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The US fight with China at WTO continues in proxy war with Hong Kong


The Geneva Observer - with John Zarocostas


November 6, 2020


NEWS - ANALYSIS



This article was first published as part of our newsletter briefing sent out on Friday November 6, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content the moment it's published, straight in your inbox.

© WTO

Hong Kong has opened legal proceedings in the WTO challenging new labelling rules that were ushered in by the Trump administration after Beijing introduced tough security laws in Hong Kong. Under the executive order signed by President Donald Trump on July 14, which suspended preferential trade accords with Hong Kong (a full WTO member in its own right), all products made in Hong Kong—effective November 10—would have to be labelled ‘made in China’.

"This is something very political,” is how one WTO expert described the move to The Geneva Observer, saying it's linked to heightened trade tensions between the US and China and the tough law and order stance imposed by Beijing in its bid to clamp down on pro-democracy protestors. Stuart Harbinson, a former Hong Kong ambassador to the WTO, told The G|O:


“The [US’] action to date looks like a warning shot along the lines of – ‘we are not convinced about HK’s separate trade status and will be watching how you conduct yourselves.’”

"The amount of trade affected is quite small. However, Hong Kong regards this as an attack on its status as a separate customs territory and feels it has no choice but to challenge the measure,” Harbinson added.

A possible change of administration in the US could see trade and human rights issues even higher on the political agenda, a WTO expert said. Asked if the US administration could revisit and also slap punitive tariffs, Harbinson, who was also a special adviser to the WTO director-general, stated:

"I guess it is possible that the administration could revisit and take a harder line. I'm not sure, though, that they think this is a big issue. The election result—assuming Biden [wins]—might also mean they will leave things as they are."


Hong Kong's request was circulated on November 3.