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Trade Educators Center

To all educators teaching trade courses and researching trade issues: Feel free to use our course discussion guides and our range of resources to enhance your teaching and research.

Developments in international trade drive economic prosperity and geopolitical stability. A nation’s trade policy influences how goods and services are produced and distributed, where jobs are created, and a nation’s long-term competitive advantage. We want to encourage students to better understand how trade works and the issues that drive trade.

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Course discussion guides

Our guides were created to help educators to lead students in discussions on the economic, social, and geopolitical dynamics driving global trade. Based on the research published by our global roster of research fellows, contributors, and partner organizations, the guides are designed to supplement academic materials as the basis for in-class discussion, case studies, and simulations. The content is available for reprint and use through our reprint policy.

Our latest course discussion guide

Wind and wires: Can Europe stay ahead in green and 5G technologies?

Europe’s tech capabilities and global competitiveness are often overlooked in policy debates on the global tech race. The EU is commonly portrayed by international media as lagging behind the United States and China. In some technologies, this depiction of competitive weaknesses is warranted. Yet in fields such as renewable energy and fifth-generation mobile networks, the EU is leading the race.

By unpacking European tech capabilities and competitiveness in wind and telecom technologies, this paper by Luke Patey of the Danish Institute for International Studies examines the market positioning of these firms to highlight European leadership in critical and emerging technologies. While this paper also points out the challenges Europe faces from rising competition, it diverges from analysis focusing on the bloc’s tech deficiencies. Instead, the author places a spotlight on what the EU can do to make up lost ground and maintain the leading-edge it has already achieved.

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Will war in Ukraine unseat US dollar leadership in global trade?

The damage of sanctions inflicted on Russia highlights the vulnerabilities of countries dependent on the global financial infrastructure led by Western nations. As the world’s largest trading economy, some have argued that China’s renminbi is well placed to bring an end to the dollar standard. This article by Research Fellow Stewart Paterson points to three observations that suggest this line of reasoning maybe be overblown or premature.

First, as China aims for its currency to become a greater part of the global system, capitalizing on the opportunity presented by the sanctioning of Russia may well end up severely limiting the broader adoption of the RMB. Also, in light of China's reliance on the global economic system for its continued prosperity, Beijing is unlikely to jeopardize this by facilitating large-scale sanctions busting.

If indeed China’s financial system provides a work-around for Russia, potential secondary sanctions and countermeasures could threaten a complete breakdown of multinational business models.

Moving beyond disappointment: India, FDI, and sustainability

India’s star may be rising, but as a destination for foreign investment to help power that economic rise, not enough has changed. The government’s commitment to several sectors critical to sustainability – from the modernization of water access to electric mobility to renewable power generation – is incontrovertible. However, there are unfortunate echoes of New Delhi’s drive for FDI in manufacturing.

In this essay, Mihir Sharma of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi examines four areas of interest regarding FDI flows into India. First, data suggests that India is disappointing as an FDI destination. Second, the manufacturing sector has been a particular letdown in spite of the recent government focus. Third, these issues may be caused in part by a poor climate for foreign investment. And finally, this climate is likely holding back what would otherwise be a sizable flow of funds into sectors relevant for India’s sustainable development.

Building a Wall Street for data – China’s data centers reflect grand ambitions

Projected to begin operations in 2025, China’s Data Free Trade Port in Nansha is a breakthrough project. By integrating a network of largescale data and computing centers, the Port advances a key task of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for the 14th Five Year Plan period. The Port fits into Beijing’s larger strategy to attain global leadership by controlling data, categorized by the Chinese Communist Party as the catalyst for a new industrial revolution.

In this paper by Emily de la Bruyère of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the author notes that Beijing's ambition to build an digital economic architecture to control the storage, flow, and use of data increasingly extends globally. From an international perspective, China’s approach could turn the Port into a center of gravity for digital transactions, similar to US centrality to financial transactions. Until a robust alternative to China’s vision emerges, Beijing will continue to have a shot.

Counting carbon: The implications of border carbon adjustments on developing countries

Border carbon adjustment (BCA), once an obscure policy understood by few, is now front and center in the ongoing global conversation on carbon pricing, trade, and climate policy. At a conceptual level, BCA accompanies domestic carbon pricing and imposes charges on imports. Of the different approaches across jurisdictions, the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is the most advanced.

One of the fundamental controversies with respect to BCA is the incidence of burden. Some studies have shown that the main burden in a BCA scenario falls on developing country exporters, who would lose market share in implementing market countries. In anticipating CBAM and subsequent similar initiatives, author Aaron Cosbey of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) explores the strategic options that developing economies can pursue to prepare for future challenges and opportunities.

Three problems with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy

In February 2022, the US unveiled its much-anticipated Indo-Pacific Strategy paper. The 19-page document asserts the Biden administration’s determination “to strengthen [the US] long-term position in and commitment to the Indo-Pacific” and lays out – at least in broad terms – how it intends to accomplish this goal. Hinrich Foundation Senior Research Fellow Stephen Olson identifies that there are three problems with the strategy: 1) The US views China as a challenge that needs to be confronted, but for others, it’s complicated; 2) Large portions of the US agenda are unlikely to be embraced; 3) The US has less to offer the region.

Given China’s entrenched position, the Biden administration is left with only a limited number of moves. But time could be on its side, as Beijing's global standing becomes more vulnerable, particularly since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Olson concludes in this article that strategic patience lacks panache, but over the long run, it could be the most effective course for the US.

Unprecedented: How intellectual property rights helped the pandemic response

Trade ministers who were due to convene at the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meetings at the end of 2021 faced a challenge unique to the world’s current predicament: to consider the temporary removal of intellectual property (IP) protections on Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Such an action, say proponents, can help accelerate the response to the worst pandemic in modern history.

Since 2020, some countries have pushed for a waiver of WTO Members’ obligations to provide basic protections for IP in their national laws under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS. Citing recent research on the innovation response to Covid-19, this paper by Jennifer Brant of the Innovation Council identifies a supportive role of IP – and why a waiver could slow technology and knowledge-sharing, and stymie future pandemic preparedness.

Data sovereignty and trade agreements: Three digital kingdoms

Paradoxically, sovereignty is one of the most important as well as most misunderstood terms in international law. This is especially true in the areas of international law such as international trade law, where sovereignty and international obligations are often pitted against each other when countries try to enforce binding legal obligations through compulsory dispute settlement systems.

In this paper, Henry Gao of Singapore Management University surveys an emerging area where sovereignty continues to pose challenges to international trade law: data regulation in trade agreements, which best illustrates the conflict between international trade regulation and sovereignty in the digital era. Upon empirically examining the three leading divergent approaches to data sovereignty in trade agreements, Gao concludes with observations on possible future convergence of those three models.

The WTO, trade agreements, and sustainable trade: The Asian experience

The evolution of the global trading system over the past half century has significantly changed the relationship between trade and sustainable development. The principal link comes from trade liberalization, which promotes growth and provides additional resources to advance sustainable development. Nowhere has this played a larger role than in Asia’s economic transformation and the subsequent rise of millions out of poverty.

In this essay, Gary Sampson of Melbourne University highlights the potential central role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in achieving the sustainable development goals. The WTO has been greatly weakened in past years. However, as major beneficiaries and active participants in trade agreements, Asian countries are well-placed to take a leading position in the reform of the global trading system.

Power in a small package: Taiwan and the global semiconductor supply chain

Without significant promotional spending, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) has gained global renown as the cutting edge of innovation. Its success story has a geopolitical dimension. China’s reliance on Taiwanese semiconductors offers the island a buffer against Beijing’s increasingly truculent policies – at least for now. These trade links are becoming strained as US-China technonationalist imperatives put Taiwan’s place in the global technology ecosystem under unprecedented public pressure.

In this paper, Jeremy Mark of the Atlantic Council notes that Taiwan faces three key challenges: adapting a successful business model in a time of rapid change; using semiconductors to strengthen Taiwan’s place in the world; and realigning US-Taiwan interests as supply chains transform. Mark concludes that to avoid further damage to a critical industry, the US approach must carefully manage disruptions and minimize policy shocks.

Trade and tax in a digital world

The digital economy has affected traditional tax systems in at least three important ways: by allowing firms to compete in markets without a physical presence; by the proliferation of approaches, mostly used by large firms, to more carefully manage tax; and by the participation in cross-border trade by companies previously not engaged in such transactions.

Changes in tax policy to address these challenges run a significant risk of upending cross-border trade opportunities and burdening firms of all sizes with substantial new compliance costs. As tax and trade have been considered largely in silos, unintended consequences are likely to rise.

This paper, the third in our Asian Digital Economy Series by Deborah Elms, Founder and Executive Director of the Asian Trade Centre, outlines the tax regulatory fragmentation currently weighing down the promise of the digital economy and its impact on firms across the region.

How will China’s Dual Circulation Strategy impact the global economy?

Announced in May 2020, China’s Dual Circulation Strategy (DCS) gives formal substance to several established trends and policies that are now being pursued by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with renewed vigor. This begs the question: how will DCS change the way China’s economy engages with the rest of the world? Is China likely to succeed? Furthermore, how will this approach impact the multilateral trading system and the global economy more generally?

This second report of the DCS series by Research Fellow Stewart Paterson is divided into three parts. Part one examines the evolution of linkages between China and the global economy, and assesses how recent policy moves may be changing the extent and nature of this engagement. Part two explores how these dynamics might shift going forward. Finally, part three explores some of the macroeconomic implications of DCS under various scenarios.

Mercantilist reciprocity or free trade: Globalization at a crossroads

The case for free trade has always been a tough sell. The benefits of trade come from imports, which deliver more competition, greater variety, lower prices, better quality, and innovation. But when it comes to trading across borders or when our individual transactions are aggregated at the national level, we seem to forget these basic principles. We assume that the goal of exchange is to achieve a trade surplus. Our modern global trading system was built on this shaky foundation of 'mercantilist reciprocity'.

In this essay, author Daniel Ikenson of ndp | analytics notes that this approach has reinforced a flawed way of thinking about trade that helps explain the rise of protectionism and the ease with which some governments flout their commitments to the trade rules in favor of unilateralism. He remarks that trade barriers are not assets to deploy at the negotiating table, but impediments to domestic businesses, workers, and consumers.

India: leading or thwarting data governance and digital trade?

In May 2020, India – the world’s largest democracy – launched the AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan program. One of the program’s key pillars is self-reliance in digital technologies and the development of an independent digital economy. The impact of this policy remains unclear, but its paradoxical nature is hard to miss. As the country aspires to become a leading global tech hub, an inward-looking approach for regulating data flows ignores the geopolitical repercussions of ringfencing, and may also weaken the global competitiveness of India’s highly successful digital services sector.

In this essay, author Neha Mishra of Australian National University notes that India cannot become a leader in digital exports and services through isolationism or non-participation in global dialogues on digital trade. Rather, India must cooperate with other countries to find solutions to complex data governance problems, including feasible frameworks for cross-border data flows.

China's quest to shape the world through standards setting

“Standards are the commanding heights, discourse power, and the power to control,” explained a 2015 article in China’s Zhejiang Daily. “Therefore, the one who obtains the standards gains the world.” Six years later, the world is just beginning to recognize the breadth of China’s ambitions and the role that standard setting plays in Beijing’s aspirations.

Already, China’s planning documents indicate that Beijing sees regional trade agreements – including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and investment plans such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – as platforms through which to influence and shape international standards across different fields, from agricultural production to emerging technology. In this paper, author Emily de la Bruyère of Horizon Advisory notes that the consequences of Beijing ambition to promote an architecture that bolsters and cements Chinese competitiveness will reverberate across the international system.

Enabling trust, trade flows, and innovation: the DEPA at work

According to estimates, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of business operations by up to a decade. The move towards more digital governance is also becoming more widespread with many recent free trade agreements including “e-commerce” chapters and provisions. Six months into the pandemic, a new kind of digital trade agreement was ratified with, very fittingly, the electronic signatures of three small, open, Asia-Pacific economies: New Zealand, Singapore, and Chile.

In this paper, former New Zealand trade negotiator Stephanie Honey, explores the innovative features of the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) approach and its goal to realize the full potential of digital trade for businesses, while also safeguarding policy space for governments. The paper also reflects on the DEPA’s scope of impact, given that many of its provisions are “soft law” rather than legally binding rules – and whether flexibility might in fact be an advantage in this fast-moving area.

Data is disruptive: How data sovereignty is challenging data governance

By controlling large volumes of data, governments believe they can gain economic advantage in the digital economy and be better positioned to counter the market power of the giant platforms. But advocates of data sovereignty may be misguided. Researchers cannot yet ascertain if economics of scale and scope in data will yield competitive advantage.

However, the hoarding of data by nations or firms may reduce data generativity and the public benefits of data analysis. Whether held by the public or private sector, societies benefit the most when large inventories of data are used, shared, and crossed with other sets of data. In this essay, Professor Susan Ariel Aaronson of George Washington University provides an overview of data governance and trade, and the defensive reactions of governments around the world as data becomes more central in today’s economy – and how trade agreements may facilitate rather than limit restrictions.

Can 'middle powers' reset global trade through the CPTPP?

Today, the global balance of power revolves around three economic superpowers: the United States, the European Union, and China. Yet the relative autarky and increasing protectionism of the three superpowers, together with the cumbersome nature of the World Trade Organization, have arguably hindered progress when it comes to bringing trade arrangements up to date and making them fit for purpose in a rapidly changing world.

In this paper, Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Stewart Paterson argues that Brexit may be reconfiguring more than just Europe. The UK’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) could signal the emerging role of ‘middle powers’ in reviving free trade and multilateralism. Pending on the outcome of China’s application for membership, the agreement would have enabled countries committed to free trade to forge ahead with deeper economic engagement, thereby rejuvenating the global trading system.

Quantum computing: A new frontier in techno-nationalism

The age of modern computing has produced remarkable innovations across entire industries, a phenomenon that has been driven largely by semiconductors. As microchips can no longer accommodate increased numbers of transistors (known as “bits”) on surface areas that have shrunk to the size of an atom, quantum computing promises to provide the answer.

This paper by Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Alex Capri studies the latest general developments of quantum computing, and how it could transform the future of geopolitics and global trade. Quantum computing could reshape innovation and competition in virtually every field, produce decisive advantages in a state’s technological prowess, and decide winners and losers across a wide range of strategic industries. State and non-state actors must begin to understand and successfully harness the power of the “qubit” – or risk being dominated by those who do.

Advancing sustainable development with FDI: Why policy must be reset

In many countries, foreign direct investment (FDI) outperforms aid, remittances, and portfolio investments as the largest source of external financing. Properly guided, FDI creates jobs, boosts productivity, and brings management expertise and technology. Subsequently, industries modernize, domestic supply chains emerge, infrastructure develops and improves, as do regulatory reforms and living standards.

Since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, however, FDI has suffered a steady decline, both in aggregate and in developing countries. Over the past five years in particular, public policy has created headwinds for foreign investments. Discussions on the contribution of international business to pressing global challenges urgently need a reset.

This report, authored by Simon J. Evenett and Johannes Fritz of the Global Trade Alert, was published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research. In supporting this research, the Hinrich Foundation retains optimism in FDI’s contribution to advancing economic growth and sustainable development, and encourages action to address the regulatory gaps that hold back investment.

Techno-nationalism via semiconductors: Can chip manufacturing return to America?

The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing US-China geopolitical tensions have converged to create a global shortage of semiconductors. The increased attention on semiconductor global value chains brought stark realities to light. First, microchip manufacturing is disproportionately concentrated in Asia, especially in Taiwan. Single-source supply chains are fragile and highly vulnerable. Second, China’s increasingly competitive relationship with the US and its allies is accelerating strategic decoupling, reshoring, and ringfencing throughout the semiconductor landscape.

As geopolitical rivalry intensifies, the US and China share one common goal: They both want to localize semiconductor manufacturing. In this paper, Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Alex Capri focuses on the actions the United States has taken to try and revitalize its chip industry. This report is Part 2 of the comprehensive primer Semiconductors at the heart of the US-China tech war.

The EU-China CAI: An agreement whose time has passed?

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was concluded in principle on 30 December 2020 after seven years of negotiation. Its ratification by the European Parliament will no doubt fuel a broader debate about the EU relationship with the Chinese government whose approach is at odds with the espoused liberal values of the Union, and Europe’s relationship with the United States. On 20 May 2021, the European Parliament voted to suspend the CAI in response to Chinese sanctions on European human rights advocates, including several EU legislators.

In this paper, Stewart Paterson, Research Fellow at the Hinrich Foundation, explores the background to the CAI, the EU’s asymmetric economic relationship with China, and – in the context of China’s two decades of phenomenal growth – the relatively modest economic interaction between the two parties. The author also examines the prospect of CAI rebalancing and deepening EU-China trade linkages.

Rethinking China trade policy: Lessons learned and options ahead

There seems to be an emerging consensus that the existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules are inadequate for dealing with the challenges brought by China's economic system. Due to the size of China’s economy and its significant trade share, it would be unrealistic to assume that meaningful reform efforts at the WTO could be achieved without the participation of the world’s second largest economy.

In this paper, Henry Gao, Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, notes that the unilateral approach employed by the US towards China has failed and that multilateralism offers a more viable approach. This includes the enforcement of existing rules through WTO litigation, and the negotiation of new rules through WTO reform. Gao's analysis provides a critical evaluation of these two options.

The digital yuan and China’s potential financial revolution

China is leading the way among major economies in trialing a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Given China’s technological ability and the speed of adoption of new payment methods by Chinese consumers, the CBDC could displace physical cash in the economy over the next few years. The power that this gives to the state is enormous, both in terms of law enforcement and in improving economic management. At the international level, the digitalization of the yuan has the potential to accelerate decoupling that is already underway. 

This paper by Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Stewart Paterson explains how CBDCs could operate domestically; specifically the impact it could have on the Chinese economy and society. It also looks at the possible implications for global trade and geopolitics.

China & the WTO at 20: celebration or regret?

China’s accession to the WTO led to a marked deepening of its trade and investment linkages with the rest of the world. However, China’s statist and mercantilist approach to economic management meant that the relationship was asymmetric by design, posing some troubling questions for the future of the global trading system.

This paper by Stewart Paterson, Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow and author of "China, Trade and Power: Why the West’s Economic Engagement Has Failed", looks at the evolution of the Chinese economy both before and after WTO membership. Paterson asks what lessons can be learnt and how, if at all, China’s accession to the WTO could have been managed differently to mitigate disruption and facilitate a more equitable distribution of the gains from trade. 

A techno-globalist approach to intellectual property and supply chain disruptions

This paper is co-authored by Mark A. Cohen, Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, and Philip C. Rogers, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. 

The authors note that responding to techno-nationalism need not be a binary choice between decoupling and engagement with China. Global IP-protective strategies can also help remedy the IP theft concerns underlying US-China trade tensions. In what the authors termed a "techno-globalist alternative", more practical approaches that incorporate IP strategies can help build stable, durable and resilient supply chains.

India: A 21st century technology hub?

This paper authored by Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Alex Capri seeks to find out whether India in the 21st century will emerge as a global technology manufacturing hub amidst a major paradigm shift driven by techno-nationalism.

Washington’s technology cold war with Beijing has resulted in strategic decoupling, prompting manufacturing supply chains to shift to new locations.

India finds itself well positioned to absorb these supply chains. Its government has responded by rolling out reforms to attract foreign direct investment, create new infrastructure, and promote special economic zones and technology clusters. Meanwhile, India’s digital landscape appears to be on the verge of a fintech and e-commerce revolution.

India’s growing significance as a security partner for Washington and its allies also puts the country in a favorable position. But the country will not succeed unless it can overcome its main systemic challenges.

New Cold War: De-risking US-China conflict

This paper authored by Hinrich Foundation Senior Research Fellow Dr. Alan Dupont, one of Australia's leading security strategists and Asianists, concludes that the linked US-China trade, technology and geopolitical conflicts have precipitated a new Cold War. A second Cold War could be worse than the first, given the interdependence of the US and Chinese economies, their centrality to global prosperity and the proliferation of dangerous military and digital technologies.

This report draws out the risks — and likely consequences — for a system already in a state of flux as the transition to a post-American world accelerates and the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the world economy and international trade. Comprised of four chapters, it concludes by outlining seven recommendations for policy makers to prevent and mitigate worst-case outcomes of the increasingly bitter contest between China and the US.

Hinrich Foundation Sustainable Trade Index 2020

The Sustainable Trade Index measures the capacity of 20 economies – including 19 in Asia, and the United States – to participate in international trade in a manner that supports the long-term domestic and global goals of economic growth, environmental protection, and better social equity.

Commissioned to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the 2020 index examines the role of sustainable trade for building back better in a post-COVID-19 world. It identifies four areas policymakers, business leaders and NGOs should address for more sustainable growth.

This report comes with a dataset that contains detailed results for the 20 economies reviewed, and can be compared across economies, indicators and years. 

The Sustainable Trade Index is currently in its third edition.

Digital trade in the Asia-Pacific: Issues for 2021 and beyond

This paper was published on 23 December 2020 by the Hinrich Foundation, and authored by Dr. Deborah Elms, Founder and Executive Director of the Asian Trade Centre. This report identifies eight issues that governments and firms across the Asia-Pacific region will need to tackle to reap the full benefits of the digital opportunity.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted global trade and up-ended many longstanding business models. Firms are rapidly shifting to develop or expand digital capabilities to manage highly altered supply and demand pressures. Despite the growing importance of digital trade, the ability of governments to tackle a range of issues of relevance to managing the online environment still lags behind the speed of innovation for firms. Given the overwhelming importance of small businesses to every country in Asia, failure to create supportive policies will impede the region’s attempt to advance sustainable and inclusive development.

Techno-nationalism and the US-China innovation race

This report was published on 3 August 2020 by the Hinrich Foundation, and authored by Research Fellow Alex Capri. This paper outlines the implications for markets, academia, research organizations, and governments of the US-China competition to achieve innovation advantage. 

A US-China tech innovation race has sparked a paradigm shift in global trade and commerce that is challenging the long-standing primacy of the world's open trading system.

Current thinking is tilting towards increased state activism and interventionism, not only in the technology landscape but in many of the industries of the future.

Driving this change is techno-nationalism: a mercantilist-like behavior that links tech innovation and enterprise directly to the national security, economic prosperity and social stability of a nation.

Tips on using our Course Discussion Guides

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Watch this video featuring our contributor, Alex Capri, on semiconductors and "techno-nationalism" as he explains how educators can utilize our materials in their teaching:

Watch this video featuring our contributor, Ed Gerwin, on the lessons of trade in pencils as he explains how educators can utilize our materials in their teaching:

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