In October 2021, President Biden announced the United States’ intention to pursue an “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF) as a means of strengthening U.S. ties in the Asian region.  Substantive discussions on the IPEF have not yet begun, and indeed, there has not yet been an announcement how the negotiations will be conducted or which nations will be involved.  Nevertheless, enough about this proposed framework of agreements has been announced that companies in the region can begin to prepare for the process.  This article will discuss what is known about the IPEF, why the current administration is taking this approach, and how countries in the Asian region may be affected by this new agreement.

By way of background, in February 2016, after years of negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed.  The TPP covered 12 countries, including the United States, and was described as a high-standard “21st Century” trade agreement.  However, one of then-President Trump’s first actions in office was to withdraw the United States from the TPP.  The remaining TPP countries renegotiated the agreement without the United States (essentially removing certain elements of the agreement the United States alone had backed), and ultimately entered into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  Since President Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, pressure has been building for the United States to reengage with Asia on economic and commercial matters.  The IPEF is the United States’ current policy response.

Continue Reading The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework: How the United States Intends to Re-Engage with Asia on Trade

2021 was an eventful year for international trade law and policy in the EU, with developments in several key areas.

The EU strengthens its trade policy toolbox

In the light of the recent ongoing problems with multilateralism and the continuing rise of China, the EU focused hard on strengthening its trade enforcement toolbox in a wide variety of trade related areas. This includes the use of recent tools and proposals for new instruments:

  • The Amended Trade Enforcement Regulation entered into force on 13 February 2021. This greatly expands the EU’s capacity to adopt trade countermeasures against third countries. It can now do so even before dispute settlement proceedings at the WTO or under other international agreements have been concluded if these are blocked by the other party. This would include, for instance, situations where a trading partner appeals an adverse panel report “into the void” to the non-functioning Appellate Body at the WTO, as well as in relation to a broader range of violations. The Commission is due to undertake a review of the Trade Enforcement Regulation, to consider additional commercial policy measures in the field of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, by 13 February 2022.
  • The FDI Screening Regulation, which has been in force since the end of 2020, has led to a growing number of FDI mechanisms notified or updated by Member States to the European Commission throughout 2021 (see here). For the EU, which did not have a role in FDI screening prior to this, this mechanism is starting to become a game-changer. In November 2021, the Commission published its first annual report on the screening of foreign direct investments into the EU. Of the 265 cases notified to the Commission between 11 October 2020 and 30 June 2021, 80% were closed by the Commission in Phase 1, whereas 14% of cases proceeded to Phase 2, with additional information being requested from the notifying Member State (the remaining 6% were still under assessment on 30 June 2021). The Commission issued an opinion, with recommended measures, in less than 3% of the notified cases. Actual prohibitions of investments by Member States appear to be limited for the moment, although there have been such instances (like Italy’s prohibition of the proposed acquisition of control in LPE, an Italian semiconductor equipment company, by a Chinese company). Moreover, parties sometimes abandon envisaged transactions prior to a formal prohibition. The imposition of conditions appears more common.
  • On 5 May 2021, the Commission published its proposal for a new Regulation to address distortions by foreign subsidies. The Regulation introduces three new instruments that would give the Commission the power to investigate foreign subsidies granted to companies active in the EU and identify whether they are causing distortions in the EU single market. Should the Commission identify distortive foreign subsidies, it could impose redressive measures to counteract their effects (see our blog post describing the Commission’s proposal here). If adopted, which currently appears likely, it would give the Commission far-reaching new powers. The Committee on International Trade, the leading committee in charge of the file within the European Parliament, has released its draft report on the proposal on 17 December 2021, generally supporting the new instruments and suggesting additional protections against home-market monopoly advantages and known future subsidies.
  • On 8 December 2021, the Commission published a proposal for a new anti-coercion instrument. The aim of this instrument would be to deter and, if necessary, retaliate against third countries exerting economic coercion against the EU or its Member States in order to influence their political decisions and policy choices (see our blog post describing the Commission’s proposal here). This is another example of a novel instrument in the field of trade that would grant the Commission with robust powers to address trade policy issues.
  • Negotiations on a proposed new International Procurement Instrument have also progressed in 2021. This instrument would enable the EU to limit, on a case-by-case basis, access to its public procurement market by companies from third countries which restrict access to their own procurement markets by EU businesses. This would represent a significant overhaul of the EU’s current public procurement system, which is currently one of the more open ones globally.


Continue Reading EU Trade: 2021 Takeaways, 2022 and Beyond – What to Expect

Momentum is building for the United States to pursue a plurilateral digital trade agreement (or possibly a series of bilateral agreements) with trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region, as part of the Biden administration’s strategy to reengage with the region and counter Chinese economic influence.  This sentiment has been expressed in public statements from U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) Tai and National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell.  Furthermore, USTR Tai, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris have all discussed the issue of digital trade with foreign counterparts in the region over the past several months.

In addition to Biden Administration officials, other key stakeholders have announced their support for U.S. participation in a digital trade agreement in the Indo-Pacific.  Key members of Congress as well as allies and partners in the region have expressed interest in a U.S.-led digital trade pact.  U.S. industry also appears to be on board.  For example, more than a dozen industry and business groups – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Information Technology Industry Council – wrote a letter to USTR Tai stressing that developing digital trade rules with partners in the Indo-Pacific should be “a critical element” of the U.S. trade agenda, particularly in the face of rising digital protectionist measures globally.  The apparent buy-in from all key actors and stakeholders strongly suggests that a digital trade agreement in the Indo-Pacific is a serious possibility.

This alert discusses what a potential digital trade agreement might look like, based on existing precedent, and also hypothesizes what the alternatives to such an agreement might be.

Continue Reading The US Appears Poised to Pursue a Digital Trade Agreement in Asia – What Does that Mean?