Global Markets Blog – Interview with U.S. – China Business Council Senior VP Erin Ennis

Global Markets Advisor, Mary Estelle Ryckman, recently reached out to a former colleague, Ms. Erin Ennis, Senior Vice President, at the U.S.-China Business Council, to get some first-hand information on the U.S.-China trade negotiations.

As many of you know, China is currently our largest goods trading partner with $635.4 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2017. U.S. goods and services trade with China totaled an estimated $710.4 billion in 2017.  Exports were $187.5 billion; imports were $522.9 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with China was $335.4 billion in 2017.   According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of Goods and Services to China supported an estimated 911,000 jobs in 2015 (latest data available) (601,000 supported by goods exports and 309,000 supported by services exports).

In the fall of 2017, the President instructed the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to investigate China’s laws, policies, or practices that may be unreasonable or discriminatory and that may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development.  USTR determined many Chinese actions are discriminatory, burden or restrict U.S. commerce.  As a result of these findings, the Trump Administration imposed two rounds of tariff increases on goods coming from China.

With the objective of avoiding a third round of tariff increases across a broader range of products, and possible removal of current levies, the two sides are meeting to negotiate a solution to the trade confrontation.  The latest round of talks appears of be making progress.

Erin, before we get to the most recent developments, let’s take a step back and find out your views on the real problems that exist. Does the U.S.-China Business Council see the need for China to reform?  Are USTR’s claims accurate? 

There’s no question that problems exist and there are plenty of areas in which China needs to reform its economy. What reform looks like, however, is a point of contention between the U.S. and China. And while most of USTR’s findings are accurate, the type and extent of problems that companies experience varies by sector and, frequently, by company. That means that the solutions aren’t easy, since not everyone has the same problems.

What is the most important steps China can take to address the legitimate grievances? 

First off, they should embrace that many of the concerns that foreign companies have in China are ones that are not unique. Other governments have dealt with issues of intellectual property protection, addressing uneven enforcement across domestic jurisdictions, and encouraging innovation. There is much that China can build on from the policies of its trading partners that will lead to stronger policies that will benefit its economy and makes its own companies competitive as well, since improving protection of intellectual property will help Chinese and foreign companies alike.

In your view, what is the significance of a Trump-Xi meeting?  What progress, if any, is indicated by the suggestion of such a meeting in March? 

Presidents Trump and Xi are clearly the decision makers in their respective administrations. If there are issues that require their direct negotiations, then we can’t presume that anyone else will be able to resolve them without their sign off.  But, the task of the other negotiators at this point is to narrow the list of issues that require that level of attention to only the ones that cannot be resolved by anyone else.

Thank you, Erin.  These insights are helpful.  Maybe we can get you up to the Saratoga region for an in-person discussion soon.

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Erin Ennis
Senior Vice President, US-China Business Council

Erin Ennis has been Senior Vice President of the US-China Business Council since February 2015, after serving as Vice President since 2005. In that position, she directs USCBC’s government affairs and advocacy work for member companies and oversees USCBC’s Business Advisory Services. She also leads a coalition of other trade associations on issues of interest to companies doing business with China. Founded in 1973, the US-China Business Council provides extensive China-focused information, advisory, and advocacy services, along with comprehensive events, to nearly 250 US corporations operating within the United States and throughout Asia.

Prior to joining USCBC, Ms. Ennis worked at Kissinger McLarty Associates, the international consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. At Kissinger McLarty, Ms. Ennis was responsible for implementing strategies for international business clients on proprietary trade matters, primarily in Vietnam and Japan.

Before entering the private sector, Ms. Ennis held several positions in the US Government. From 1992 to 1996, Ms. Ennis was a legislative aide to former U.S. Senator John Breaux, working on international trade and commerce. She also worked on health care issues during the Senate’s consideration of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform, an issue on which Senator Breaux actively worked to broker a compromise.

At the Office of the US Trade Representative from 1996 to 2000, Ms. Ennis first worked in Congressional Affairs on Asia issues, including annual approvals of China’s most favored nation status and the ill-fated 1997 push to renew presidential “fast track” negotiating authority. Beginning in 1998, she was assistant to Deputy US Trade Representative Richard Fisher, who led US trade negotiations and enforcement with Asia, the Americas, and on intellectual property rights.

A native of Louisiana, Ms. Ennis has a BA from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and a Masters in International Affairs from Catholic University in Washington, DC. She is an active volunteer for the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Association and the Washington National Cathedral. In 1999, Ms. Ennis completed the Marine Corps Marathon in under a quarter of a day and successfully laid to rest any lingering desire to run future races.