With (most of) the election results in from the U.S. midterms, the expected Democratic takeover of the House and the Republican’s maintaining control of the Senate is now a reality. The day of the election, DC insiders expected that the House would go to the Democrats by a margin of +/- 20, with the Republicans gaining 2-3 seats in the Senate. Not a bad prediction, which is a far cry from what the same insiders called in advance of the 2016 Presidential election.
What does that mean for our members and the tech sector in general? Will there be an ease of trade tensions or less of a chance of tighter export controls?
Some believe that with the midterm elections over, President Trump will have some room to take a less aggressive stance against China, setting up a “win” that he can carry into 2020. With the recent more aggressive stance by North Korea against the U.S. regarding its nuclear program, China may well have some leverage at the trade table … and the U.S. may want to make a deal that provides a path for a “win” on both fronts. Indeed, there are the makings of a potential win-win leading into the G20 meeting in Argentina when President Xi Jinping and President Trump are scheduled to meet on Dec. 1.
One can see a scenario where there is a meeting of the minds and some degree of lessening tariffs; that does not mean that the effort to enhance export controls will go away. The need for tighter restrictions on export controls is driven to a great degree by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and is a follow on from the previous FIRRMA legislation and attempts to curb the loss of U.S. technology critical to global competitiveness and national security. This issue will not go away anytime soon, and cases like the recent one involving Jinhua only add fuel to the fire. In addition, given how these cases can be leveraged at the negotiating table, they will continue to surface.
SEMI’s approach has been to educate governments, lawmakers and administration officials on the strategic importance of the globally connected and highly complex semiconductor supply chain, and how some of the approaches will not achieve the attended goals. This approach helps to ensure that when and if it comes time to make decisions based on merit, the principals are informed. It also helps SEMI and its members develop and maintain important relationships and positions SEMI as an industry leader and spokesperson, making it a more effective advocate.
As an example, on Nov 8th SEMI released its Global Trade Principles with the intention of providing a framework to all governments to guide various trade talks. It also helps to inform member companies and others from the broader tech sector of our industry position(s) so we are able to speak with one voice. These principles are aligned with our fundamental advocacy pillars of promoting free trade and market access, respect for IP, cybersecurity and national security.
Will the fact that power is now split between the two chambers of Congress help or hurt? Will the House focus on investigations limit the ability to move productive legislation? Besides taking time, it may well put them at increasingly worse odds with the Senate and the President (if that is possible), creating deadlock. Some argue that if nothing moves, no harm can be done. Some also say that it may drive the President to take independent and more aggressive actions in order to demonstrate (his) effectiveness to his base.
There is another view: that with the Democrats, the President may be able to lead in the advancement of legislation that will show he can get things done when others couldn’t in areas that benefit the greater good…some of which may impact our industry…such as investments in education and infrastructure development. This would be a way that he could pull in some of the votes from the middle that he has lost in his first two years in office. They say “politics makes for strange bedfellows”; one never knows what might happen in this case.
Regardless of what happens, some things will not change: the global nature of our business and the needs of our members to have access to markets…and to be able to safely and efficiently leverage their technologies in the way they see fit in order to grow their business. SEMI will continue to advance the interests in what is an extremely challenging and dynamic global policy environment today. As ruling parties and representatives change around the globe, we will continue to build new relationships and educate lawmakers so they are able to make informed decisions that benefit our members.
Mike Russo is VP of Public Policy and Talent Advocacy at SEMI.