I call it the Neil Sedaka question. Whenever I am in California, the conversation soon turns to whether, for the FANGs, in Sedaka’s words, “breaking up is hard to do”? This issue has US tech entrepreneurs, corporates and investors in a state of high anxiety. This is no surprise. The legacy of Europe’s Microsoft investigation in the 2000s and the IBM remedies in the 1980s have left a deep impression on the US tech community.
The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook warns that waning support for global integration, geopolitical strains and political uncertainty have the potential to upset global growth prospects. It is not the first time the fund has drawn attention to political risks, which have become a recurring theme in recent years. Is there any reason why businesses and investors should be particularly concerned now?
As US-China trade hostilities slowly unfold, the EU is currently watching from the sidelines — mostly silently. But impacts in Europe are possible in the coming months, if only because US-China trade flows do not operate in isolation. Barriers between Washington and Beijing are a potential source of deflection towards other destinations and the EU is an obvious candidate for absorption. How material could this diversion be? How will EU businesses and policymakers respond?
I have been in China again, this time as president of the Great Britain-China Centre, flying the flag at the UK-China Leadership Forum. This is an annual event at which representatives of Britain’s political parties exchange views with China’s communist party. The delegation was led by Theresa May’s able number two, David Liddington, and I was the senior Labour man (hope this doesn’t upset its leader, Jeremy Corbyn). A recurrent question of the week was how ‘global Britain’ will come to terms with a world in which China is becoming preeminent.
The Trump administration’s threat of 25% tariffs on $50bn of Chinese imports to the United States has inevitably dominated coverage of the President’s decision to escalate a long-standing irritation with Chinese approaches to US inward investment into a full-blown trade dispute. But there are three legs to the US review of Chinese practice under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, and tariffs are only one.
Was it a rehash of old announcements or concessions that could prevent a trade war? These starkly different verdicts have been offered on President Xi’s plans to liberalise the Chinese economy, set out at the Boao forum this week. In practice, it was neither. What Xi provided is a basis for negotiation, which means the hard work still needs to be done if trade tensions between the US and China are to be deescalated.
Signs are clearly pointing to the two winners of Italy’s 4 March election – the Five Star Movement and Lega – being able to work together, and it is looking increasingly likely they will seek to reach some sort of governing arrangement. But, despite successfully reaching an agreement on the speakers for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate last week, they will find that agreeing on a common policy programme will prove significantly more tortuous, and involve compromises between often conflicting and contradicting positions.
For all of Donald Trump’s flexibility on policy issues, US-China trade is one area where he has demonstrated surprisingly constant views over the years. Unlike the Washington political establishment, Trump and his group of trade advisers not only believe that the integration of the American and Chinese markets since China’s 2001 entry into the WTO has not benefited both countries equally (not an unusual view in Washington), but that the US has not been assertive enough in rebalancing the relationship. The White House’s announcement yesterday of a raft of economic and investment sanctions against China as a response to the country’s “economic aggression”, is Trump’s attempt at doing this.
The UK government has finally started to flesh out what sort of future trade and regulatory relationship it wants to negotiate with the EU. Central to this are a revised set of market access and product standard recognition rights in the EU single market based on what the UK often calls ‘mutual recognition’. This suggestion has been rebuffed in a number of places and ways by the EU. Why is this?
At the China Entrepreneurs Conference in Yabuli last week (see my previous blog for reflections), the theme was 40 years of reform and opening up of China’s economy. Earlier in the week, news seeped out that China’s two-term leadership rule was about to be scrapped, allowing Xi Jinping to stay in power beyond 2023. Commentary flooded the international media, but participants at Yabuli were strangely silent on the issue. This led me to think about the role that political leadership has played in the transformation of China over the last 40 years, and what the Chinese think of their current leader.