Biden, Brexit and Beijing: technology and the potential of collaboration

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Sophie Adams

23 Nov 2020

2020 has been hailed as the year that got ‘cancelled’, with Covid-19 induced lockdowns delaying weddings and holidays around the world. Though, behind the scenes there’s been much more in play. As President Donald Trump (finally) admits that Joe Biden has been successful in the US presidential campaign, there’s news of further sanctions by the US against any investment in the Chinese military. And more sanctions are expected in the final weeks of President Trump’s tenure – from blocking US investment in Chinese companies to action on China’s illegal fishing activities. These sanctions have been a long and drawn out chess game between the two superpowers. And as we’re well aware, one of the original battlegrounds is technology. The current administration started with the methodical dismantling of Huawei’s reputation and influence in the West. The rivalry between the US and China has since embroiled many tech companies in its wake, including the likes of TikTok & Zoom. At a recent predictions event with CCS Insight, analysts there predicted that nothing is set to change through 2021 and the world can expect the US administration to continue to play “whack-a-mole” with Chinese tech companies. The CCS Insight analysts also identified a key problem with this back and forth – it may “make it near-impossible to sell products in key markets”. Ultimately, this red tape strategy is hampering global trade, international collaboration and in the long term, may hinder the advancement of technology in its entirety.

Out with the old, in with the blue

Now, with a new incumbent waiting in the wings, many are speculating on what the Biden administration’s stance will be when it comes to Big Tech. On the campaign trail, he made strong statements against the industry such as backing the break-up of certain tech firms and countering the law that protects tech firms from being held accountable for the content on their platforms. However, since his election win, he has added a flurry of former tech executives to his transition team from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Google, AirBnB and Uber to his council. As such, many believe Biden will be a soft hand in his approach to US Big Tech. When it comes to China, it’s likely that Biden will be more “strategic” in his policies as to how businesses can operate and exist with Chinese firms, according to Orit Frenkel, a former trade negotiator with the Office of the United States Trade Representative. While most sources agree that tariffs won’t be lifted overnight. Biden will likely continue to face pressure in the US to prioritise the country’s manufacturing and supply chain capabilities and loosen China’s stronghold in this area.

And across the pond?

After months of Covid-oriented news stealing front pages – Brexit is back, baby! And this time it’s personal. Since negotiations started up again, progress has been made between the EU and the UK, especially as the UK feels the pressure to meet the looming 1st January deadline. At the same time, the UK needs to walk a delicate line on negotiations with the US, particularly when it comes to contentious areas of crossover between the EU and US – like data transfer and agriculture standards. Despite negotiations being separate, the US has always been a powerful player in international relations. And Biden’s take on Brexit is distinctly Irish. One of the  9.9% Americans who claim Irish heritage, Biden is already taking a strong stance on the Good Friday Agreement, claiming in a tweet that any trade deal between the US and UK hinges on preventing a hard border. In the wider tech context, Ireland is already well established as the home of Big Tech in Europe, due to its attractive 12.5% corporate tax rate. Since the EU is currently trying various approaches in an attempt to reign in Big Tech, Ireland remains a useful tech ally for the US. Only time will tell if this special Biden-Ireland relationship will spell further entrenchment for Ireland in EU, UK & US tech and political negotiations, as well as how the four parties can establish a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial for all.

Looking ahead

As we’re entering the season of predictions, I’ll throw one into the ring – I think that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year will be “self-isolation”. And while 2020 may have embodied the notion of isolation on both a personal and international level, I hope governments, companies and people also remember the saying – no person is an island. Because when people collaborate, it has a powerful effect on communities and economies. Take the historic free trade deal just signed by 12 countries in the Asia Pacific region. It’s set to reduce tariffs and increase trade in the hopes of stimulating economies for a post-pandemic recovery. The deal, which was 10 years in the making, should serve as inspiration for countries around the world to try and work together, particularly as we enter the rebuilding stage of the crisis. Technologies rarely develop in total isolation. Whether it’s a race to the finish or the quest for common goal, genuinely innovative technologies that seek to help people and communities will always benefit from international cohesion and collaboration.