The Latest Generation of SEZs: Consumer-Oriented Unilateralism in China’s E-commerce Trade
Journal of International Economic Law, Volume 24, Issue 2, June 2021, Pages 299–320
25 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 28, 2021
WTO multilateralism is driven by manufacturers. However, in China, Cross-border E-commerce Retail Import (‘CERI’) has spurred a new, consumer-oriented trade unilateralism. CERI prospers within China’s National Cross-Border E-commerce Pilot Cities, which are Special Economic Zones aimed at using unilateral trade liberalization to meet consumers’ growing demands for high-quality foreign products. CERI enhances consumer benefits beyond reducing customer formalities and tax rates and lowering product prices. It re-conceptualizes consumer protection by treating consumers as diverse individuals rather than as a homothetic group. It also empowers consumers by making them ‘importers’ to minimize behind-the-border trade barriers. CERI warrants a rethinking of WTO multilateralism from its initial focus on corporations and capital owners to a revised focus on consumers.
Keywords: cross-border e-commerce retail import, China, consumer, trade unilateralism, Special Economic Zones
JEL Classification: K22, K33
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