"Trade War 4.0": How the EU Plans to Punish US Tech

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/20/2020 08:12:00 PM
This is a follow-up to the earlier post about how the EU and US are on a collision course over the tax treatment of American tech giants, which the EU believes are operating nearly tax-free within their countries. If we were still dealing with old-fashioned goods, the solution for the EU would be simple: apply tariffs, which are taxes on goods. After all, the US is applying those on a lot of EU goods right now. But how would you retaliate against services which the US is dominant in? Since these are intellectual property-rich things, you would make it easier to violate IP.

Now, if there is anything the US guards zealously, it's the intellectual property of its firms. Even the WTO reflects this American predilection by incorporating Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) despite there already being a United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) since 1967.

To be sure, the EU is also IP-rich and also pushed for IP inclusion at the WTO. However, the clear difference circa 2020 is that while the US is strong in technology IP, the EU is rather less so. Maybe it's really anger at not getting enough taxes out of the US tech giants. Or maybe it's just plain jealousy that the EU hasn't really developed many of these next-generation industries. No matter; the EU is looking to hit US IP in the quarrel over American tech giants as an emergent trade war strategy:
The EU is preparing a law that could allow its executive body, the European Commission, to hit back against U.S. tariffs by imposing sanctions on the intellectual property of companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. In a rare united front, Europe's main political groups on July 6 backed proposals to strengthen the EU's trade powers by expanding them into the realm of services and intellectual property rights, which they argue would allow them to match U.S. trade firepower...

Lawmakers in Brussels think sanctions on services will be a bigger deterrent than tariffs on soybeans and machinery. They would also be a better fit for highly globalized value chains, where production easily jumps borders...

Sanctions directly targeting a company's intellectual property, by contrast, would catch a larger share of America's high-value exports, and would be much harder to circumvent [by relocating production outside the US]. Experts contacted by POLITICO agreed that trade retaliation on services and intellectual property would be a powerful weapon, but cautioned that the U.S. could react furiously. “Tariffs on Bourbon and Boeing is one thing, but cross-retaliation against copyright and religious symbols like [trademarks] is a whole different level of warfare," said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the ECIPE think tank.
Essentially, the US has found it easy to conduct trade warfare with Europe because the EU still largely exports goods to America. The opposite does not hold, though: the US export mix to the EU is biased towards services, which again cannot be tariff-ied. By abrogating US IP as cross-retaliation, though, the EU walks a tightrope. Truly, it is the nuclear option that would prompt a significant deterioration in transatlantic trade relations. Even in the age of Trump, that's not a place more level-headed Europeans would like to head towards.