By Chris Adams

The United States and China are in a “trade war.” But what does that really mean?

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, trade lawyer Tatman Savio gave an overview of the regulatory and enforcement structure for trade, helping reporters understand how exactly how U.S. export controls, sanctions and the foreign investment regime work.

Savio, based in Hong Kong for the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, detailed for fellows different aspects of U.S. trade law that was invoked in 2017 to punish and limit shipments from China to the United States. China then retaliated by punishing shipments on certain products from the United States to China.

Among the key parts of U.S. trade law is Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which authorizes the office of the U.S. Trade Representative to impose trade sanctions against other countries for violation of trade agreements and other unfair trade practices. In 2017, President Donald Trump invoked Section 301 to call for an investigation into China’s laws, policies, practices and actions around intellectual property, innovation and technology. That investigation found that Chinese government practices restrict U.S. trade and have resulted in about $50 billion in losses to the U.S. economy.

Other types of trade war actions involve the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency body that reviews certain transactions to determine their effect on the national security of the United States.

Actions can also involve export controls laws, which apply to exports, re-exports and transfers of U.S. goods, software and technology, as well as items manufactured or developed outside of the U.S. if they contain certain levels of controlled U.S. content.