The Week in Trade: Time called on TikTok ownership, EU-China friendly on food and Blackpool rock faces trade threat

Thu 25 Apr 2024
Posted by: Benjamin Roche and Danielle Keen

The US took a major step in its efforts to divest TikTok of its Chinese ownership, as the social media app and e-commerce platform is the target of new measures included in US security legislation signed this week.

There is also a morsel of positive food-related trade news regarding the EU’s trading relationship with China, as well as anxiety over Kyrgyzstan’s potential re-exporting of sanctions-affected goods to Russia.

The big picture: The US Congress has passed a bill banning social media app TikTok unless its Chinese owner sells the platform, according to the FT. The measure is likely to be disputed in the courts by owner ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, following its failed lobbying campaign against the legislation.

The House China committee helped US president Joe Biden’s team to draft lines setting out the measures as part of the US$95bn security package that passed in the Senate on Tuesday (23 April). They ban TikTok from being available on app stores, meaning it can no longer receive updates and will become obsolete as mobile operating systems change.

It contrasts with the approach of the EU, which according to Politico is not considering strong action against TikTok’s ownership, which FBI director Christopher Wray has said poses a security risk.

That reluctance may be in part because of the increasing importance of the app in e-commerce. TechRadar notes research from Fiverr finding that it is growing in importance to UK firms for both e-commerce and advertising.

UK manager for Fiverr Bukki Adedapo said:

“In the UK we’ve seen a significant spike in businesses looking to expand their digital footprint through social media platforms, in particular TikTok.

“While marketing on social media is nothing new, it’s notable that platforms that began as vehicles for entertainment have evolved to become marketplaces where businesses sell products directly to customers on top of trying to maximise their online presence.”

Good week: EU trade in food and agricultural products with China had a boost this week, after agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was determined for fraying relations in other sectors to not impact the industry.

The EU’s trade disputes with China developed further yesterday, with news of a new probe into alleged Chinese restrictions on EU medical devices. However, Reuters reports Wojciechowski as saying:

“My intention is to avoid as much as possible that agriculture pays the costs of the problems in other sectors, which sometimes can happen”.

Bad week: The UK’s status as a “superpower” in the creative industries is under threat unless the government chooses to “urgently invest” in them, say signatories of an open letter reported on by the FT on Tuesday. Media executives as well as prominent artists and designers said there was also a need for “widening access and shaking off complacency”.

The week in customs: We launched the first edition of our new feature Customs Corner – an in-depth look at the practical implications of recent border and regulatory updates. Of particular note, was an extension to the use of certain CDS code validations, including for goods with potential trade links to Russia.

How’s stat: 1100%. The recent spike in exports from the UK to Kyrgyzstan, raising concerns that central Asian nations are helping Russia circumvent western sanctions.

Quote of the week: “Today, worldwide, 28 million people are trapped in the hands of human traffickers and states who force them to work for little or no pay. Europe cannot export its values while importing products made with forced labour.”

EU internal market committee rapporteur, Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques, speaking as the EU passes new legislation designed to eliminate forced labour from supply chains.

What else we covered this week: Benjamin Roche unpacked trends from the electric vehicle sector, with a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report predicting the regional direction of future of growth.

Phil Adnett gave an update on continued Suez Canal disruption and, along with our public affairs team, has been providing insight into the political and trade implications of the UK’s upcoming local elections (2 May). You can read the first explainer here.

True facts: Dating back to the 1880s, ‘Blackpool’ rock is a British staycation staple and popular seaside souvenir. However, recent reports suggest that UK producers are being undercut by cheap Chinese imports, with many saying that the “crisis” threatens their businesses’ survival.

It’s unclear what’s next for rock – possibly an attempt to secure protection under the Department for Business and Trade’s Geographical Indications programme.