It's being reported that China, as a nation or even a collection of industries and companies, cannot actually make a ballpoint pen. This seems a little odd but it also seems to be true. And what is also odd and true is that this means we really shouldn't be worrying about TRIPS--TRIPS being the process by which we try to shoehorn intellectual property protections into every trade deal, the point being that the reason that China cannot make a ballpoint pen is intricately tied up with their own domestic IP protections. And once they work out that they need said IP, and its protections, to take their economy to the next level then we, the outsiders, don't need to be trying to impose those protections upon them.
The ballpoint pen issue is here:
Premier Li Keqiang recently made a shocking revelation about the industrial capabilities of China on national television: despite the fact that the country is widely known as the “world’s factory” and produces everything from iPhones, aircraft carriers, high-speed railways to spacecraft. Until now there is not a single manufacturer in China that is able to produce the tiny rotating ball fitted to the tip of a ball pen that disperses ink as you write.
Each of these tiny metal balls has to be imported by Chinese pen manufacturers from overseas suppliers.
Their steel and other alloys aren't good enough; they can't mill or shape them accurately enough. So, why is this so?
The root cause of China’s backwardness in some of the key industrial technologies lies in the fact that state-run and private manufacturers are unwilling to invest in research and development because, in most cases, it won’t bring profits and extra market share, owing to the lack of protection for intellectual property and rampant plagiarism by other competitors.
This brings us to the public goods argument. Innovation, invention, the discovery of how to do something, is a public good. Once it's been worked out then anyone can use it without diminishing the ability of other people to do it. It's non-rivalrous and non-excludable. This is a problem because, as above, it means few to no one is willing to invest in finding out how to do these new things. Thus we invent copyrights and patents in order to provide protection (to make then excludable) so that people can make a profit. This gives them the incentive to do the R&D.
Excellent. So, the Chinese economy, or at least its managers, are realizing they are stuck at this current technological level because the absence of IP protections means that no one will invest in that innovation. At which point we can assume that they will institute IP protections purely out of their own self interest. They want the country to continue to get richer not because that's what they want, but because those economic managers masquerading as a Communist Party know that's the only way they are going to retain power.
We, the foreigners, don't need to be pushing IP law down their throats every time we discuss trade therefore. China will come to it, as will every other developing country, when it is rich enough to be innovating. And yes, that is a pretty good definition of a rich economy, one that innovates rather than just copies. Further, we don't particularly care very much about poor countries just copying rather than paying licence fees, because poor people don't have much money that we can take in such royalties and fees. IP is really, in terms of international protection, one of those self-solving problems. As countries get richer they will want to institute the system for themselves for their own reasons. All we have to do is state that we will offer reciprocal protections. We'll protect your IP in our country as and when you protect our in yours.
Thus the entire TRIPS process is unnecessary, and given that it's the major sticking point in most trade negotiations we'd be better off just ignoring it. Economies will develop to where they naturally desire such protections. No point in making life difficult for ourselves or anyone else in imposing it upon those not ready.
Thus the policy recommendation is simply to ignore intellectual property in trade negotiations.