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development,” and thus warrant USTR action under Section 301of the 1974 Trade Act.

Related reading: The Section 301 Investigation against China Divides the U.S. Textile Industry and U.S. Fashion Brands and Retailers