April 23, 2024
US politicians fearful of Chinese electric car imports are initiating debates over politics, taxes, the environment, and more.

Context: What is the tension between the US and China here?

A number of senior US figures have urged Joe Biden to enforce a complete ban on the import of Chinese electric cars.

These concerns are being spearheaded by Senator Sherrod Brown, a senior lawmaker who has notably expressed concern on the issue before. 

Political fears – Public Law perspectives

The main reason for these fears is arguably the political tensions between the two nations which have existed for decades. A key concern is the fact that these electric vehicles often contain cameras which can be remotely accessed and used to ‘spy’ on Americans. This has often been echoed through proposed bans of Chinese-owned platforms like TikTok in the past (in the UK, TikTok has been banned within the walls of Parliament – on their WiFi and on any MP work phones, for instance). 

The White House previously stated that technology within the cars means that the Chinese state could “collect large amounts of sensitive data on their drivers and passengers” – both in terms of cameras and sensors more broadly, which can gather data on information like US infrastructure and feed this back to Chinese bases.

The extent to which such data is actually accessible by the state, rather than individual companies, is still largely unknown and a matter of some contention. As a result, there are significant concerns present in regard to data privacy laws (a key practice area for many firms like Hogan Lovells and Fieldfisher – both listed on Legal 500’s Band 1 rankings here) and how electric cars have the potential to breach them via everyday use.

There is also a very clear public law aspect here – this story is closely tied to matters of intentional relations, which may require law firm collaboration with external organisations who can help out on those fronts. Many large firms do maintain expert specialist teams in areas like international law already, and those lawyers will be key in order to unpack the legal issues around these tensions.

Commercial fears and competition

Besides the obvious political concerns, there are economic concerns at play too (ones which the aspiring lawyer well-versed in commercial awareness should be keen to point out). It might come as no surprise that the leader of these concerns, Sherrod Brown, is a senator in the state of Ohio – one of the US’ leading car manufacturing hubs. 

The US has historically been a powerful player in the international automotive industry, but China now produces more cars than any other country in the world (Japan export the most). Discouraging foreign purchases will allow the US to maintain a grip on this critical industry from within, but the reality of persuading consumers to stick with homegrown products (which can often be far more expensive), especially in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis in many areas, may well be difficult.

However, it is something that lawyers (who are increasingly expected to think with a kind of ‘business consultant’ hat on at the same time nowadays) should be aware of at least. 


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Taxation of Chinese imports to the US

As it stands, there are actually a limited number of US cars on the roads in America. While this might at first come across as a stubborn act of patriotism, the reality is that the US have already introduced extreme taxation on the import of Chinese cars (this proposal to ban the imports altogether is just the culmination of years of previous discussion).

The current tariff sits at over 25%, which makes the products quite unaffordable for many Americans. The expertise of specialist tax lawyers here (who not only know how to interpret legislation, but can also often think how these schemes tend to play out from a commercial perspective) will likely be invaluable here.

Competition Law Concerns?

Another potential issue here is the idea that China has a tendency to flood the market and allow for little competition – an area of law which is heavily regulated in many areas, and should be considered a significant area of debate.

US politician Pete Buttigieg said recently that China’s ‘anti-competitive policies’ are damaging US businesses who simply cannot keep up as a result. This was a commonly discussed fear in the context of the cheap mass-production of plastic products into the Western World from China. 

ESG and the growth of electric cars

The common concerns arising around environmental law are also at play here. Lawmakers need to consider the potential benefit to electric cars to both the economy and the environment if they want to tread the line between voters with different interests.

The US does have its own large electric car makers – for example the hugely successful Tesla brand spearheaded by Elon Musk. Some countries already incentivise electric car production in-house heavily, offering a reduction on taxes and similar schemes in order to encourage a transition to greener energy sources.

Where can aspiring lawyers discuss this story?

This story is unusual in how well it combines a huge range of different legal issues (perhaps best presented by categorising them under relevant practice areas) into one piece of news. Law firms (recruiting the next generation of solicitors) and chambers (searching for tomorrow’s barristers) offering opportunities such as vacation schemes, training contracts, and pupillages are very likely to be interested in understanding how you discuss the interaction between such key topics.

In itself, this demonstrates a range of commercial awareness skills as well. These stories can be relevant both at the initial application form stage, and later on at interviews.


In short, the simple act of encouraging Biden to ban Chinese electric car imports actually provides a wealth of perspectives from which aspiring lawyers can take a number of points into their upcoming interviews.

Everything from Public Law and International Relations to Tax and Energy appears here, and explaining both how these topics overlap and how they are likely to become relevant to the specific firm or chambers you are aiming for will be crucial in order to secure an offer at the end of the process.


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