The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time for Biden to lift Trump’s China tariffs

President Biden speaks about inflation during a visit to a family farm in Kankakee, Ill., on May 11. (Bloomberg). (Bloomberg/Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomber)
Placeholder while article actions load

One of the many messes former president Donald Trump left behind are sweeping tariffs on thousands of Chinese products. Mr. Trump’s trade war has been a flop, escalating costs for Americans and generating little but ire from China. It’s past time for President Biden to end this. He should not wait months for a formal review of the tariffs.

The No. 1 problem facing the U.S. economy is inflation. Mr. Biden is fond of telling Americans that he’s doing everything he can to help, calling it his “top domestic priority.” He deserves credit for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to get relief at the pump, though sadly prices are once again setting record highs. But it’s surprising that Mr. Biden has not pulled the other major lever he has to try to help reduce inflation: removing — or at least reducing — Mr. Trump’s tariffs on more than $300 billion of imports from China. Mr. Biden himself described the tariffs as “reckless,” yet they remain.

Tariffs are a tax that raises costs on products imported from overseas. Mr. Trump put hefty ones in place on China starting in 2018, claiming they would force China to buy more from U.S. businesses and trade fairly. That hasn’t happened. China bought basically the same amount of U.S. products last year as in 2017, before the trade war. The pandemic didn’t help the situation. The crisis changed what people wanted to buy and reduced demand for services, where the United States has typically excelled. But four years later, a lot of U.S. industries are facing higher costs and very few have been able to get greater access to the Chinese market.

In an encouraging sign, Mr. Biden has said several times in recent weeks that he’s discussing the tariffs with top advisers and “considering” tweaking them. Removing — or at least reducing — them won’t get inflation from its current level of more than 8 percent back down to the goal of 2 percent, but it would help. Economists at the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimate the move would produce an immediate reduction of 0.3 percent in inflation with the potential for more than a full percentage point decrease in about a year. Many American families are desperate for ways to save wherever they can. Lowering costs on clothes and school supplies, among other products, would be noticeable.

China still doesn’t play fairly on trade. The Chinese government’s anti-competitive practices include subsidizing key industries, failing to protect intellectual property and, worse, making it difficult for foreign firms to enter the market. The best way to force China to change is for Mr. Biden to create strong trade partnerships with other nations to make the United States less reliant on China. The newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework lacks real substance so far and is a poor substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr. Trump pulled out of and 11 other countries went ahead and signed.

The White House should evolve from “tough on China” to being “smart on China.” That starts with rolling back at least some of the costly tariffs.

Loading...