Biden’s China Trade Policy Is Littered With Contradictions
More bureaucracy. More industrial policy. Maybe even more tariffs.
President Joe Biden’s trade policy is sounding more and more like an extension of the mess that former President Donald Trump made—and even the White House top trade officials are now admitting as much.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai delivered a speech Monday morning that White House officials had been touting as a major signal of the Biden administration’s shifting strategy in the trade war with China. In fact, the speech mostly doubled down on what Trump spent four years promising: that a mixture of big government at home and barriers to trade from abroad will strengthen the U.S. economy and benefit American workers.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that Trump’s approach failed, but what Tai outlined was more of a shift in style than in substance. Rather than all-caps tweets about China stealing jobs, the Biden administration is pushing what Tai described as “a worker-centric trade policy” that will include “smart domestic investments”—Washington-speak for giving unions more influence over policy and for lots of new industrial subsidies.
The few concrete steps included in Tai’s remarks are tightly linked to the previous president’s agenda. They include a promise to “discuss with China” its failure to deliver on promises made in the so-called “Phase One” trade deal inked in 2020, and a rejiggering of the flawed tariff exclusion process—one that allows federal bureaucrats to decide which American businesses have to pay tariffs and which do not—set up by the Trump administration. Rather than charting a new course, those agenda items merely refine and entrench the protectionist impulses of Biden’s predecessor.
The tariffs are the most obvious part of that. More than half of the goods traded between the world’s two largest economies are now subject to tariffs, according to data from the Peterson Institute of International Economics—up from less than 1 percent before the trade war began. And there should no longer be any doubt that American businesses and cons
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