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Ivanka Trump’s New Trademarks in China Raise Ethics Concerns, Again

Amid President Trump’s trade negotiations with China, the Ivanka Trump brand has scored a win there.

Ivanka Trump smiles while talking to TV commentator Van Jones.
Ivanka Trump attends a summit on prison reform at the White House in May.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Since Ivanka Trump’s earliest days in the White House, critics have voiced concerns about the ties that the first daughter and presidential adviser maintains with her namesake clothing and accessories brand.

That ethics conversation has resurfaced once again, because amid President Trump’s dealings with China, the Ivanka Trump brand won seven new Chinese trademarks, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote on Friday that the Chinese government approved Ivanka Trump trademarks for items like bath mats and baby blankets in early May. Though Trump stepped down from her day-to-day position at her company in January 2017, she still benefits financially from it.

The timing has raised some eyebrows. On May 13, President Trump tweeted that he would work with Chinese President Xi Jinping to save the floundering Chinese phone company ZTE. That was a striking about-face from Trump’s sentiment toward ZTE just a month earlier. The company was forced to shut down large parts of its business after the US barred it from purchasing crucial American-made tech components as a result of violating US sanctions with North Korea and Iran.

So when the president changed tacks, saying that too many jobs in China would be lost over ZTE’s shutdown, it seemed that he was cooperating in order to improve his position in broader trade negotiations with China.

Right as that was going down, a Chinese state-owned company agreed to back the construction of a resort in Indonesia that includes a Trump-brand hotel and golf course.

Coincidence or not, the overlap of President Trump’s negotiations with China and his family’s business dealings with the country highlight yet again how difficult it is to separate the Trumps’ political and financial lives.

Government employees, including Ivanka Trump, are prohibited by the Office of Government Ethics from “participating personally and substantially, in an official capacity, in any ‘particular matter’ that would have a direct and predictable effect on the employee’s own financial interests.”

And if all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In April 2017, the Chinese government moved forward with granting the Ivanka Trump brand new trademarks for jewelry, bags, and spa services on the same day that Ivanka had dinner with President Xi at her father’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The close timing of those two events heightened concerns that her role in the White House could benefit the brand.

Of these latest trademarks, the Ivanka Trump brand’s CEO, Abigail Klem, told CNN that the company regularly files for trademarks in countries where infringement is common. Indeed, just after President Trump’s inauguration, Chinese companies began filing trademarks for alcohol, sanitary pads, and wallpaper associated with the Ivanka name.