WTO'ing a Resolution to the China Subsidy Problem

Chad P. Bown (PIIE) and Jennifer A. Hillman (Council on Foreign Relations)

Working Paper
19-17
October 2019
Photo Credit: 
REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

The United States, the European Union, and Japan have begun a trilateral process to confront the Chinese economic model, including its use of industrial subsidies and deployment of state-owned enterprises. This paper seeks to identify the main areas of tension and to assess the legal-economic challenges to constructing new rules to address the underlying conflict. It first provides a brief history of subsidy disciplines in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO) predating any concerns introduced by China. It then describes contemporary economic problems with China’s approach to subsidies, their impact, and the apparent ineffectiveness of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures to address them. Finally, it calls for increased efforts to measure and pinpoint the source of the problems—in a manner analogous to how the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development took on agricultural subsidies in the 1980s—before providing a legal-economic assessment of proposals for reforms to notifications, evidence, remedies, enforcement, and the definition of a subsidy.

Data Disclosure: 

The data underlying this analysis are available here. [xlsx]