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Trade Summit Underscores Unrelenting Policy Challenges

Trade Summit Underscores Unrelenting Policy Challenges

As the United States heads into further political unknowns, international trade posturing remains an ever-powerful tool for global negotiating and policymaking. The Washington International Trade Association (WITA)’s timely September “virtual intensive trade seminar” convened various experts and panel discussions to explore many of the key challenges in this space.


WITA, founded in 1982 and now housing over 1,8000 members, partnered with George Washington University and the World Trade Center-Washington, DC to analyze trade policy updates—highlighting professionals in government, industry, and law. Discussions on sanctions, international taxes of digital services, export controls, U.S.-China trade, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement revealed a disjointed and highly competitive landscape for regulating and prioritizing U.S. trading relationships.


In terms of engineering products, specifically, Trump administration sanctions have significantly altered the global manufacturing supply chain and landscape. As the research and advisory company Gartner notes, most companies had not considered supply chain vulnerability in the context of trade risks before U.S.-led trade wars began disrupting global markets in 2017 and 2018. To that end, the WITA summit highlighted the integral sanctions enforcement role of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as well as legislative backing in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) of 1977 or the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) of 1917.


While these frameworks apply to more traditional markets, such as steel and aluminum products tied to national security concerns, emerging technologies are also a major source of trade policy modernization. As a senior policy advisor for the Treasury noted during the seminar, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) and the newly enacted Export Control Reform Act of 2018 allow the government to establish standards for identifying (and controlling) technologies as “emerging” or “foundational.” As ASME’s technology priorities can attest, these emerging tech developments are boosting additive manufacturing, advanced oil and gas exploration, energy storage, the Internet of Things, robotics, and renewable energy, to name a few.


In terms of trading with China, moreover, it was noted that over 300 bills have been introduced in Congress—some which have pushed White House action, more which have gone unnoticed. This example points to China’s political salience on both sides of the political aisle, in different contexts—as the U.S. begins a deeply partisan election cycle.


Experts on trade also noted that in the COVID-19 pandemic’s virtual climate, U.S. trade officials are embarking on a paradigm shift—one that yields more flexibility and less pressure on in-person delegation meetings.


To engage with ASME on trade-related issues, please do not hesitate to reach out to Aaron Weinerman, Manager, Global Public Affairs, at

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