There is nothing new in British government ministers showing a basic lack of understanding of trade policy. The Brexit referendum and its aftermath have been characterised by ministers asserting ambitious free trade goals which are not deliverable in the real world. Now the opposition Labour party has followed suit with its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, setting out a new “Build it in Britain” agenda, which seeks to re-write international trade rules.
US trade policy under Donald Trump has become volatile, noisy and aggressive. This makes it hard to follow policy developments, let alone to understand what is driving them. But the key to understanding the dispute with China is to recognise it is quite different from the disputes the US has provoked with other countries. In fact, it is not a conventional trade dispute at all.
British retailer Dixons Carphone reported on Tuesday that ten million customers may have been affected by a cyber-attack. This is yet another example of the privacy breaches that are affecting every day operations of European companies. The Dixons Carphone incident follows other major cyber-attacks. The WannaCry and NotPetya attacks led to substantial financial losses for firms across France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the UK.
The Irish border has become a major obstacle in the Brexit negotiations. With time running short, the probability of a no-deal Brexit – and the chaos this would imply – is increasing. So what are the potential solutions?
The torrential downpour which greeted President Putin as he walked onto the turf at the Luzhniki Stadium as the final whistle brought the 21st World Cup to an end was the only cloud over a tournament graced with many footballing silver linings. His counterpart at FIFA, President Infantino, had declared before the final that the championship was “changing the perception of Russia, particularly in the west.” For observers in the Kremlin totting up the cost of the tournament, judging whether the FIFA President is right is their next task.
US President Trump upped the ante in his trade dispute with China earlier this week by mandating his US Trade Representative to release a list of up to $200bn in Chinese goods on which a new 10% tariff would apply by the end of the summer. Whether this can bring change in Chinese trade practices, or at least force Beijing back to the negotiating table, remains questionable. But what is certain is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Trump’s trade officials to hit China with new tariffs without also directly impacting consumers.
Back in 2016, with the Digital Single Market agenda still in its infancy, the European Commission launched its ambitious reform of telecoms regulation. The so-called European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) was presented with great fanfare and with the explicit goal of plugging Europe’s €155 billion investment gap in digital infrastructure. The ultimate aim of the proposal was to provide high speed connectivity at lower prices to European consumers, a prerequisite to ensure the political acceptability of any reform in Brussels.
The twenty-three men of the England World Cup squad in Russia have done more to restore respect for Britain abroad than any number of ministerial visits, soft power exchanges and cultural tours. The irony of this turnaround taking place in Russia, at a low-point in Anglo-Russia relations, something which the death of a British citizen yesterday linked to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury is only likely to exacerbate, has not been lost on anyone in Moscow, Samara or Kaliningrad (I write having watched England’s last three matches in these cities.)
Over the next few months, the UK is likely to start setting out its detailed plans for the establishment of a UK trade remedies system after it has left the EU. Freed (at least in theory – watch the customs partnership debate) from the obligations of the EU system of which it has long been a critic, the UK will have an opportunity to adopt its own rulebook for the investigation of claims of dumping and subsidy in UK trading partners, and for designing measures to penalise unfairly traded goods.
The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said in a speech in March that it is better to refer to cryptocurrencies as “crypto-assets” - that is, to see them as securities, “expressly because they are not true currencies”. The US SEC, on the other hand, took a more nuanced approach two weeks ago when it clarified that cryptocurrencies themselves are not securities, but that the capital-raising activities using cryptocurrency technology can be.