As a candidate for president, Joe Biden said the Trump administration’s trade war with China and tit-for-tat tariffs were a drag on the U.S. economy and hurting American consumers, manufacturers and farmers. But eight months into his presidency, Biden hasn’t lifted a single tariff — not even those imposed against our allies in the European steel and aluminum industry.
What gives? The Biden administration says it won’t touch tariffs until it concludes what it calls a “comprehensive review of U.S.-China trade policy.” Fair enough. But what’s clear is that the president is in no hurry to lift Trump-era tariffs against China and the European Union that may upset steel workers and labor unions in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Our beef, in part, is that this cuts against Texas. In 2018, the latest data from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office shows, Texas was the largest state exporter of goods at $315.9 billion. That’s a 64% increase over the previous decade and enough to equal nearly 18% of the state’s economy and support more than 900,000 jobs. Steel tariffs might be good politics back east, but they are bad economics here. And even while we need to confront China on a variety of issues, continuing many of Trump’s tariffs undercuts our relationships with key allies.
In May, the U.S. and EU reached a truce on further escalation of steel and aluminum tariffs, but that same month some 300 U.S. manufacturers signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to go much further and “immediately terminate the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on this country’s trade and national security allies.”
American manufacturers, the letter continued, “currently face historic shortages of readily available and globally priced steel and aluminum products at a time when the country is relying on our sector to help drive the economy and overcome the unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The result has been layoffs, plant closures and a sharp increase in prices on everything from automobiles to farm equipment and household appliances like stove ranges, refrigerators and washing machines.
Moreover, tariffs intended to shield the U.S. steel industry from foreign competition were supposed to lead to more investment by U.S. steelmakers and more jobs. But those jobs haven’t materialized, even with an uptick in demand since the start of the year and near record-high steel prices.
In other words, the Biden administration — as did the Trump administration before it — is willing to impose tariffs, create scarcity and raise costs for hundreds of steel-consuming manufacturers across the country who account for more than six million jobs to benefit America’s roughly 140,000 steel and iron workers. Meanwhile, the supply-chain crisis since the start of the pandemic is also contributing to inflation and higher prices for nearly all consumer goods.
And it’s not just manufacturing that’s suffering. As we wrote in August 2019, thanks to Trump’s trade war China raised levies on “electronics, cars and auto parts, aircraft and parts, machinery, crude oil, aluminum and steel products, and nearly everything grown or raised on a U.S. farm or ranch.”
It’s no wonder then that everyone from the International Monetary Fund to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling on Biden to lift Trump’s unilateral obstacles to free trade and return to a multilateral approach that brings the World Trade Organization back into the fold while rallying our allies in Europe and Asia to pressure China to abide by international trade rules and norms.
As a group of seven Republican senators said in a letter to Biden in June, an important first step in holding China accountable is “to reduce the barriers to trade with our allies” while “listening to the businesses across the country that have suffered from the negative economic consequences.” Like those seven senators, we urge the Biden administration to “end the self-inflicted harm from the trade war.”
In a positive step, officials are meeting this weekend for the first ministerial-level meeting of the new U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, and say they hope to reach an agreement on steel, aluminum and other tariffs by the end of the year. Working with our allies in Europe and Asia is the best way to thwart China’s unfair trade policies.
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