Biden’s Trade Strategy That Isn’t

Biden’s Trade Strategy That Isn’t

Editorial Board - Trade Rep Tai offers a China policy that is Trump Lite.

Whatever the flaws of President Trump’s trade strategy with China, at least he had one. President Biden’s is indiscernible, judging from the much-anticipated but content-free remarks Monday by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ms. Tai said that China had failed to abide by the terms of the Trump Administration’s phase one deal, which included commitments on intellectual property, technology transfer, purchases of American products, and improved market access for agriculture and financial services. In what areas specifically was China failing? She didn’t say.

She did promise, however, to “use the full range of tools we have, and develop new tools as needed, to defend American economic interests from harmful policies and practices.” What tools exactly she also couldn’t say, other than perhaps another Section 301 investigation and more tariffs.

How would Mr. Biden’s approach to China differ from Donald Trump’s ? The Biden Administration, she said, would “strengthen our alliances through bilateral, regional, and multilateral engagement.” She cited a settlement this summer with the European Union that resolved a 17-year feud over subsidies for Boeing and Airbus. That’s great, but what else? She couldn’t say.

Mr. Biden has maintained the Trump tariffs on European steel and aluminum, which have harmed U.S. businesses and made it harder to present a united allied front against China. But Ms. Tai wouldn’t commit to lifting those tariffs. Her plan is to “take a situation of tension [with Europe] and work through it to convert it into a partnership and collaboration.” This isn’t marriage counseling.

Mr. Trump made a strategic and economic blunder by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The U.S. withdrawal weakened U.S. economic influence in the region, and the other countries went ahead with what has become the CPTPP. Last month China applied to join that trade deal. How will President Biden respond?

Ms. Tai responded with diplomatic mush: “The TPP, which is the basis for the CPTPP, was something that was negotiated several years ago now. . . . And the world economy has shown us realities in the intervening years that I think we really have to pay attention to. So, you know, in terms of our continued investment and engagement with our partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific, I think what we need to do is to fully engage and address the realities and challenges that we see today.”

Asked if she thinks it’s even possible for China to change its predatory trade habits, she replied: “I think, like with anything else in life, you’ve got to look at where you’ve come from to figure out, if you’ve not gotten to where you want to go, how you correct course.” The Biden Administration’s approach “is very much about being thoughtful.”

All of this reveals an Administration that doesn’t appear to have a strategy to deal with China beyond talking tough. One explanation may be that the Administration’s main—only—priority with China is gaining a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions before the climate confab in Glasgow next month.

But then the White House doesn’t seem to have a trade strategy with anybody else either. It can’t even strike a deal with the post-Brexit United Kingdom. What a disappointment.

www.prensa.cancilleria.gob.ar es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino