The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is beginning a comprehensive three-part investigation into digital trade and the impact of digital trade barriers, just as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has released a new study calling for a World Trade Organization (WTO) case to be filed against China’s barriers to digital trade and e-commerce.

The ITC investigations were announced earlier this week.  The first investigation will focus on market opportunities and key foreign trade restrictions.   The ITC will hold a public hearing on April 4, with requests to appear at the hearing due March 21.   Written submissions to the Commission are due April 21.   The schedule for the two subsequent investigations will be announced shortly.

AEI’s paper calls for action on China’s digital trade barriers.   The paper, authored by Claude Barfield, states that “China’s digital Great Firewall and the new National Security and Cybersecurity Laws threaten vital high-technology sectors of the US economy.”  AEI calls for a WTO case against China’s censorship practices, and also urges the Trump Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative to take trade retaliation against China if it fails to remove these damaging digital trade barriers.

According to AEI, the Internet sector now constitutes $966 billion, or nearly 6 percent of the U.S. economy.   However, China is blocking U.S. e-commerce while building its own competitors.  Currently, eight of the world’s 25 most trafficked websites are completely blocked in China – including those of Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

The United States is not limited to WTO actions in this regard.   It can also use existing U.S. law, such as Section 301, to challenge illegal or unreasonable foreign trade practices that burden or restrict U.S. commerce.  Under Section 301, the President has the authority to impose tariffs or other restrictions after an investigation of the illegal foreign practices.

If the Trump Administration is looking for a way to hit China hard, remove illegal trade barriers, and strengthen the U.S. economy, it should not hesitate to challenge China’s Great Firewall.