Why Biden is keeping key elements of Trump’s China trade policy: NPR


President Biden left in place some of the measures that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had put in place against China targeting its business practices.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden left in place some of the measures that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had put in place against China targeting its business practices.

Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden has made a clean break with the policies of his predecessor in many areas. But not when it comes to trading with China.

The Biden administration is not abandoning a trade deal brokered by former President Donald Trump in the final year of his presidency. Instead, he plans to pressure China into breaking its promises made under this deal.

The Biden administration also plans to globally maintain Trump’s tariffs on U.S. imports of Chinese goods, though it will reopen a debarment process to grant exemptions for certain products.

In other words, key elements of Trump’s China trade policy will remain intact. In a keynote address on the issue Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration would not take any tools off the table, including the possibility of additional tariffs in the future.

“Above all, we must defend – to the bitter end – our economic interests,” Tai said in his speech, which follows a months-long internal review of U.S.-China trade policy.

“It means taking all necessary steps to protect ourselves against the waves of damage inflicted over the years by unfair competition,” she said.

The administration tries to thread a fine needle

Team Biden’s approach is the result of a growing bipartisan belief that previous tactics with China under Republican and Democratic presidents have not worked. Tai acknowledged that years of attempts to speak to China about its unfair trade practices had not led to substantive reforms, whether that dialogue took place through the World Trade Organization or through unilateral pressure. , like those exercised by Trump.

Biden is trying to thread a fine needle — simultaneously pressuring China on a key Trump priority while trying to avoid the appearance of endorsing anything Trump does.

White House officials insist their business vision is a marked break from the Trump era. Before Tai’s speech, they told reporters that Trump had acted chaotically and one-sidedly, isolating friends around the world. Biden’s team, on the other hand, is trying to work methodically, investing at home to help American workers while working collaboratively with allies.

While it’s unclear whether traditional U.S. allies want to pressure China as hard in public as the U.S. wants, Biden officials point to recent engagements between the U.S. and the United States. European Union to strengthen the semiconductor supply chain and work together to collectively pressure China on its trade practices, proof that multilateral action is possible and prudent.

“Our goal is not to inflame trade tensions with China”

The Biden administration has said Trump’s current trade deal with China does not sufficiently address some of the relationship’s larger systemic issues. US trade experts say the Chinese government has provided large-scale subsidies to Chinese companies, giving them an unfair advantage in the global market, hurting American businesses and American workers.

Tai said she intended to have “frank” conversations with her Chinese counterpart in the coming days. And even if there does not seem to be a noticeable thaw in tensions between the two countries, the White House is keen to avoid a trade war.

“Our goal is not to inflame trade tensions with China,” Tai said. “Sustainable coexistence requires responsibility and respect for the enormous consequences of our actions.”

White House officials say they would welcome change from China, but they recognize that China may not change – and they need to develop a strategy that treats China as it is, rather than as they wish it to be.

So the Biden administration says it must prioritize investments in key domestic sectors to ensure the United States remains competitive.

“China and other countries have been investing in their infrastructure for decades,” Tai said. “If we want to compete in the global marketplace, we need to make equal or greater investments here at home.”


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