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Ivanka Trump's business deals with China raise questions from ethics experts

Ivanka Trump's company won provisional approval to trade some products in China on the same day she dined with the country's president in her father Donald's complex in Florida, raising questions from ethics experts.

New trademarks gave the company monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewellery, bags and spa services in the world's second-largest economy.

The same night, April 6, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to Chinese president Xi Jinping and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

As the US president's daughter crafts a political career from her West Wing office, her brand is flourishing, despite boycotts and several stores limiting her merchandise.

Sales have hit record levels in 2017.

The brand, which Ms Trump still owns, says distribution is growing and in ad dition to winning the approvals from China, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for at least nine new trademarks in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Canada and the US after the election.

The commercial currents of the Trump White House are unprecedented in modern American politics, ethics lawyers say.

They have created an unfamiliar landscape riven with ethical pitfalls, and forced consumers and retailers to wrestle with the unlikely passions now inspired by Ms Trump's mid-market collection of ruffled blouses, shifts and wedges.

Using the prestige of government service to build a brand is not illegal.

But criminal conflict of interest law prohibits US federal officials, like Ms Trump and her husband, from participating in government matters that could impact their own financial interest or that of their spouse.

Some argue the more her business broadens its scope, the more it threatens to encroach on the ability of two trusted advisers to deliver credible counsel to the president on core issues like trade, intellectual property, and the value of the Chinese currency.

"Put the business on hold and stop trying to get trademarks while you're in government," advised Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush.

To address ethical concerns, Ms Trump has shifted the brand's assets to a family-run trust valued at more than 50 million US dollars and pledged to recuse herself from issues that present conflicts.

"Ivanka will not weigh in on business strategy, marketing issues, or the commercial terms of agreements," her lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said in a statement.

"She has retained authority to direct the trustees to terminate agreements that she determines create a conflict of interest or the appearance of one."

AP

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