Congress Lashes Out on China’s Procurement Policies – Real Change or Just a Way to Procure Some Votes for the Midterms?
On Tuesday, China Law & Policy published an insightful interview with attorney Brett Gerson concerning China’s Government Procurement Law, China’s new policy to promote “indigenous innovation” in the Chinese technology sector, and China’s agreement to submit a proposal to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).
The very next day, what was the talk on Capitol Hill? China’s government procurement policies! Before a congressional hearing on China’s trade obligation under the WTO, China’s government procurement policies took center stage. Which leads us to wonder – are members of Congress busy reading China Law & Policy?
Given the lack of depth in some of the Senators’ comments, we hope not. In a rare show of bipartisanship, both Republican and Democratic senators united in their attacks on China, demanding that China sign on to the GPA. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) were the leaders of the pack, calling for China to behave like every other WTO member and join the GPA and stating that China’s indigenous innovation policy is just a way for China to steal foreign patents.
But if the Senators had read Tuesday’s China Law & Policy interview, they would know that “signing up” is just not an option for the GPA. China has to submit a proposal stating its new government procurement policy and the GPA member countries choose to accept or reject that proposal. It’s like the Miss America pageant and China’s proposal is its version of the bathing suit competition; even if you wear your nicest two-piece, it’s still the judges who ultimately decide. As Brett noted in his interview, China submitted such an application in 2007 and, because the GPA member countries did not like China’s proposal, it was rejected it. China has promised to submit another proposal in July
2010. Once China submits it, the decision to “sign up” for the GPA is out of its hands. But Congress missed this important procedural distinction and the fact that China has actually promised to move forward.
And not all WTO countries are also members of the GPA. Senator Stabenow just got that wrong. A simple Google search would show that actually, plenty of WTO members, including countries like Australia, India and Turkey, are not parties to the GPA.
As for the accusation that China’s indigenous innovation policies are a way to steal foreign intellectual property, here’s a wake-up call – getting China to change this one policy is not going to solve the problem. Chinese companies do illegally use foreign intellectual property and the Chinese government often turns a blind eye toward enforcing intellectual property rights and laws. But China’s indigenous innovation policy is just one tool that China uses. As Jim McGregor pointed out in his Washington Post op-ed, the Chinese government has created a complicated structure seeking to benefit its domestic technology industry: “a foreign-focused anti-monopoly law, mandatory technology transfers, compulsory technology licensing, rigged Chinese standards and testing rules, local content requirements, mandates to reveal encryption codes, excessive disclosure for scientific permits and technology patents;” discriminatory government procurement policies is just one piece of the puzzle.
Congress needs to see this problem holistically – not something that can be solved merely by getting rid of a discriminatory government procurement policy. And as McGregor notes in his piece, part of the problem is on the U.S.-side. Although China has been building its economy for the past 10 years and the China “threat” to U.S. competitiveness has been obvious for the past five, the U.S. has done little offensively to battle this threat. The U.S. government has not created any kind of economic planning for technology start-ups as Tom Friedman noted in his New York Times op-ed, and the one piece of legislation that could provided something of a lifeline to the U.S.’ technology sector, the Climate Change bill, has been stalled in the Senate for a year now. Furthermore, the U.S. still retains a behemoth bureaucracy that is ineffective to deal with the complexities of the China relationship and hires individuals with little to no China background to do this work. Congress’ sole focus on attacking China on Wednesday ignores the other half of the equation – developing the U.S. tech sector to better compete with China and a government bureaucracy that actually protects U.S. industry.
China is an economic threat to the U.S, especially in the technology sector. But Wednesday’s hearing showed a Congress not willing to actually solve the problem. Instead, Wednesday showed a use of rhetoric designed to win upcoming midterm elections. The only losers are the American public and the millions of Americans who are still out of work.