U.S. Trade Policy Toward China: Discrimination and its Implications

Chad P. Bown and Rachel McCulloch


The bilateral relationship with China has become a major focus of U.S. trade policy. This paper examines recent U.S. policy toward imports from China, highlighting important explicitly and implicitly discriminatory elements. Discriminatory restrictions on U.S. trade with China protect competing domestic industries as well as non-Chinese foreign suppliers with an established presence in the U.S. market. Unlike discriminatory U.S. treatment of Japan in the 1980s, in which “gray-area” measures like voluntary export restraints were prominent, most U.S. actions toward China are fully consistent with current WTO rules, including the special terms of China’s 2001 WTO accession. However, as with earlier discriminatory actions directed primarily at Japan, U.S. trade policy toward China is likely to have complex effects on global trade flows and may produce outcomes far different from those intended.