What Should Biden Do About Trump’s China Tariffs?
The following is an excerpt of ASPI Vice President Wendy Cutler's op-ed originally published in Bloomberg Opinion.
As the Biden administration fleshes out its broader China strategy, it confronts one immediate question: what to do about the extensive duties that self-declared “Tariff Man” Donald Trump imposed on Chinese goods? The U.S. importers who pay the levies want them lifted. China hawks and U.S. negotiators say they should be maintained as leverage to force Beijing to eliminate its unfair trade practices. Both sides have valid cases. The administration doesn’t need to choose between them, however. Lifting the tariffs shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition.
Backers of the tariffs are right that action to address China’s trade-distorting practices is necessary and warranted. The “Phase One” trade deal struck by the Trump administration addressed some of these issues, including intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. But the pact didn’t tackle other longstanding U.S. complaints, including China’s market-distorting subsidies and the anti-competitive behavior of its state-owned enterprises. The tariffs are one way to impose costs on China for continuing such practices.
At the same time, as Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said, it’s important that the tariffs aren’t “doing more harm to us than the country they’re being wielded against.” The duties, along with China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports, have jeopardized American jobs, increased costs for businesses, raised consumer prices and impeded access to medical products desperately needed during the pandemic.
The administration’s goal should be to minimize these costs to U.S. workers, companies and consumers, while maintaining pressure on China to improve its behavior. That will require carefully picking and choosing which tariffs to lift and how.