While it doesn’t connote the glamour of the car business, the hi-tech intrigue of microchips or the age old staple of textiles, big rubbish is big business. Since the 1980s, China has been paid to import raw garbage from around the world. Once in China, the trash is sifted through for various recyclable materials that can be used in manufacturing.
In 2017, China began curtailing the amount of rubbish it would receive due to a combination of environmental reasons and the fact that China no longer requires revenue from such a hazardous trade. Now that the US has imposed new tariffs on over $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, Beijing is keen to enforce its new law and the US is not at all happy.
In spite of passing tariffs on China which many believe to be in contravention of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the US has now taken its own complaint to the WTO regarding China’s refusal to be a dumping ground for American rubbish.
According to a US spokesman at the WTO,
“We request that China immediately halt implementation and revise these measures in a manner consistent with existing international standards for trade in scrap materials, which provide a global framework for transparent and environmentally sound trade in recycled commodities.
China’s import restrictions on recycled commodities have caused a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, directing them away from productive reuse and toward disposal”.
In reality, this means that while the US government has the audacity to pass punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, a tax by any other name, against the stated position of the US Chamber of Commerce and most of the US Congress, Washington still wants Beijing to accept its discarded trash, while China clearly has other, more environmentally sound priorities.
This is just one example of how exposed western economies are when they cannot rely on China to do a literally dirty deed. Countries like the US have failed to develop their capacity to recycle and dispose of their own waste and as a result, they are left with no choice but to beg China to reverse its stance. All of a sudden, the items that US companies and consumers literally throw out have become a key bargaining chip in the Sino-US trade war – one that apparently the US Treasury Department glossed over when implementing the Trump tariffs.
Unless the US is able to develop an alternative to its waste problems or find another foreign partner to relieve US soil of its trash, Washington may need to climb down from its tariff war in short order, assuming China has any desire to temporarily bend its own rules on receiving waste.