Brief from Engaging Asia

Not by Fate but by Choice
Shaping U.S. Trade Policy in Asia

by Walter Lohman
February 19, 2019

This is part of the brief series “Key U.S. Policy Issues in the Indo-Pacific for the 116th Congress.” The purpose of these briefs is to provide members of Congress and their staff with a concise, readable primer on what are likely to be among the key U.S. policy issues in the Indo-Pacific for the 116th Congress. This is not a comprehensive compendium. Rather, the briefs aim to raise the issues that will likely occupy Congressional interest over the next two years.

Executive Summary


The U.S. has a major economic stake in Asia that is projected to grow. Six of the U.S.’s top trade markets are in the Indo-Pacific. Chances are that in the next two years, however, Washington will continue cycling in place on trade policy. The key trade challenges facing the 116th Congress will likely be: (1) the Trump administration’s unilateral policies to rectify unfair trade practices, including the global tariffs on steel and aluminum, (2) targeted tariffs on Chinese imports stemming from China’s violation of U.S. intellectual property rights, and (3) uncertainty around completing new bilateral trade agreements.

  • Increase oversight on Section 232 tariff policies, including more hearings, even though this may not alter fundamentally the trade dynamic in Congress.
  • Support a deal with China that addresses its abuse of intellectual property rights, extends access to its markets, and at least prolongs the current truce on tariffs.
  • Endorse trade liberalizing agreements with interested governments, such as Japan and Taiwan, that will expand trade access in the region.

Walter Lohman is the Director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. He is a policy expert focused principally on Southeast Asia, but also broader Asia policy including relations with America’s allies in Japan, South Korea, and Australia. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he leads graduate seminars on American foreign policy interests in Southeast Asia and the role of Congress in Asia policy. He also served as a senior professional Republican staffer advising the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee on issues affecting East Asia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Virginia Wesleyan College and a master’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia.