Ivanka Trump has won 13 new trademarks in China in the last three months around the same time her father, US president Donald Trump, vowed to save a Chinese telecommunications giant from shutting down.
The trademarks range across her several collection of businesses involving fashion, housewares, and books. The approvals raise more conflict-of-interest concerns in an administration riddled with them given the Trump family and other appointed government officials’ business ties. Ms Trump won seven of those trademarks the same in the last month. On 14 May, Mr Trump said he would get ZTE “back into business, fast” after being blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce.
The agency found ZTE lied about, but later admitted, to selling products containing US parts to North Korea and Iran, a clear violation of US sanctions law. Mr Trump tweeted that the Commerce department had been “instructed to get it done” so jobs at the telecommunications company could be saved.
Though Ms Trump stepped away from the businesses when she took her unpaid position as a White House adviser and placed them to be run by a blind trust, she still personally profits from them since she did not completely divest from them.
As the New York Times reported: “Even as Mr. Trump contends with Beijing on issues like security and trade, his family and the company that bears his name are trying to make money off their brand in China’s flush and potentially promising market”.
Over the same period, the Chinese government has also granted Ms Trump’s company provisional approval for another eight trademarks, which can be finalised if no objections are raised during a three-month comment period. This is all during negotiations on a new “more reciprocal” trade deal between the US and China, as Mr Trump has characterised it.
Taken together, the trademarks could allow her brand to market a products in China like baby blankets, coffins, perfumes, makeup, bowls, mirrors, furniture, books, coffee, chocolate. and honey, to name a few.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Washington DC-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told the Associated Press that the latest approval “raises significant questions about corruption, as it invites the possibility that she could be benefiting financially from her position and her father’s presidency or that she could be influenced in her policy work by countries’ treatment of her business”.
More approvals are likely to come. Online records from China’s trademark office indicate that Ms Trump’s company last applied for trademarks – 17 of them to be exact – on 28 March 2017. That was just one day before she took on her White House position. Records indicate that Ms Trump’s business have at least 25 trademarks pending review, 36 active marks, and eight with provisional approval.
Companies register for trademarks for a variety of reasons. They can be a sign of corporate ambition, but in many countries like China, it can be a defensive move since stealing trademarks is common. Companies will file to block copycats from grabbing legal rights to a brand’s name. Some trademark lawyers also advise clients to register trademarks for merchandise that is manufactured in China, even if it’s not sold there, as may be the case for Ms Trump’s company which does not have a huge presence there but gets the majority of US imports from China.
Meanwhile, US-China relations may be experiencing another set ups and downs. Mr Trump called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “world-class poker player” for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in China without telling the US. North Korea has been reliant on a handful of allies, China among them, for basic trade in goods and services. Mr Trump is still working to meet Mr Kim in Singapore on 12 June to discuss de-nuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.
By Mythili Sampathkumar