John Cobau

Trade, Technology and National Security:  U.S. Expert Teaches New AUWCL Course Exploring Growing Intersection

As U.S.-China relations heats up (in a bad way), bilateral trade continues to grow, with trade in goods reaching a new high of US$692.59 billion in 2021. Tensions have been particularly strong regarding trade in high technology goods and services, with significant U.S. and Chinese government actions in areas like telecommunications, data flows, semiconductors, and software apps. Trade tensions based on national security concerns extend far beyond the U.S. and China, with the World Trade Organization in recent years issuing its first dispute settlement decisions addressing claims (by Saudi Arabia and Russia) that trade restrictive measures were taken in order to protect essential security interests. The European Union Court of Justice blocked personal data transfers from Europe to the United States under the Privacy Shield based on concerns about U.S. government national security data access. 

As companies and governments grapple with this rapidly changing landscape, lawyers need to have the tools to advise clients and policy makers on ways to minimize risk and respond to new developments.  Trade lawyers are no longer able to analyze issues without considering national security concerns – security issues are impacting all trade in goods and services, even trade far afield from the defense industrial base.  Given the growing dominance of the commercial sector in technological developments with national security implications, for example artificial intelligence and micro-electronics, national security lawyers need to understand the international trade law principles impacting international commerce in these goods and services.  Lawyers counseling technology firms need to be familiar with both sets of issues and the interplay between them. 

This semester, American University Washington College of Law is offering a unique class that explores this intersection.  Distinguished Visiting Scholar John Cobau, on sabbatical from the Commerce Department where he advises the Department on international trade and national security, is teaching Trade, Technology, and National Security, which will explore the international trade and national security legal issues confronting today’s practitioners.  For example, students will study the U.S. government’s response to Chinese companies’ growing influence on the global telecommunications infrastructure, considering the nature of the perceived threats and vulnerabilities, the legal tools available for responding, actions taken, and the results, examining the issue from the perspective of impacted firms and governments.  This class is part of an on-going WCL effort to prepare students for the 21st Century legal environment, emphasizing the cross-disciplinary nature of modern legal practice. 

At the Commerce Department, Professor Cobau advises on U.S. and international trade and investment law, particularly with respect to national security issues, export and investment promotion and trade agreements compliance. Mr. Cobau also served as Director for International Trade and Investment at the National Security Council, where he focused on international investment and intellectual property issues. He has been actively involved in the development and implementation of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework and the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018.